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Neither musicians, nor dancers but «foot music» artists

Tap dance group «Soul Tap» searches for the ways to find joy in life

Evilena Protektore

Recently I was lucky enough to spend some time in the company of 5 wonderful girls. But these were no ordinary girls, because their occupation is something special, something not that common in Latvia. Although since we are representing jazz we don’t often concentrate on popular things, right? Tap dance is a thing that people don’t often think about, don’t really know anything about, but without realising it see pretty often — in the movies, in concerts, they just don’t know that it’s tap dancing and they actually have some idea of what that is.

Evilena Protektore

Tap dance is a genre that could be called intercultural — this dance is strongly connected to sound production that turns dancers into musicians. Why jazz? Simple — Tap dance was born in the same place, from the same people as jazz and uses same terminology as jazz music. I’ve met Soul Tap at their studio, we got cozy on huge sac chairs an talked about how it all began and what problems occurred during their artistic journey.

Where am I right now and whom I’m talking to?

Guna: Here and now you see Guna, Annija, Rita, Madara and Alise. Soul Tap tap dance studio or a Tap cellar.
Annija: Since last January. The first space we had was two times smaller and with this space we got some new vibes, new ambitions, challenges and lots of enthusiasm. We have an awesome crew. At the beginning there were just the two of us, me and Guna. How long have we danced together? 8 years?
Guna: Yes! At the beginning there were three of us, but the third girl decided that she’s not going to dance anymore.
Annija: That same year when we became a duo instead of a trio we decided that we want our own studio.
Guna: Now we are a tap dance group that performs regularly, but also a studio that gives dancing lessons.
Annija: Then in the next five years we’ve grown into a quintet which now is considered to be our main lineup, but sometimes we still perform as a duo. But we have a team we can count on.

What is Tap?

Alise: It is a way of dancing and making music. It is a dance that makes music as well.
Guna: We sometimes joke about ourselves, that a lot of dancers don’t consider us as dancers and musicians don’t see us as musicians, when in fact we are both.
Annija: A lot of people think that Broadway or Irish dances are Tap, but a true tap, that does hand in hand with jazz is “rhythm tap”, when dancers don’t jump around the stage doing pirouettes but rather keep their focus on the rhythm and how it corresponds with the music.
Alise: Musicianship — dance, dance — musicianship. In truth these things stick together.
Annija: Tapping rhythm with your feet, playing it, dancing it out.
Guna: We can suggest a new name — music of the feet.
Annija: We ourselves are still searching what that truly is. It’s a self-expression thing, way of life, passion.

Evilena Protektore

How did you start dancing tap?

Alise: When I was 12 years old I’ve seen the Riverdance show on TV and thought — wow, this is tap! (it wasn’t, but oh well…) For half a year I’ve been asking my parents to to send me to tap studio and they did, I went to Māris Pūris who taught me for 4 years. He showed me what Tap was, it was cool, I understood that tap wasn’t the same thing as Riverdance. But the true learning started when I met these ladies and when they (Guna and Annija) made me improvise. At that exact moment the dancing began, because you can learn the routine or the rhythms, but you start understanding what you’re doing the moment you start improvising.

Madara: I’ve studied something from jazz before, mainly singing. Then I’ve watched a video with Fred Astaire was dancing and thought: “Wow, how cool that is!” Then I got that urge to try something that others don’t do, I started searching and found Guna and Annija, but I didn’t go to them right away. After maybe two years the studio had an open doors day and Annija then told me: “Wow, you can dance to jazz!” In the end of the lesson there was improvisation… So cool! You can make maybe two sounds only, but each person has his own. I liked it a lot! I decided to try it out, but for a long time I didn’t understand why I was doing it. The moment you understand how to connect your feet to your brain it gets better!

Rita: I don’t even know what to begin with… I started dancing Broadway jazz some three or four years ago and I totally fell in love with this way of expressing yourself. Broadway jazz goes together with tap dancing, so I decided to dig a bit deeper. Then after a year I had another wish and I had to decide what to do — go and learn how to play an accordion or to dance tap. I managed to get myself an old instrument somewhere and after a couple of weeks I understood that my playing would be… and then I saw a Facebook ad of two charming girls taking new students. We were sort of acquainted, met each other at some gigs. Suddenly Annija texts me and says: “So, we’ll see each other tonight at six?” I thought it would be lame to decline… I thought that I would go there once and that’s it. So I went. Turned out I was the only student that showed up and I had a private lesson and I liked it a lot!

Annija: How did I start dancing… I’m a kind of person who likes doing everything. I went to my parents to the countryside and there I saw Riverdance on TV. Mom said: “Hey! You should learn tap dancing!” and I said: “Huh, yeah, ok!” The same evening I took my old cell phone (no touch screen and all), found Māris Pūris and contacted him! He answered yes, and sent me the prices. I knew that my weekly allowance was 5 Lats, but a lesson cost 6, so for the next 2 months I was trying to convince my parents that I do need it. I succeeded, so my allowance grew for 10 Lats — 6 for the lesson and 4 for food. I wanted it so much! I went to observe a lesson, spent 3 hours doing that, just sat there and watched how other people danced. My second mission was to convince my parents to buy me some dancing shoes, and they cost 40 Lats… My god! That time it was my weekly allowance for two whole months! But I managed and I bought myself some used shoes and started dancing.

After a year I realised that it’s something I really enjoy doing. I was already attending university then and I didn’t like it. I started to think about how to manage doing things that you really like in life? I realised that I chose the wrong profession. But I didn’t quit school then, I found joy in Tap. After a year we went on a tour with the Pulse Effect band. We became friends at one of the concerts and then at the Buratino theater, that one of the band members (Kristaps Krolls) owned a Tap dance trio Soul Tap was born. Year after year, step by step we grew and soon we figured out that we can do everything, it’s all in our own hands. To tell the truth, we are very lucky to be in Latvia, because even though this road is tough and there aren’t a lot of people interested in tap dancing, but we have a lot of concerts, because we are almost the only ones, we are friends with a lot of musicians, we do a lot of interesting things!

Evilena Protektore

Guna: My story started quite accidentally, but at the same time… was it fate? I never thought I would ever dance, because when I started I was already 23 years old. At that time I worked as a journalist in a healthy lifestyle magazine. I had an assignment to interview one woman pilot, at that time she was the only one in Latvia, but she declined the offer and I was sad about it. I thought — what am I supposed to do now? Then my colleague suggested: “Hey, I’ve read about one dancer who had just came back from the States! She dances tap. Maybe you could write an article about her and Tap dancing?” I arranged an interview with a girl that had worked with Māris at the time and started attending concerts, befriending dancers. After a year I started attending their lessons. After another year Māris put us together with Annija, Gunta and two more girls. We danced as a quintet for some time together with Pulse Effect and Māris, until at some point we decided to go solo. Then there were three — me, Gunta and Annija. We’ve spent some 7 years at Kristaps’ space, worked on improving our level. At some point we decided that we need a bigger space, so here we are now.

Annija: The same summer that we separated we went dancing in the streets of the Old town, every week. We earned some good money! The guys that worked as riksha’s and played guitars said they earned 5 Lats per hour and that it’s a very good rate. We earned 70 Lats and more! That summer we managed to save enough money to buy two floor mikes!

Guna: Next summer we didn’t want to dance in the streets anymore, maybe we overdid it or grown out of it during winter… But we’ve had enough.

When did you realise that you became professional dancers?

Guna: We still don’t think we are! In Latvia it’s a bit of a painful topic. There is no educational institution that gives you proper credentials where it would be said that hereby you’re now declared a professional tap dancer. When we submit a project for governmental funds we don’t get any support, because we don’t have proper education.

Annija: Yes, education is at fault, because in between Latvians the amount of festivals and workshops we’ve attended is the highest, but that doesn’t mean anything. The experience and the skill don’t mean anything. Even outside Latvia, there’s no place in the world where a university would give you the chance to study Tap dancing, because that’s something you learn from the dancers themselves. The dance is inherited. If you look at us from the worlds point of view — our level is advanced. At the festivals experienced dancers approach us and praise us, consult with us. Our students get scholarships for participation in festivals and workshops, but our country doesn’t support us, because we don’t have the papers. Your skill is nothing if you don’t have the papers to back it up. But we don’t get depressed about that, we do what we can and what we like!

Evilena Protektore

How did you start collaborating with musicians?

Guna: We had the desire to do something with live music from the very beginning. With time our dream came true! We even collaborated with a big band!

Annija: Tap has opened a huge circle of friends to us. Our goal was to get recognised in jazz, so we gathered some courage and as soon as we had some knowledge of what was happening in that music we started attending jam sessions and dancing there.

Guna: First couple of times it was like that: we arrive, nobody knows us, we know no one. Two girls want something, shyly ask the permission to jam and we get an automatic reply: “Oh, are you going to sing? The mikes are over here!” Because girls usually sing, right?… So we say: “No, we are going to tap dance…”

Annija: When we started to attend jam sessions and participate in those (which was rare and very frightening) we learned from the musicians. Most of the time the experience was positive. So then we started creating routines that would fit jazz music, started looking up musicians to dance with, with whom we could show our thing to the world. So that’s how we got to where we are now. Last year we were approached by Edgars Cīrulis with his own compositions, which were written for musicians and tap dancers, which is flattering and awesome! Next year is our 10th anniversary! And with these 5 ladies we’ve decided to stage a play, it should be ready until June.

Alise: We also collaborate with other dancers, for example Mikus — Lindy Hop dancer, approached us with a proposition to dance Shim Sham together. That is the most known dance in Tap and in Lindy Hop, sort of an anthem. He suggested we film a video where he dances it and I tap it and then we would show Lindy Hop dancers that this dance came from Tap dance. I think it’s cool when you use Tap dance to illustrate history!