by Adelie Salagnac
Dancer and choreographer Kat Richter is often asked when she knew she wanted to become a professional dancer. Her answer? “I started dancing professionally when I was nine years old, and I absolutely loved it,” she says. “I knew that whatever career path I ended up crafting for myself, I had to do something that allowed me to dance.”
Artistic director of Philly’s all-female professional tap company, the Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble, on top of having four other jobs, Richter is bursting with energy, ideas, and life. Chatting with her is a delight, and she was kind enough to take some time to talk to us about one of the company and their newest projects.
“When I moved to Philadelphia a few years ago,” Richter remembers, “I found that they were some really great tappers in Philly, but none of them were doing the kind of work that I wanted to do, at the level that I wanted to do it. I ended up forming the company, really because I wanted to dance. Our company’s mission is to raise the profile of rhythm tap, by giving performance opportunities, and opportunities to choreograph, to women in particular.”
The Lady Hoofers will reveal their latest dance project on February 27th at the Community Education Center. The evening will include both a live performance and a screening of the company’s short film. Richter says: “The audience can expect to see live rhythm tap as well as musical theatre-style tap. We try to always represent the many strengths of tap dancing, and to make sure that we are not overlooking part of the heritage.”
The short is a creative narrative music video, that combines contemporary music with a vintage theme of the struggles of the 1940s working women who kept the economy going during World War II. “We are trying to get back to our idea of promoting issues that concern women,” Richter explains, “and women in the workforce is obviously still pretty relevant today; if you are watching the political debates, it is still something that comes up a lot.”
Directed by Meg Sarachan and choreographed by Becky Mastin, the short blends elements of Broadway, as well as typical rhythm tap dancing. Result of many months of hard work, Richter says that filming the short was a “long and difficult process.” She explains:
“We actually recorded the audio separately, and had to record the audio without the music in the background, so that it was just the tap recorded. In order to keep everyone on time, so that when we lay the music over it would be in sync, we would have one dancer wearing an iPod, and she would be like a visual conductor, so the other dancers could see the beat and base their tapping on her. That was a pretty painful process; it took a lot of weeks of rehearsal.”
Then they recorded the video. “It was a long day, a lot of us have never done a video-shoot like that before; we had to take different takes from different angles. It was definitely a long process.”
A hard work that has been rewarded. Dollar: A Rhythm Tap Short Film has been awarded a Project Stream Grant by the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts, a statewide recognition. Richter reflects on the rhythm tap scene in Pennsylvania, and especially Philadelphia:
“I think that there are a lot of opportunities, and a lot of diversity. There are a number of different professional companies, and a number of different recreational companies. A lot of them do a great work. I think that usually, in the news, they tell a story about how it has declined, how it has come and gone, but I think that this is a really lazy narrative that the journalists pull out. I definitely wish there would be more, for sure, but there is always a lot of master classes being taught, with different dancers coming in, there are tap jams that pop out every once in a while. There is definitely something for everyone, in terms of the tap scene, whether you are older and just looking to do it for fun, or younger. I think it is a great city for that.”
The Lady Hoofers are playing a big role in keeping the rhythm tap scene alive in Philadelphia, putting out great performances, participating in outreach programs, offering classes and master classes, making a point to educate. That is a lot to be proud of. But what Richter is most proud of is their outreach residency program, in partnership with an elementary school in Philadelphia.
“In the dance world, diversity is always an issue,” Richter admits. “Our company does not reflect the diversity of the tap community, and that is something that bothers me and that we are trying to address. Our residency program is one way that we are able to reach out to a group of children who would not normally get exposed to dance. On an education level, that program is very important to us, but on a social-justice level, we are trying to address the lack of diversity within the dance community. There are a lot of companies in Philly that suffers from that same issue. I see it not just as an educational program for us, but also as a way of trying to make sure that we are including and reaching out to people who are not necessary reflected in the company.”
Stop by the Community Education Center on Saturday, February 27th to get a glimpse of The Lady Hoofers’ work and raise awareness about issues women are facing in today’s world. Tickets can be found here.