Tip-tap-toe-ing on Jamaica’s dance scene - Samantha Strachan follows the rhythm of her feet
At least once a month, the sound of happy feet striking the laminate floors at the Dance Jamaica Academy can be heard from a distance. That’s because dancer and dance teacher Samantha Strachan is teaching tap-dancing. Strachan has been tap-dancing for little over 10 years after first being introduced to the dance when she received a booking for Broadway in New York. Now, she is spreading it across Jamaica.
“I was told I had needed to learn how to tap-dance right away to be able to do the job, so my mother signed me up for classes right away,” Strachan told The Gleaner. At the time, there was only one dance studio that offered tap dance lessons, but soon after, she was privileged to learn the art from Emmy-nominated choreographer and actress Chloe Arnold.
“She is insanely talented. Arnold remains a powerful influence in tap dancing worldwide and taught me everything I know.
“If I could have a tap dance partner, past or present, she would be my choice because she still inspires me to this day,” said Strachan.
While tap dance is preserved for its cultural significance in American history, Strachan notes, “The art form does not necessarily deserve any more credit than it is given in Jamaica’s dance culture because it wasn’t created here. It is not even an authentic part of the culture of the various islands in the Caribbean. However, it would be good for Jamaicans to be more open minded and diverse in their dance knowledge.”
Beauty of tap
In that respect, the dance teacher has made it her goal to build diversity by introducing other dance styles to the island such as tap. As one of only two Kingston-based tap professionals, Strachan has managed to take some important steps in combining tap into dance routines – the most recent being a choreography for the single Toast, by reggae artiste, Koffee.
Sometimes she often finds herself throwing tradition out the window with her explorations into other cultures, she explains, “I am passionate about my culture, but I also love other cultures so why not mix the two.?” She continued, “I will always continue to want Jamaicans, especially young Jamaicans to expand their arts knowledge.”
The beauty of tap is that it does not depend on music - the dancer taps to create the melody and vibe. “I would describe it as making music, rhythms and beats with your feet, then allowing your body to flow with it naturally.”
She explains that one of the major difference between tap and other dance forms is that it is not recommended for all floor surfaces, -like concrete or pavement, compared to other dance forms that can be do on most external surfaces.
Strachan has established a dance school for children between the ages of two-17, offering a variety of dance styles, which encourages more young students to try it, and eventually fall in love with it. She also teaches adults.
“The younger people are always more intrigued to try something new. Most don’t have any fears compared to the adults. The more consistent they are, is the more they will realise it is one of the most tiring dance styles that potentially keeps them fit.”
She says that the most common misconception about tap is that it’s hard to learn but, “everything in life takes only a bit of effort, and nothing good should come easy. You just have to be interested and have the patience to learn and love it.”
Strachan offers tap classes on the last Tuesday of every month at Dance Jamaica Academy on Barbican Road.