Debbie Allen has received many honors in her career as an actress and dancer — multiple Emmys, a Golden Globe and two Tony nominations among them. But Saturday night at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Allen was brought to tears when she collected an award before an audience of mostly kids and young adults.
“This is the most moving tribute I have ever received,” Allen said, accepting the Entertainment Icon Award at the sixth annual D.C. Tap Festival gala. Weeping a bit with her were Maud and Chloe Arnold, the dancing D.C. natives whom Allen has mentored since 1998, when an adolescent Chloe auditioned for Allen’s Kennedy Center musical “Brothers of the Knight.” Although the sisters now split their time between New York and Los Angeles — working gigs such as “Boardwalk Empire” and body-doubling for Beyoncé — they remain the biggest cheerleaders of tap in the nation’s capital, and the annual gala they curate is the best tap performance in the city.
For more than two hours (not counting intermission), more than 200 dancers tapped on- and offstage. Some were pros, some were prodigious kids and others were adult amateurs. There were a few weak links, but the overall caliber of dancing was high and surveyed a swath of styles, from Latin and jazz to hip-hop and Americana.
Among the ensembles, highlights included the sequined student troupe from Ashburn’s Studio Bleu Dance Center, an ad hoc tribute to the late Harold Cromer and a visiting group from Brazil that proved it’s possible to samba in tap shoes. The JaM Project, a newish coalition of local professional hoofers, unveiled “Gravity,” an impressive multimedia piece that features seven dancers performing onstage and on-screen in an airplane hangar.
Stand-out soloists included Sarah Reich, who tapped out a rumba with the eight-piece jazz band; Herb Spice and the Cinnamonstix; and Michelle Dorrance, a frequent collaborator with Savion Glover. But the tapper who brought the house down was Luke Spring, a 10-year-old from Ashburn whose technical flash and flexible feet have landed him on Broadway. Luke doubled as the evening’s emcee, and he beamed as he told the crowd, “Tap’s future looks bright.”
Ritzel is a freelance writer.