RUSTY'S TRIP TO CHINA / A PERSONAL TAP DANCE CULTURAL EXCHANGE

 

Rusty Frank, Apr 2011

 

 

In a recent issue of the International Tap Association "Tap Alert", I was fascinated by a piece written by Chinese tapper, Jiefang Chen. I immediately recognized his name, as he had bought quite a few of my "Tapping With The Masters" instructional DVDs. I was deeply moved and intrigued by the content of this article - how Jiefang was using my Leonard Reed Shim Sham Shimmy DVDs to teach his students the tap basics and getting them dancing within a matter of months. I was compelled by his description of the uphill battle he faced for two reasons: The common perception in China that tap dancing is Irish (as a result of a tour of the show Riverdance), and how people in China are reluctant to "pay" for knowledge, including dance classes.

 

In December 2010, I wrote a short email to Jiefang: "I wanted to say thank you for forwarding your wonderful and thoughtful article on American Tap in China. I was fascinated and thoroughly impressed with what you are doing. If I can be of any help in the future, please let me know. I would love to meet you one day. All the very best, Rusty Frank."

 

I was not prepared for his reply that arrived the next day, for it included a short clip of him and his adult students doing the Shim Sham Shimmy (if you missed it, you can see it here on You Tube). Within moments I found myself in a puddle of tears - this clip just simply grabbed at my heartstrings, and, from that moment on, wouldn't let go.

 

 

From what I knew about China (which was admittedly very little) there would be scarce funding for foreign teachers. I had been hoarding my frequent flyer miles for a decade with the idea of doing something special one day, and it looked like I had found that something VERY special. I offered to Jiefang that I would fly myself over, waive my fee, and do some teaching in order to help ignite their fledgling tap dance scene.

Jiefang responded, "How's March?"

 

The ball got rolling at a frenetic speed, and before I knew it, I was on a plane heading for Shanghai on my own personal cultural exchange.

 

When you combine passion with drive, what you are met with is a force beyond reckoning, and if this were a person, he would be named Jiefang Chen.

 

This dapper and sturdy 72-year old Shanghai resident is a tap fanatic on a mission - to create an American Tap Dance Teacher Certification program in China. I was extremely skeptical about this agenda prior to arriving in China and had had some nervous discussions back home about establishing a curriculum for this Chinese certification program. It just seemed that tap needed to be a bit of a free spirit. But after spending two weeks with Jiefang and meeting with tap instructors from across China, I am fully convinced that his vision is one critical for the Chinese culture. All the young talent coming up across that huge nation will be aided by the formal recognition of the Teacher's Certificate in getting employment, and thereby enabled to pass on the art form.

 

 

The dancers with whom I spoke reckoned there were about 1,000 tap dancers in China, but they felt, with a little push, this number could grow exponentially.

 

During my short stay, I taught and performed with dancers on six different occasions, and, without exception, they were thrilled to meet and work with an American tap dancer. They were keen students of all levels and could pick up steps and rhythms quickly. As there was a strong language barrier, I was teaching with movement and rhythm.

 

Jiefang's goal is to get the ball rolling and pass it all on to the younger generation. "I am an old man," he says repeatedly. Yes, well this "old man" has the tenacity and strength of a tiger. Given half a chance he'll reach his goal.