STERLING — From movies to Broadway to high school and community theater stages everywhere, tap dancing always seems to get a cheer from the audience. The Sterling High School Theatre production of “Dames At Sea” features no less than four tap dance numbers – as well as a tango, a waltz and a soft-shoe, among others. The dance-heavy musical will be seen at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Nov. 11, 12, and 13 in the school’s theater.
Tap dance was popularized in Hollywood during the 1930s with performers like Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell. “Dames At Sea” is a valentine to those old Hollywood musicals so much so that the leading characters are named Ruby and Dick, said Piper Harding, chief choreographer for the Sterling show.
“The movies ‘42nd St’ and ‘Gold Diggers’ were required movies in my musical theater history class. I remember being in awe of the tapping,” Harding said. “The high energy choreography is what makes those musicals stand out from so many others. In my opinion, a tap number or two adds to the enjoyment of a musical.
“Tap is an impressive art form that brings joy to the person tapping and the people watching. It’s fun and exciting,” Harding continued. “Most of the kids in the cast have very little tap experience but they’ve picked it up quickly. It’s thrilling to be able to learn a new skill and feel confident doing it.”
Almost all of Harding’s tap choreography in this show uses traditional tap steps like cramp rolls, shuffles, paradiddles, and time steps. Most of the leading cast members who are tapping in “Dames” had their first experience at tapping in last summer’s Sterling Community Theatre Troupe’s summer show “Me & My Girl.”
“They had a great time learning a new skill and they loved the audience’s positive response to it,” Harding said. “I’ve heard them say many times how excited they are to be able to tap in another show.
“Tap is indeed my favorite form of dance to choreograph, perform and teach,” she said. “Tap is unique because anyone can learn to tap at any stage of life. You can be 10 or you can be 90; if you can still move your feet you can learn to tap.”
Harding is choreographing three of the four tap numbers in the show. The fourth, the title number, “Dames At Sea,” is being choreographed by Sterling College Theatre student Rachel Thomson, who also staged the chorus tap numbers from the summer show.
“I think that audiences can understand and appreciate how difficult tap is,” Thomson said. “With so many different parts to just one movement, well-executed tap is very difficult! It is obvious when a number has good tappers and choreography, and I think audiences can easily recognize that.”
“‘Star Tar’ is probably my favorite tap number,” Harding said. “I enjoyed choreographing steps for Karissa Wilson, who plays Ruby, while the four tappers behind her do something completely different. The same goes for the opening number, ‘Wall Street,’ where Ella Wellman’s character is the tapping star while three other tappers appear behind her doing different steps.”
Tickets to the Sterling High School Theatre production of “Dames At Sea” are $10 for adults and $5 for students and will be available at the door before each performance.