Tap dancer Ellie Sciarra draws from legacy to teach CMU workshops
This past weekend renowned tap artist Ellie Sciarra came to Central Michigan University to teach technique and choreography classes to more than three dozen students.
Sciarra has worked nationally and internationally as a professional tap dancer on television and stage. Most recently, she performed Duke Ellington's "Praise God and Dance." She also has recently co-choreographed and produced "Taps Are Talking: Women in Tap" in the metro Denver area.
From 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, Sciarra taught classes on technique. Saturday classes were a continuation of Friday's class, with technique from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and a choreography class from 1 to 4 p.m. to execute what was taught.
Attending all three sessions was highly encouraged by the musical theatre and dance minor professors. Attending the whole event allowed the students to get the real experience.
Annette Thornton, assistant professor of communication and dramatic arts, said she put on the event for students with hopes they would get a more in depth experience with tap. Thornton met Sciarra more than 10 years ago in Denver and helped her work on her projects.
"It's very important for the students to study in different experiences," Thornton said. "It forces them to broaden and deepen their knowledge in dance, especially when they're viewing someone else's entry in this art form."
Throughout the classes students were able to interact with Sciarra and learn her unique teaching style.
In addition, the event gave students an idea of what it's like performing in front of someone they're unfamiliar with.
"It teaches them not to be intimidated, so when they go audition in big cities after college they're more relaxed," Thornton said. "Students with a focus in musical theatre have to know how to tap dance."
Mount Pleasant sophomore Anne Kozlowski said dancing with Sciarri reenforced her passion for dance.
"Even if you thought you loved dance before, after this experience, you realize how much you love this art form," Kozlowski said. "Ellie brings out the love and fun in dance from your inner soul."
"I'm just so proud of these students," said Dance Professor Heather Trommer-Beardslee. "They not only showed up, but they're open, curious, engaged and actively participating. You can tell in their every movement that they're critically thinking about what Ellie's teaching them."
Trommer-Beardslee said her dream is to do a tap dance show choreographed by Sciarra.
Sciarra has been involved with dance since she was 4 years old, and her mother put her into a dance school because she never talked. While in college, she said she thought her purpose was to be a modern dancer. In the early '70s however, at just 20 years old, she discovered a petite, rickety old studio on the third floor of a building on 54th street in New York City. It was there she discovered her desire to tap dance.
"I love both performing and teaching," she said. "At this time in my life, it's my mission to give away what I know. People have a narrow lens on tap and it's my goal to broaden it."
Sciarra has trained with artists such as Brenda Bufalino, Danny Daniels, Henry Letang and Paul Draper. She is the president of the nonprofit organization Taps Are Talking, Inc., which has the mission to promote, market and produce tap dance. The goal of the organization is to bring visibility to tap dance and make it more than a novelty.
"I'm so happy with tap dancing; it has probably in some way saved my life," Sciarra said. "When I'm dancing, magic happens"