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Tapdancer leaps into the air

Jason Samuels Smith

tap dance New York, New York
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
Tapdancer leaps into the air

Jason Samuels Smith is recognized as one of the finest tap dancers of his generation. In 2004, at age 23, he won both an Emmy and the American Choreography Award for his tribute to the late tap master Gregory Hines, who two years prior had proclaimed the young dancer as “… the next ‘Greatest,’” a prediction that Samuels Smith has since fulfilled. As one reviewer marveled, Samuels Smith “dances as if he carries in his head and shoes the entire legacy of the genre.”

Tap dancing is a uniquely American art form that arose in the 19th century from African rhythm and dance traditions—including the Ring Shout, the Juba, and the Cake Walk—combined with step-dancing traditions from Europe, particularly the British Isles. Minstrelsy, vaudeville, and Hollywood, in turn, made tap dance one of the most beloved of the early popular genres. In the early decades of the 20th century, tap was profoundly influenced by the rhythmic motifs and structured improvisation of jazz. During the tap renaissance of the past 30 years, Latin and Afro-Caribbean rhythms, hip hop, and funk have continued to add rich new beats and sensibilities to the form.

Jason Samuels Smith grew up in Hell’s Kitchen in midtown Manhattan immersed in the dance world. His parents, Sue Samuels and Jo Jo Smith, were both talented jazz dancers, choreographers, and teachers who had performed on Broadway, TV, and beyond; they founded the renowned Jo Jo’s Dance Factory, which eventually became the world-famous Broadway Dance Center. Jason’s grandfather was the great Chicago tap dancer Benjamin Smith; he trained the legendary Nicholas Brothers.

During his formative years, Jason was captivated by the steps and rhythms that reverberated throughout his parent’s dance studio. At age nine, he appeared on PBS’s Sesame Street; by 16 he was a principal dancer in his mentor Savion Glover’s ground-breaking Tony award-winning tap musical Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk.

Samuels Smith is the founder of the Los Angeles Tap Festival and the tap company ACGI (Anybody Can Get It). Today he performs, choreographs, and teaches worldwide, with appearances everywhere from Broadway to the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival to TV’s So You Think You Can Dance.

At the National, this master of tap will perform with a small jazz ensemble, featuring top-notch players from New York City’s jazz scene, bringing this great American dance tradition to the stages of the 78th National Folk Festival in a way that delights, awes, and inspires.

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