LOS ANGELES — For Derick Karlton Grant, tap dancing goes far beyond his feet.
“It’s music,” he said, “so you gotta sing.”
What You Need To Know
- Jerry Moss Plaza at the Music Center has been transformed into a tap dance playground
- There are 35 platforms including 5 different surfaces to explore
- No tap shoes? No problem! Just bring your feet and make some noise
- Live dance returns to the plaza this summer with Dance at Dusk series
Grant has been tap dancing since he was a child. As the nephew of Paul and Arlene Kennedy, who founded the Universal Dance Design Studio, dancing is in his DNA.
“They gave me tap dance, really all dance, as an option for dealing with the world,” he said. “Knowing that it was going to be a challenge as a young black man to survive in this world. So they gave me dance.”
It is a gift he would like others to experience, even on a small level. Which is why he has been working with the Music Center on a weeklong celebration of tap, including helping design what is being called The Super Villainz Tap Dance Park on the plaza, which features 35 individual, physically distanced tap surfaces, many designed by Grant.
“This stuff comes directly out of my head,” he said, looking over the playground that he called a dream come true. “I’ve been fascinated with skateboarding, roller skating, rollerblading, extreme parks. I wondered how we could create some tap-like extreme park.”
Which explains the ramps and how he uses them, bounding up and down, tapping on the vertical and, at times, momentarily defying gravity.
“When I see the ramp, I see as many possibilities going up as I see going down,” Grant explained.
Looking over at two young dancers exploring this new terrain filled his heart with joy, adding, “I just hope they are careful.”
The park on the Jerry Moss Plaza is open to the public through May 30.
Visitors of all ages can reserve a free timeslot to try their hand, or their feet on five different surfaces, including sand.
Grant’s colleague, Dormeshia, who has been referred to as the Queen of Tap, may have lost her voice but still managed to sing.
“Let’s go y’all!” she whispered, holding up the shiny gold tap shoes that she let’s do the talking.
She joyously explored each option available, making different sounds that resonated over the stone plaza.
“Tap dance is about your relationship with the surface. It’s not just about shoes,” Grant said. “You know, whether it’s a bare foot to the earth, whether it’s the iron to the wood or the leather to the sand, you’re just hearing her spirit sing via a different sound. That’s all that is.”
In the evenings, the platforms are removed and replaced with seating pods as The Music Center launches a new, socially distanced, outdoor dance series, Dance at Dusk.
Over the next few weeks, different styles of dance will be featured on the stage starting with Grant, Dormeshia and Jason Samuels Smith in “The Super Villainz: A Tap Dance Act for the Modern Age.”
The dancers also helped curate a number of classic tap films that will play on giant screens around the plaza as a way to introduce audiences to the dancers Grant studied as a child, the greats who inspired his playground equipment, which he refers to as quotes.
“The stairs, that’s a quote to Bill Robinson. The slide. That’s a quote to the Nicholas Brothers,” he explained. “It’s really just our way of constantly staying connected to our elders and celebrating who they were and what it is to be a tap dancer.”
It is part of a tradition that Grant feels deeply rooted in.
“Tap dance comes from a strong people and it comes from a purpose. There’s a need to live and be connected to the Earth and to use rhythm as our life force,” he said.