'Tap World' is an uplifting tale of the dance form's curative powers

'Tap World' is an uplifting tale of the dance form's curative powers
A scene from the documentary movie "Tap World." (Vitagraph Films)

There are plenty of quotable moments in "Tap World," an engaging new documentary. Dancers were invited to share their stories with the filmmakers, and not surprisingly the ones selected are uplifting tales of tap dancing's curative powers.

But "Tap World," also takes viewers around the world, and that, plus some flat out terrific performances, make this a surprisingly lovely little film. As teacher Ted Louis Levy says at the opening, "rhythm is the language of life," and that language transcends the need for words. Go just about anywhere, and folks are stamping their feet to communicate.


Director Dean Hargrove takes viewers to South Africa, where miners created percussive body clapping and stamping movements known as gumboot dancing to talk to one another. Then, off we go to India to visit with Pandit Chitresh Das, who died in January, a master at the classical Indian form of kathak. In a touring show that paired kathak with tap, Das demonstrated how even barefoot, he could match tap master Jason Samuels Smith, one of the documentary's other featured artists, sound for sound.

"Tap World" mostly focuses on the younger artists of rhythm tap, dancing that makes its own music; it's not the prettified background sound from movie musicals. It is the music. This American art form has taken root far and wide. Within sight of the Eiffel Tower, we watch Frenchman Arthur Benhamou, who is so in the moment and spontaneous, his body sometimes gets ahead of his brain. In Campinas, Brazil, Luyz Baldijao gives lessons to impoverished kids who learn to count while dancing.

Back in this country, we watch Vicki Riordan rehearse her Tap Pups group of 50 adults (amateurs) in Harrisburg, Penn., making that city the "tap capital of the world," she cheekily says. Dancer Evan Ruggiero had a leg amputated to bone cancer but comes blazing back with a peg leg, like the legendary Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates (1907-98).

There's a wealth of talent here, although some of it is given short shrift. Michelle Dorrance of Brooklyn is one of today's brilliant and innovative dancers, yet she gets maybe 30 seconds of film time. Longer segments are afforded to Smith and sisters Chloe and Maud Arnold, the latter two being among the movie's producers.

If "Tap World" awakens an interest for more, you better act fast. The L.A. Tap Dance Festival, co-directed by Smith, is going on through Saturday at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy.


'Tap World'

No MPAA rating

Running time: 1 hour, 12 minutes

Playing at: Nuart Theatre, West L.A.