Many things have changed around town over the past twenty-five years. But unlike the old corner drugstore on Downer and Kenwood known as Rieglemann’s (which was a mainstay for students at UWM to hang out at back in the day and I miss every time I pass), some of what’s best in town has stuck around. Like Amy Brinkman-Sustache, to name one of the great pillars of Milwaukee.
When Danceworks opened its doors in 1992, Amy was here tapping it out and inspiring students and dancers city-wide. I’ve said it before and I repeat: Amy is responsible for much of what makes Danceworks unique, approachable and successful. Like the Free-for-All coming up Sunday, August 20th. Our doors will be open from noon to 4:00pm for the community to come in, try a class and see what we’re all about. For a list of times and classes click here. It is another brainchild of Amy’s—and it has brought in hundreds of new students. She will be here to greet you and make sure things are running smoothly, because that’s what she does. She cares about Danceworks students and staff like members of her own family and it shows in everything she does.
As Artistic Director of Danceworks on Tap (DOT), Amy doesn’t cut back on any of her other responsibilities just because she has a show opening. You’ll find her at her desk late into the night, making sure she’s responding to the many requests for scholarships, providing info on classes to inquiring students, scheduling classes and faculty—to mention just a few things she oversees. As she prepares for the upcoming DOT show What’s Tappenin’?!, which will appear at Danceworks Studio Theatre from August 11-13, she took the time to sit down and answer a few questions. Read on to learn more about this remarkable woman (dancer/choreographer/director/education director/wife/mother/colleague/friend…) and our terrific upcoming DanceLAB concert!
Deb: How did DOT get started? How has it grown and changed over the years?
Amy: DOT began after I received requests for a few run-out tap performances. Another tap artist and I put together a few dances and we did some shows. I quickly realized that people really liked watching tap dancing—maybe as much as I liked to tap dance. Soon after those performances, I decided to form an official tap company. I invited a few tappers to dance with DOT and the rest is history—as they say.
Deb: Right, I say that all the time. When you’ve lived half a century (or more, as in my case), your life is history! What is it like to dance with your daughter (Gabi) who just performed in the 5th Anniversary performance of [Danceworks’ DanceLAB’s hip hop performance] Ignite? How do you think the different dance styles connect and make DOT unique?
Amy: Dancing with Gabi is the BEST! I know all parents think their kids are great and I’m no exception. I just love to watch her dance, especially hip hop! She has a very unique way of moving and that transfers to her tap dancing too. She is very grounded and that’s good for tap and hip hop both. As a little girl she would make dance concert after dance concert (not just a single dance) in our living room. One of her chores was to set the table before dinner. She always included a ticket to that evening’s performance next to each setting and we couldn’t enter the living room (for the show) without that ticket.
The thing that I think makes DOT unique is that we all move in different ways when we tap. I’ve been told that people find that interesting. The fun thing about tap is that most times the audience is not watching your feet because they can hear them. Tap dance has audio and visual—it’s rhythm in motion. I like to incorporate different dance styles in my choreography so it really moves, instead of staying in one place.
Deb: What inspires your choreography and makes you want to keep doing it?
Amy: Many things inspire my choreography but most often it’s a piece of music or a rhythmic pattern that comes to me and I can’t seem to get out of my head. Tap dance began as a street form and it’s sort of low on the totem pole when it comes to dance styles. One of the reasons I wanted a tap company was to bring recognition to tap as an art form and do my part to keep it going. I’ve been teaching and tapping a long time and I know what joy it brings people. That’s what keeps me doing it.
Deb: What is it about tap dancing that draws you in, engages both the performers and the audience?
Amy: I think the audience is drawn in because of the blend of audio and visual components. I don’t think tap dance is more challenging than any other style of dance but the fact that you can hear it adds another level of challenge for the dancers. If you’re off just a bit it’s much more apparent when you have tap shoes on than if you did not. It’s all about clear communication. If you don’t speak clearly no one will understand you, and that applies to tap dancing too.
I once had a student tell me that she thought tap dancing was going to be really easy. When I asked her why she thought that, she said, “When you see ballet dancers with their leg up by their ear you think, wow! That’s hard. But when you watch tap dancing, it looks so easy and effortless.”
Deb: Well, I had many years of ballet and also some experience with tap (as you know). There was nothing easy about tap (as you know). In the end, you’re right, it is about good communication. And a great teacher/dancer/choreographer/director/mother/wife/friend knows how to achieve that. Like you, Miss Amy. Thanks for the great story and taking the time to talk.
So, who doesn’t have time to add a little joy to their lives? Tap dance is about rhythm and good communication, yes, but the one thing I always walk away with is a heart full of joy. Thanks to DOT and all the tap dancers out there who are keeping the art form moving ahead, and thank YOU for reading!
Welcome to the Danceworks blog, where we're hoping to share a little bit more about the heart and soul behind Danceworks… what made us join the dance and keeps us dancing, what keeps us inspired, and where we can share some of the stories worth telling.