Emily Mikolitch 17 ~ Jackie Hunter Tap Scholarship
photo: Kelly Williams-Birt
I will admit that I was one of the lucky ones who have been in dance class for as long as they remember. I am constantly reminded of those early years when I watch my on-stage premiere, dancing the Mexican Hat Dance in a sparkly yellow tutu and a sombrero much too large for my head. Ever since an early age I've expressed an elevated interest in improvisation, adding my own "special" choreography to the Hat Dance at the mere age of 3.
Somewhere in the mix of ballet, jazz, hip-hop, and modern, I began to excel and become infatuated with tap dance. Something about the tangible opportunity to create rhythms really began sparking an interest with me more so than any of the other forms.
After performing many years of tap solos at competitions, I began to get frustrated with the unbeneficial comments from judges like "sassy!", "great costume!", and "wow! nice shuffles!". Looking for something more rewarding, I found a different world of tap dance.
In 2006 and 2007 I applied and was accepted to Tap Kids, a one-week intensive program for young tap dancers, which was a wonderful segue into the Tap Festival circuit.
Starting at the Chicago Human Rhythm Project in 2008, I realized that tap dancing is what I truly wanted to do with my life. Never before had I been so happy, spending my entire day in challenging classes, pushing myself more than I ever have in my life, surrounded by dancers from all over the world who had the same passion and drive as I did; it was almost too good to be true.
Since my very first festival, I have been fortunate enough to receive various scholarships and private sponsorship to the Chicago Human Rhythm Project each summer now, attended the DC Tap Festival, the Space City Tap Festival, and the Soul to Sole Tap Festival in both 2010 and 2011 as well as the Vancouver Tap Festival in 2010.
As a way to further my training as a tap dancer, I followed the advice of Sarah Reich, an up-and-coming tap dancer in LA. I have instructed tap dance at Park Cities Dance, NextStep Dance, and Dallas Ballet Center teaching everyone from adult beginners to advanced teens to babies. Since I began teaching in the fall of 2010, I have grown so much as a dancer and a student because teaching really forces you to step back and break all of the skills down and make them easy (and hopefully fun) for those who are just learning.
My main two passions in life are tap and film, and in the future, my dream is to attend college, dance on a professional tap company, and ultimately integrate film and tap to bring tap dance into American's homes once again in a new and exciting way that people can relate to.
With the Jackie Hunter Memorial Scholarship, I was able to attend the 80th Annual Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival as a student in the tap program. The program was limited to 25 dancers worldwide and required a 20-minute audition tape along with multiple essays and letters of recommendation.
My acceptance to the program was quite literally a dream come true, and my Dance Council scholarship made my dream come true a reality.
Before I arrived at the Pillow, I had high expectations that my technique and versatility as a tap dancer would improve in the two weeks I was there. However, I had no idea how much more my experience at the Pillow would shape me as not only a tap dancer, but as an artist.
In terms of my tap dancing, all my expectations were not only met, but far exceeded. Master teachers Lane Alexander and Derick Grant set pieces on us the first week, and they could not be more different. Alexander went for a passionate Bach piece that required a lot of upper body and technical aesthetic that did a wonderful job of taking me out of my comfort zone and exposing me to new port de bras while also training my ear to classical music.
Grant chose the song “National Anthem” by Radiohead for his piece. He focused a lot on visually compelling steps that often required difficult weight changes. He also incorporated many difficult and fast steps that required many hours after class in the studio to master them.
The second week, the legendary Brenda Buffalino and Lisa LaTouche set pieces on us. We also had an opportunity to learn Leon Collins’s historical number, “53” from program director, Lady Dianne Walker.
Buffalino choreographed to jazz giants Charles Mingus and Bud Powell but utilized live music for all classes and showcase performances. Like Alexander, Buffalino had high expectations for specific port de bras that I wasn’t used to. It was extremely rewarding when I got past the “awkward” phase of movement and locked into the way she used her body. Her class was the most out of my element, and as a result, I feel like I experienced the most growth from her class because I chose to commit to absolutely everything I did at the Pillow 150% no matter how unorthodox it felt.
Finally, LaTouche set a heavy swing piece to Nina Simone’s “Love Me or Leave Me” which has been hands down the most fun dance I have ever learned or performed. After a long morning of counterpoints and difficult body movements with Buffalino, this piece was a great release.
Aside from the choreography we were given, we also attended a music class with Paul Arslanian each morning where I got a much better understanding of music structure and communicating with live musicians.
After classes each night, it was a part of our job as students to usher the performances at the Pillow. I got an opportunity to be moved and inspired more than I ever imagined, especially after seeing performances from contemporary companies Kidd Pivot and Vertigo. They made me so much more aware of my place as a tap dancer in the entire art form we call dance, and the responsibility I had to be a bigger part of that community.
Needless to say, those performances inspired me to go back to contemporary, ballet, and jazz classes because it can only make my tap dancing stronger and give me more to bring to the table as a dancer and a choreographer.
It would be safe to say that my time at the Pillow has been the most defining experience of my life thus far, and I not only learned things that I will apply into my dancing and my life forever, but I forged relationships with so many truly incredible people that I know I will be working either with or for for the rest of my career, and hopefully life.
The Pillow has given me so much that I am so excited to share with my Dallas community. It has given me an awareness and respect of all forms and the inspiration to incorporate as many different types of dance I can into one idea as I can. I have also gained an even more mature work ethic that I feel has transformed me from a pre-professional to a professional.
The program also gave me insight into what my strengths are as well as my weaknesses, helping me realize what I need to spend more time focusing on and what I can share with my students and fellow tap dancers with confidence.
But at the end of the day, the biggest thing I am going to hold on to from my experience at the Pillow is that I know now that I will never, ever give up dance in my life. It has become indispensible and irreplaceable.
I cannot thank you enough for making this experience possible for me. It has truly changed my life and left impressions that will last forever.