File May Be Corrupted: Inquiries in Jig, Clog, and Sand

It’s thesis time! As I may have mentioned, I am currently in my third year as a graduate student in Temple University’s Dance MFA program. My thesis concert is this weekend, so if you have been considering a trip to Philadelphia and want to see some live dance and music, now is the time…


I am sharing the evening with two friends and fellow graduating MFAs, Dawn States and Ying Yu (pictured above), and I will be joined by Emily Oleson, Robyn Watson, and Jake Blount. The shows are Friday and Saturday, February 14th and 15th at 7:30pm at Temple University’s Conwell Theater.  Tickets are available here. 

File May Be Corrupted: Inquiries in Jig, Clog, and Sand, is a critical exploration of the historical and current connections between tap dance and Appalachian flatfooting and the ways that they serve as discursive rhythmic expressions of self. The piece is also a reflection on what my own teachers and mentors have passed down to me, the imperfection of memory, complexities of affect, and questions of attribution. It explores the conversant musicality that is so important to tap dance and Appalachian flatfooting and to their roots in the jig and clog dances of the 19th century. Echoes of the social violence of racism enacted through blackface minstrel performance continue to weigh on us as modern percussive dancers, but we seek ways to dance through the deeper questions of sadness, avoidance, and shame.

I feel incredibly grateful to my collaborators who have given so freely of their time and artistry for this project, and excited to share what we have made…

Robyn Watson

Robyn Watson is a native of Philadelphia and began dancing at the age of five. She began her training at La-Cher-Tari Dance Studio and later at Wissahickon Dance Academy. By the age of ten, she was asked to join Tap Team Two and Co and served as a member and choreographer until 2002. She has had the opportunity to perform with noted artists in the discipline of tap dance including Dianne Walker, Germaine Ingram, Savion Glover, and the late, legendary Mabel Lee. Robyn was featured in the May/June 2005 issue of Dance Spirit Magazine as one of the “20 Hot Tappers, 20 and Under.” Watson received her B.A in Theater from Temple University, where is also currently serves as an Adjunct Professor in their dance department. She has served as a costume designer for several high schools and production companies in the Philadelphia region. In 2016 served as the tap instructor for the broadway sensation “Shuffle Along.” Recently, she has been able to collaborate and perform with the Grammy award-winning singer/musician Rhiannon Giddens. For the past ten years, she has had the opportunity to work and study under the direction of Tony award-winning choreographer, Savion Glover. Robyn is currently a resident artist at the Painted Bride Art Center where she is creating “The Blackbirds’ Suites” a trilogy of tap dance narratives that address black women’s identity throughout American History. Besides being a professional dancer and choreographer, Robyn is also a theatre and dance educator throughout the country.

Jake BlountJake Blount is an award-winning banjoist, fiddler, singer, and scholar based in Washington, DC. He is half of the internationally touring duo Tui and a 2020 Strathmore Artist in Residence. He has studied with modern masters of old-time music, including Bruce Molsky, Judy Hyman (of the Horse Flies), and Rhiannon Giddens and Hubby Jenkins (of the GRAMMY-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops). Although he is proficient in multiple old-time styles, he specializes in the music of Black and Native American communities in the southeastern United States, and in the regional style of Ithaca, New York. In 2016, Blount became the first Black person to make the finals at the prestigious Appalachian String Band Music Festival (better known as Clifftop), and the first to win in the traditional band category. In the following year, he received his B.A. in Ethnomusicology from Hamilton College and released his debut EP, “Reparations,” with award-winning fiddler Tatiana Hargreaves. He toured Scandinavia and released a CD with the Moose Whisperers in 2018. He opened several shows for MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient Rhiannon Giddens the same year and joined Libby Weitnauer to form the duo Tui while on a tour of Australia and New Zealand. In 2019, Tui released their debut album, Pretty Little Mister, and Blount claimed first place in the banjo contest at Clifftop with three tunes from Black banjoists. He is now working toward his first full-length solo album. Blount has shared his music and research at the Smithsonian Institution, the Old Songs Folk Festival, and Berklee School of Music, as well as numerous other venues and institutions. He teaches fiddle and banjo privately, as well as at camps like the Augusta Heritage Center’s Old-Time Week, the Ashokan Center’s Old-Time Rollick, and Earful of Fiddle Music and Dance Camp. Jake Blount plays a five-string Nathaniel Rowan fiddle and banjos made by Seeders Instruments, Renan Banjos, and Deanocraft Custom Banjos.

Emily Oleson (Kwame Pic 1)Emily Oleson is a co-Artistic Director of Good Foot Dance Company and a crossover dance artist whose work frames American social dance to include a broad range of styles, genres, and histories. Her work has included performances with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Aulney-All-Blues festival in France, the Newport Folk Festival, Jacob’s Pillow’s Inside/Out Stage, and collaboration with Urban Artistry and Baakari Wilder on The Meaning of Buck Dance in conjunction with a U.S. State Department tour in Russia. She received her B.A. in Dance at James Madison University, her MFA in Dance at the University of Maryland, and pioneered the first undergraduate degree devoted to American vernacular dance at Davis & Elkins College. Emily is currently an Assistant Professor at James Madison University for the 2019-2020 academic year and is pursuing a Ph.D. at Temple University, researching social dance, race, and regionality.


I very much hope you can join us this weekend!



~ by matthew olwell on February 10, 2020.

4 Responses to “File May Be Corrupted: Inquiries in Jig, Clog, and Sand”

  1. Wow! Jake Blount and Robyn Watson sound like heavy hitters! (to say nothing of Emily Oleson) maybe i need to rent a small private jet and get up there! Congrats, I’m very proud! ( insofar as a Buddhist is allowed to feel “Pride”)

  2. It was so wonderful to hear some news about Emily. I am hoping you will be able to forward this to her for me. I met her at D&E as a young dancer. I will be a senior next year and am looking, always looking, for some great places to dance. I was with JaM Youth Project/Mark Osborn for 2 years and high school just had too many demands so I have taken a year off. I still am dancing with my studio, Pointe/Ballet, Jazz, Modern, Contemporary, Tap, and Hip Hop. I am trying to stay rounded (more marketable) and since I last saw Emily, I have had summer scholarships to Radford, Indiana, WVU, and Brenau. I am actively looking for a college, for a dance major, following graduation next year. Dance is my priority with everything else taking a back seat. I have earned a 3.85 so far in high school. I just wanted to let you know that YOU influenced me so much. Your passion, as an adult, for dance was beyond what I was used to seeing. It was what I felt bursting inside of me but had not seen in dance instructors. I thank you for that glimpse of what can be. I hope you are doing wonderfully. Regards, Amya Largent

    • Hi, thanks do much for reaching out! I will pass this on to Emily. So glad to hear your story. Being an artist/self employed/performer is a pretty hard life in someone ways, so it always means a lot to me to know that we impacted someone in a positive way like this. Stay in touch and happy dancing!

    • Temple University where I am getting my MFA in Dance has a good dance program. Drop me an email here from the site if you’re interested and I can let you know more!

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