And the winner is…

•April 10, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Pleased and proud to have won second place in the D&E Poetry Contest. I submitted the following, written around 2001 after a week at Common Ground on the Hill…

Bear Lake

on the steps

the nights is passing away into dawn

the first spikes and feathers of blue light are painting the trees

slow calligraphy on the ancient bark

the towering shapes leap out in piercing contrast

cut from a page with the sharpest scissors.


the world is birthed in a swift movement

slipping into existence with a wet yelp like a newborn

to find the trees dripping with dew

the lanterns are wreathed in mist;

yellow staring eyes.


on the breaking edge of this emergence,

the sound of your voice enters my head like the wide-eyed stare of a child

calm and measured

a night bird beckoning from the darkness

tearing at the fragile fabric of my dreams with talons of ice and shadow.


the banjo rings like a church bell, painting your voice in swirling watercolors

it’s rhythm undeniable and persistent.

and as you play, I am struck by the slow fusion of player and instrument

your slender form rocking in time with the music

the boundary between your fingers and the neck is blurred into oblivion


the ship strains in her moorings,

ready to be away on the swell of the ocean current

and your fingers touch the strings

plucking from the depths of the water, things like fish with scales made of silver


I can see you sitting by the shore, spray catching in your hair

seaweed clinging to the smooth boundary of your cheek

the sound of your voice rising and falling with the waves.


and I as a water bird, wings ill suited to flight

webbed feet accustomed to the blue resistant thrum of the sea,

halting in my fluid path

bobbing in the tide, frozen by your laughter.


on the steps of the church

the night has passed away into dawn

the trees are revealed in their milky azure robes

and I have been cut

running with scissors



•September 7, 2015 • 2 Comments

Very excited to announce a new musical project…


CyberTrad is a musical experiment that combines melodic sensibilities from traditional Irish and Breton music, and blends them with rhythmic elements of contemporary Quebecois, funk, and Hip Hop. The project features Matthew Olwell on flute, vocals, and percussion, Dominic “Shodekeh” Talifero on human Beatbox, and Aimee Curl on vocals, and Simon Lapage on electric bass. I will also be including a few of my new original compositions, so, you know, that’s kind of exciting.

There will be shows and workshops in Washington, DC on 11/21 and Charlottesville, VA on 11/22. For details stop by the event page. From there we go straight into the studio, where the inimitable Joebass Dejarnette will act as engineer for the recording. The debut CD (my first “solo” project) will be out in summer of 2016 (God willin’ and the creek don’t rise) so stay tuned!

Lilting + Beatbox = ?

•August 13, 2015 • 1 Comment

I have been fascinated by lilting and other “mouth music” traditions for as long as I can remember. A while back, I started wondering what Irish music and lilting would sound like with beatbox as the rhythmic accompaniment (more on that later.) Rhiannon Giddens was the first person I actually heard doing this to great effect with Adam Matta. I was recently asked to join EMBODY Lab, a series of musical experiments curated by Sho’dekeh Talifero. The result was the opportunity to make some really exciting music with some fantastic folks. Skip to 1:00 and 6:14 for the fun parts.

(Note: Tunes sourced from Are Re Yaouank, Benoit Benoit, and 30-some years of sessions.)

Happy Birthday, Jimmy

•October 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Smooth Operator: Jimmy Slyde

Born James Titus Godbolt, “Jimmy Slyde” (1927-2008) is a legend both in and out of the tap community. Early in his childhood, Slyde’s family moved from Atlanta to Massachusetts, where he began dancing at Stanley Brown’s studio. He is said to have learned how to slide from his teacher, Eddie “Schoolboy” Ford. Early in his career, he joined forces with Jimmy Mitchell (who went by the stage name “Sir Slyde”), and the two performed for a time as The Slyde Brothers.

Remembered as a consummate performer and a tap dancer’s tap dancer, Slyde appeared with many jazz-era greats, including Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. He and some of his contemporaries embraced the new sound of bebop in the 1940s, and even as this emerging musical style in some ways turned away from its historical connection to social dance, Jimmy threw himself into interpreting the looser, manic energy of the new sound of jazz. It is ironic that, like bebop music, tap from this era was just coming into its own and flourishing artistically, even as audiences turned to new forms of expression. Slyde, like many of his contemporaries, found work hard to come by, until the tap revival of the 1970s and 80s. In a way, it is to this period, and to his frequent teaching and performing on the tap festival circuit, that the high regard in which he is held within the subsequent generations of dancers can be traced.

I was lucky enough to see Slyde perform in the late 1990s, and I remember being struck by his signature style, which, as impressive as it is on film, was even more impactful in person. He barely seemed to touch the floor, and when he did, it was with a controlled attack who’s delicacy belied its power.

He is, to me, the perfect combination of elements in a dancer. He has showmanship for miles, but it is understated, and he doesn’t get in your face with it, merely dances and shows himself honestly and simply. He is an amazing technician, and never seems to miss a beat, but the technique quickly disappears and you just see this graceful, musical movement. He is not just moving, he is in his own words “painting pictures” which seem to leap out of the floor and into the air fully formed. It all comes together and you feel, watching him, like you are just sitting down with him and listening to him talk.


His signature slides (from which he took his name) are, as anyone who has tried them can attest, not as easy as they look. I have heard dancers trying to deconstruct the precise combination of physics that goes into such a smooth, graceful movement. Momentum, inertia, gravity, friction, all have to work together, and Slyde must have practiced hour upon hour to perfect the elements that he makes look as easy as breathing.

Beloved still, Jimmy is often cited in classes I have taken when a teacher wants the students to “smooth it out.” He remains one of my biggest tap heroes, and I am sure I am not alone remembering him as a superb dancer, musician, and artist…

Happy Birthday, Jimmy.

(Note: this post was originally written in Baakari Wilder’s tap class at Montgomery College, Rockville, in May of 2013. Each week, students were required to write a short paper about a different figure from tap’s history. I waited carefully until I was ready to write about one of my very favorite tap artists, Mr. Jimmy Slyde.) 


Tap Dancing America, Constance Valis Hill, 2010

“Jimmy Slyde Taps on George Benson’s Guitar,” YouTube,

Retrospective, New York Times, Claudia La Rocca, 2008

Writing About Trad

•September 30, 2014 • 3 Comments

I am currently a student at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, WV. Before transferring here, I took classes at Montgomery College in Maryland. One of the best things about being in school has been the happy discovery that I am enough of a nerd to really enjoy writing papers. In 2013, at the end of a semester of DANC100 (a lecture class serving as an intro to dance for non-majors) at Montgomery College, Lisa Traiger, the professor,  said, “You write really well. Would you be interested in writing an article for an e-journal I edit for?”

Hell. Yes.

Some existential angst, a few late nights and many drafts later, On Crafting An Alternate Dance Career is live, and I can now legitimately claim to be a writer. I admit to no small amount of excitement about this.

The above link will take you to part one of a two-part article. Part two is here. If you are interested in traditional music and dance, the performing arts, and questions of “authenticity,” stop by. And let me know what you think…


•July 5, 2014 • 2 Comments

Pretty excited about joining the collaboration of Jaige Trudel and Adam Broome last year. Playing music with these two has been a supremely satisfying experience so far, and we have a bunch of exciting gigs coming up in 2014/15! The above is our new promo reel, which, you know, you should feel free to share with anyone you think might be interested. If you want so rockin’ music for your festival, dance, wake, etc. you should drop us a line…

Is it The Shoes?

•March 7, 2014 • 16 Comments


I get asked about shoes. A lot. By students, friends, even complete strangers. Often, after a show, the first and only question from kids is “Can I see your shoes?” I show them the bottoms of my shoes, complete with gleaming metal taps. “WHOAH!” They are impressed. But often the subject of shoes can be confusing to dancers who are just getting started. Taps? Leathers? How much should I spend? With that in mind, here is some info aimed at prospective shoe-shoppers and other interested parties.

Many dance forms have a specific shoe, and one that is often peculiar to their own traditions. Flamenco, tap, clogging, ballet, Irish step, English clog; they all have shoes that have evolved alongside the dance form and are very particular to it. At the same time, many styles do not rely on specialized shoes, although some came into being partly because of footwear for particular workplace environments.

For our purposes, let’s take a look at tap and Appalachian flatfooting and clogging. Both forms can benefit from specialized shoes, but are in no way dependent on them. I usually tell anyone who is just starting out, “get something comfortable with a leather sole.” This is a little vague, so to be more exact, lets say an all-leather Oxford style shoe. I like cap-toes, but wing-tips, brogues, anything like that will work just fine. You want something that feels good on your feet and makes a good sound on the floor. You’ll get a much better sound if that leather sole is extra thick. My favorite trick is to cruise the goodwill for old dress shoes, and then take them to a cobbler and get extra leather put on the bottom. Going this route, you can get a good pair of multi-purpose dance shoes for $50-$100.

But what about the taps? Shoes with taps on them are good when you may not otherwise be heard, but taps make a pretty intense sound, and in a situation where you are working with live acoustic music in an intimate audio-setting (my usual scenario) taps or hard-sole shoes can be a little overpowering. The leather soled shoe has the potential to be a much subtler instrument. That said, anyone who is performing with any regularity will probably want both (I usually make a last minute shoe-decision based on the floor, the acoustics, the size of the room etc.) If you do an outdoor show in front of thousands, there’s a good chance that your tasty leather-on-wood sound will get lost unless you have a good mic and the sound dude is really on top of his or her job. (I can already see the comments flooding in. Let’s just say for now that “dude” is not gender-specific, OK?)

My all-time favorite shoes are made by Just Tap, a small family owned business in Hillsborough, NJ. These folks make a really superior shoe. They don’t make sizes, the shoes are custom fitted to your feet using measurements and tracings. Not surprisingly, they are by far the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn. Get these if you can, you will NOT be sorry. And tell them I sent you, I have not given up hope of an eventual celebrity endorsement…

Whether you are looking to flatfoot at a dance and need some leathers, or take tap class and are therefore looking to get some tap shoes, plan to spend as much as you think you can afford. Except at the goodwill, shoes are an area where you usually get what you pay for. A range of $50-$275 may seem like a lot, until you consider that for your purposes as a percussive dancer, these are your instrument. Try getting a decent violin for $300…

Another great shoe is the Bloch Jason Samuels Smith tap shoe. For $130-$175, these are a very reasonably priced option, probably the best “pro” quality tap shoe you can get without spending a bit more. They come with taps already attached (and they are not easily removed) which is either a plus or minus, depending on what you are looking for. They are heavier than other shoes I have tried, and the taps are bigger. This takes some getting used to, but I found them to be excellent once I got used to the extra weight.

As far as leather-soled shoes for clogging, flatfooting, social dance etc, I have two favorites. A nice leather-soled option for those on a budget is the Aris Allen. The sole is not as thick as you might want for percussive dance (they are perfect for partner dancing) but a good cobbler can easily fix you up with a thicker, heavier leather sole. Once you factor in this additional expense, you are almost up to the cost of the Bloch shoe above, but if you want shoes without taps, they are a good starter shoe. They won’t last quite as long as some of the other choices discussed above, particularly if you dance a lot, but for students on a budget, they are a great option. Slightly cheaper still are these “Clogging Oxfords.” The are perhaps not quite as swanky as the Arris Allens, but they have a good hard sole that will make some sound, and have the benefit of being the most affordable.

As far as the taps themselves go, Capezio, Sansha, Bloch, and others all make different styles of taps that are slightly different sizes, so you may need to experiment to find what fits your foot best. I have slightly wide feet and have found the Sansha taps to be a better fit than the narrower Capezio taps.

What does all this mean? Well, you have options. It really depends on what you you want the shoes to do. My vote? Throw down for the Just Taps. Your feet will thank you.


P.S. Since hearing a pair years ago, I have been on a quest to find someone who is making wooden taps, so if you have a lead? Well, you know where to find me…