TONIK taps its way into audiences’ hearts

Christina Salter

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It’s hard to perform a tap dance show without a dance floor.

Members of TONIK Tap discovered this earlier in the year when their wooden floor inexplicably went missing from its storage place in an apartment. This setback forced the group to step up its fundraising efforts to buy a new floor in addition to paying for lights and sound equipment.

The group “gave tap classes to other NU students, rented out their equipment, and even did the Thank-a-thon” in order to raise the necessary funds, fundraising co-chairman Erin Kelly said.

A month later, TONIK once again has its floor and is currently holding its annual spring show “The Pursuit of Tappyness.” This year’s show features music ranging from Frank Sinatra to Soulja Boy.

TONIK is in its seventh year as Northwestern’s only all-tap dance group. Artistic Director Jaema Berry said TONIK members strive to use diverse dance styles and incorporate a lot of humor. Their pieces use everything from hoofer-style tap and Broadway-style tap to the more modern rhythm style. Thrown in with the tapping is a little dramatizing as well as a few props and costumes, including trench coats and formal dresses.

“Everybody has such a different style,” said Berry, a McCormick senior. “It really comes out in their sense of humor and their storytelling in the pieces.”

The 12 pieces feature the choreography of many different members of the group. In between each piece are short video clips of the group “pursuing tappyness,” searching for their missing dance floor or performing in dance shows when they were younger. The process of producing their dance pieces begins in the fall soon after auditions. Any group member can choreograph a piece, and seniors vote to choose which will be used.

Kelly, a Weinberg junior, choreographed a piece for the spring show, called “Figure It Out,” about a girl dealing with drama when her boyfriend catches her in a compromising position with her “not boyfriend.” She described her piece as “not what you think of when you think of tap dancing.”

Kelly said TONIK’s size and presence on campus has been increasing since she joined her freshman year, and members hope this growth will continue.

TONIK holds one solo show per year and performs in about seven other shows each year with other dance groups, such as Wildcat Days and Family Weekend.

But the group does more than perform on campus. It has filmed short dance videos in Chicago and on the treadmills at the Sports Pavilion and Aquatics Center to the music of OK Go. TONIK also performs in shows throughout Evanston and Chicago. Last year the group performed at Navy Pier, and they recently presented a rendition of “Singin’ in the Rain” at Daley Plaza during Looptopia 2008. Between all their performances and an average of five hours of rehearsal per week, group members say it’s not surprising they have literally tapped their heels off before, a fact they are quite proud of.

Fundraising co-chairman Michael SaloMonday, one of three males in the 16-person group, said he didn’t originally plan to continue tap dancing at NU. His mom sneaked an old pair of tap shoes into his bag, and he ended up going to auditions with a friend.

“Tap dancing people don’t see as a very masculine endeavor, even though a lot of the great tap dancers have been guys,” the Communication junior said.

Two years later, Salomon said he enjoys the group dynamic and the opportunity to expand his repertoire as a dancer. As one of only a few male members, he also gets many more opportunities to dance whenever there are male parts.

As a McCormick freshman, Lilly Mirviss said she also didn’t expect to continue dancing, a hobby she had pursued since the age of six. But Mirviss said she uses tap dancing as a stress reliever and also enjoys the non-judgmental and goofy dynamic of the group.

“You’re making music while you’re dancing,” she said. “You make your own rhythms, and you make your own beat.”

Weinberg freshman Kate Butler said she didn’t know what to expect from the show.

“It went above and beyond my expectations,” she said.

And Berry said Butler’s sentiments are not uncommon.

“A lot of people are surprised that they end up liking a tap show as much as they do,” she said. “If we’re going to put on a full show of tap dancing, we’re going to make it interesting.”

“Pursuit of Tappyness” continues tonight and Saturday with shows at 8 and 11 p.m. in Shanley Pavilion.