On Oct 18, renowned tap dancer Mindy Copeland appeared as part of the Dance Department’s Guest Artist series at WTAMU. Out of 53 who auditioned for the tap dancing performance on Oct 11, only 10 dancers were selected for the piece.
“We had an audition, which was grueling and we all had to tap one at a time,” senior dance major Devyn Dobson said, who explained the path she and nine others had to take to prepare for the performance. “We learned to combo and after the audition, we were cast. We had rehearsal for the rest of Friday and all of Saturday. We had Sunday off, and [Copeland] cast who was in the piece and who were understudies. From Monday up until now, we just rehearsed every afternoon and every evening. It was really grueling and it was a lot of hard work.”
The five and a half minute piece was a mixture of individual effort and group work. In the introduction of the piece “Sound is Pound”, Copeland said that tap dancing was about “finding one’s own voice” in the form of improvisation.
“It’s been a pleasure to be here,” Copeland said, praising the performers on their work. “The students gave me 110% and I worked them really hard. We had a lot of long rehearsals; the first two days were tough. We had six to eight hour rehearsals, divided into four-hour chunks. They had to learn the entire five and a half minute piece in two days so that we had the whole week to clean. It’s a lot of material to process in that amount of time. The stamina to tap for that long, you get sore feet and sore shins. They pushed through and did an excellent job.”
Copeland, a Los Angeles resident and Cal-State Fresno alum, was a former student of Edward R. Truitt, associate professor of Art, Theatre, and Dance. Truitt was instrumental in bringing in Copeland, who is part of the YouTube Masters of American Tap Dance education video series, to West Texas A&M University.
“We [the faculty] try to bring in a variety of guest artists that will help the dancers to create a network for when they leave [school],” Truitt said, revealing the steps taken to bring Copeland to Canyon. “We try to bring in some of the guest artists that are out there; working professionally that can be potential contacts for the students as well as guest artists who can fill in a gap in our program. The way our program is written at this point in time is that we’re not really strong in the tap [dancing] area. I proposed to the other faculty to bring a tap choreographer and I have a great contact that has her own company. This is funded by the Guest Artist series as well as our next guest artist that we’re bringing in January.”
Copeland was a featured soloist in the international tour of Caution Men at Work: Tap! in mainland China, as well as appearing in the short film Tap Heat, starring Arthur Duncan and Jason Samuels Smith, where she performed choreography by Danny Daniels.
“I definitely think the stage is the most rewarding because you get that immediate connection and feedback with the audience,” Copeland said. “I particularly love theatres where you can see the audience and look them in the eye while performing. However, doing live television has its own energy, where there are no second takes. You have to nail it, or it’s going live. So it has its own exciting energy. The Jerry Lewis Telethon (in 2003) was one of the most special moments for me. I shared the stage with quite a few legends, it happened shortly after Gregory Hines had passed away, so we turned the number into a tribute for him. So it was a great honor to be a part of that routine.”
Copeland is also the co-artistic director of Tap Overload, a tap dance production company that premiered Office Beat to rave reviews as well as producing short YouTube videos to attract a new generation of tap dancers and reignite a passion for tap dancing to former dancers.
“One thing my husband [Gabe Copeland] and I wanted to do is to spread the joy of tap and knowledge of tap,” Copeland said. “It’s not a dying art form. It’s something that’s fun, relevant, and current today. There’s a lot of people doing it and enjoying it. We wanted to inspire people to put those tap shoes back on or get into tap classes they never have. So far, the feedback to the YouTube channel has been positive. That was our goal, so it was exciting to hear that.”
Notably, Copeland is no stranger to WT as she has been on campus before.
“I brought her out here before, in the summer of 2004 and in the summer of 2005 as a guest teacher when WT used to have a summer dance camp,” Truitt said. “We have stayed in touch and became great friends with her and her husband.”