Tap dancer Ayodele Lee wanted to be Ginger Rogers in high school. Then she became obsessed with the art form in college. Now she's one of its leading practitioners.
By Truelian Lee ’21
Internationally acclaimed tap dancer Ayodele Casel believes everyone loves tap dancing
“I really love tap dancing,"she said. "I love that people are curious about it, and I love that people want to hear it and do it."
She’ll have a chance to display her theory when she leads a master class open to the Harvard community Monday, October 29 in Lowell Lecture Hall.
Casel, a 2018-2019 artist-in-residence at the Harvard Dance Center, received the 2017 Hoofer Award for inspiring the next generation of tap dancers. She is a faculty member at A BroaderWay, LA Dance Magic and Marymount Manhattan College, and has participated in numerous critically acclaimed
Her goals are to encourage others to have fun and enjoy the moment, but she also wants them to see tap dancing through her eyes: as a unique fusion of sound and movement.
“Whereas a musician is bound to their instrument, whether that’s piano or bass or trumpet, the beautiful thing about tap is that I get to move through space as I make music,” she said. “It’s a really satisfying journey for me each and every time. Every time I put on my tap shoes, I can’t wait to make my first sound.”
Casel noted that she views tap dancing as a cathartic outlet.
“There are a lot of things happening right now in the world, and when they’re saddening or angering or frustrating, you can’t walk around lashing out at people all the time. It’s not healthy, and you don’t accomplish all that much,” she said. “But tap dancing is a healthy release: You walk into the room and feel like you have complete freedom to express yourself rhythmically in any way you see fit, whether that’s through volume or through musical notes.”
Casel said she has always wanted to tap dance. In her senior year of high school, she wanted to be Ginger Rogers. When she received an opportunity later to learn tap dancing as a sophomore at New York University Tisch School of the Arts, she was hooked.
“I felt like I was in heaven. When I discovered that tap dancing is really rich in history and that it’s a really expressive art form that deals with communication and self-expression, I became really obsessed with it. I didn’t want to do anything else,” Casel said.
Casel had this advice for students interested in exploring the arts: “When I came into NYU as a freshman, if you told me that I’d find tap dancing and that it would become my life, I would have told you that you were crazy. I think it’s really important for people, and young people in particular, to be open to everything that comes their way. I also think that you have to be patient and to know you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, because so often we have these timelines of how things are supposed to happen, and not everything is so neatly tied in a bow. That concept of really enjoying the journey and not the destination, no matter how clichéd it may sound, really holds the truth.”