Tough Side of Tap

Six solid men take the stage, looking rugged in their jeans and industrial work boots. They appear ready to hit the construction site to do ... some tap-dancing?

Clearly, this isn't a traditional tap-dancing performance. There isn't a pretty backdrop and a lamppost to sing and dance around. There are no top hats or jazz hands. No, this is Tap Dogs, 90 minutes of nonstop tap that showcases the mind-blowing dancing skills from guys who really do appear more suited to a construction site.

But looks can be deceiving.

Tap Dogs is a production from Australia that debuted in 1995. Current producer Aldo Scrofani says that in the show, the performers—they're not referred to as dancers, but as the guys—start on a plain-looking construction site. They build as they tap—over and under scaffolds, ladders and ropes. There are even power-tool-triggered fireworks. The show has its own musical score that helps keep up the intensity of the tapping.

Scrofani says he wants Tucson to be astounded at the ability of these performers.

"These blokes are not typical Fred Astaire-type tap dancers," Scrofani says. "They're good-sized boys and astounding tap dancers."

The cast members performing in Tucson hail from all over the world, including the United States, Australia and England. Many are Tap Dogs veterans. Chris Erk of Ohio first joined the show in New York City in 1997. He was 16 years old.

"I toured internationally with them for five years," Erk says. "This is my first time back in seven years."

When he was 4 years old, his father's band would practice in the family basement. His father played the drums, and rhythm got hold of Erk at an early age. He has since trained in numerous forms of dance, but says tap is what he finds to be the most fun.

Erk says that the high energy of the show keeps him working hard. He and the other five cast members are onstage tapping throughout the entire performance, so there is never a dull moment. But what really makes the show special, at least to Erk, is the camaraderie the guys have both onstage and off.

"The audience picks up on it, too," he says. He explains that with the guys happy, and the audience feeling it, everyone has a great time. He also says that because most of the guys are veteran performers this time around, "this is the best show."

Scrofani and Erk both say that there's nothing else quite like Tap Dogs. It is the brainchild of Australian choreographer Dein Perry. Perry grew up in the industrial area of Newcastle near Sydney. He danced and also worked as an industrial machinist; this combination of talent and trade inspired the show's construction theme. Perry was in the original cast, along with friends from his hometown.

The guys' characteristic boots are modified with metal plates for tapping by the famous Australian footwear company Blundstone.

There's no specific plot, but a story follows the guys. They have names like the Foreman, the Kid and Funky.

After its 1995 Australian debut, the show came to North America a year later for Montreal's Just for Laughs comedy festival. The show then traveled to New York City; since then, Scrofani says, producers have taken the show on tour every few years.

Erk returned for this tour, he says, because he's never underworked with Tap Dogs.

"Everything's very involved," he says. "The set is like a pop-up book."

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