15 Minutes With Allison Toffan, Founder of Toronto International Tap Dance Festival

Allison Toffan is a seasoned tap dancer and educator who has taught at festivals, conventions, and multiple workshops across Canada. Most recently her work was featured in Toronto’s Body Percussion Festival, she performed in Lisa’s La Touche’s world premiere of Hold On, has been on two multi-city US tours with The StepCrew, is a contributing artist with Anandam Dancetheatre, and created The Big Band Tap Revue.

She founded the inaugural Toronto International Tap Dance Festival, happening at Harbourfront Centre June 2-4.

SDTC: What should we be paying more attention to?

AT: Human connection! Everyone is stuck in their phones. Look up. Smile at people, and look them in the eye! Or call someone out who is being rude or causing some wrongdoing. Or take the risk and call someone versus texting them!

For real though. Remember the nerves it took to call that boy or girl after school and ask them out when we were kids? I feel like we’re losing that vibrancy. So, whatever it is, actually connect with people and things around you!

What do you love most about tap dancing?

The sound, and the expression of music through movement. Also, the range of emotion it brings out of those who watch it as well as those expressing.

One new thing you learned this year?

That I am way more like my mother than I thought…like, waaaay more. Eesh.

What memory brings a smile to your face?

When we started Toronto Rhythm Initiative in 2011. There was a group of us who jammed in the basement at Mad For Dance on Adelaide EVERY SINGLE SUNDAY NIGHT. We wanted to dance, we wanted to grow, we wanted to hang, we found our people, we grew our family and thus our professional community. I smile thinking about those days of pure love for the art form, joy, jokes, and togetherness.

Which choreographers/performers are you most excited for at the Tap Dance Festival?

I’m excited for everything and everyone. The local commissioned dancers have some incredible work brewing, and I’m excited to present them on the same platform and equal playing field of masters we’ve looked up to our entire professional lives.

I’m excited to present both Heather Cornell and Ted Louis Levy on the same bill, particularly because they’re of the same generation, have serious ties to the pioneers of this art form, and represent complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Their voices and perspectives of expression are so very different, and it makes me beyond excited to present them together as it defines the diversity in the form and will completely blow people’s minds for what their expectation of tap dance is.

Describe the funniest thing you’ve experienced in recent memory.

Here we go – a fart that sounded like an ascending scoop of a trumpet. Yep. Fart humour.

Best advice you’ve been given?

Look forward; don’t look around. Do not compare yourself to other people.

What is the best part of being your current age?

Being more and more comfortable with who I am and what I’m about, and knowing who my real friends and family are – not caring about stupid, frivolous crap that doesn’t matter.

What word or phrase should we use more often?

Please and thank you. Or “Work hard, stay humble” – The Dance Project.

What’s on your night stand?

An essential oils diffuser.

What is the most difficult tap dance maneuver, in your opinion?

Mastering slides. I absolutely love slides, but to execute them well is so hard! I’m not talking about a slide on the toes with a running preparation – I’m talking about the effortless look of gliding across the stage through rhythm. Check out Jimmy Slyde – he was the master:

Your biggest tap dancing pet peeve?

Slamming your feet! In dance studios and on competition stages these days, the floors are covered in marley, a rubber-like flooring surface. It has become the norm to lay this floor down as it is great for grip for ballet, contemporary, jazz, etc. For tap dance, it’s the absolute opposite of what we need! It’s like covering up a drummer’s snare drum with a piece of rubber – it loses the real sound. (Rubber is commonly used for soundproofing).

So it has become a big problem that young dancers slam their feet because they feel like they’re not being heard, and it crucifies their technique. It produces crazy amounts of tension through the legs. It absolutely makes me insane. The instrument of tap dance is the metal on our shoes played on wood, not sucked up and absorbed by a huge sheet of rubber.

What tap trends are you loving right now?

The use of triggers and loop pedals. Dancers are exploring more ways to express themselves musically, and it’s cool to see dancers like Michelle Dorrance and Nicholas Young play with triggers to communicate melodies and soundscapes through the use of technology. You’ll see some of this tech at the show on June 2 in Heather’s set – Making Music Dance. A great way to describe this is “visual music.”

Who was your celebrity crush when you were a kid?

General Hollywood crush – Leonardo DiCaprio for sure, but Romeo & Juliet Leo, not Titantic Leo.

Tap dance wise – Savion Glover. I fell in love with him on Sesame Street, and the rest is history.

What do you think would surprise most people about tap dancing?

There are tap dancers who are alive and well and working all over the world. The scenes in Japan, Barcelona, London, Australia, Sweden, and Germany are huge to name a handful. Dancers are working together, producing shows, festivals, and connecting to each other far beyond North America, and the vibrancy of the art form really transcends language barriers and national cultures.

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