CLEARWATER — Every year, National Tap Dance Day is celebrated on May 25, and it is a celebration of the heritage, history and culture of tap dance. It is also a day when the evolution of tap dance as an American art form is remembered and rejoiced.
Some people might believe that tap dancing resides in a bygone era, an art form that has been left in the past. Kayla Cowart, however, is proving otherwise. Performing with the stage name Tap Girl of Florida™, she enlivens audiences of the Off-Broadway sensation “STOMP” with her rhythmic urban flair.
The idea of having a National Tap Dance Day was presented for the first time to the U.S. Congress on Feb. 7, 1989, and it became a nationally recognized celebration on Nov. 8, 1989, when President George H.W. Bush signed it into Law.
The day was observed for the first time in 1989 to mark the birthday of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Bojangles is one of the most famous historical tap dance figures, and he is widely recognized as a significant contributor to and influencer of tap dance. He was born on May 25, 1878, so it seemed fitting that the day of observation be celebrated in his honor.
Throughout the history of tap, dancers have created many styles and aesthetics. Some dancers have combined other forms of dance and art to create their own style. Smart. Beautiful. Rhythm™ is the trademark for the collections of music and body of work produced by Cowart for the next generation of tap dancers.
The music is distinguishable from traditional tap dance music and includes trending tracks of rap, hip-hop, dance hall, trap and trip-hop. Tap, Cowart believes, is the purest form of dance because the act produces music itself.
Tap dancing has been described as a fusion of Irish and African cultures into an illustration of the American spirit with freedom, happiness and expression being major themes. Little wonder then that National Tap Dance Day is celebrated in America every year and even in other countries including Australia, Iceland, India and Japan. In recent times, the celebration has been taken to social media, which further increased the education and awareness of the dance.
Determined to create a new appreciation for tap dancing, Cowart has emerged as the innovator of a movement devoted to making St. Petersburg/Clearwater one of the best areas in the country for world-class tap dance entertainment.
When she is not performing in the cast of “STOMP” at the historic Orpheum Theatre in New York City, or on tour with “STOMP” at venues across the country, the Tap Girl of Florida is putting the St. Petersburg/Clearwater region on the national dance map as founder of the Florida Tap Dance Project, the Tap Dance Ambassadors of Florida and the annual Dunedin Tap Dance Festival.
Tap dance is a multifaceted art form and dates back to the early 1800s. Throughout history, it has influenced many other art forms including Broadway musical theater, music, vaudeville, dance and film. It is one of the most unique and powerful art forms; a force that connects both the dancer and the observer, creating a joyful audience and atmosphere.
After graduating from Largo High School’s ExCEL Magnet Program in 2015, Cowart founded the Tap Dance Ambassadors of Florida featuring herself and St. Petersburg/Clearwater tap dance professionals Morgan Storrison of Tapped In, Inc., Ruth Ann Martin of the Truth Tap Company and Ashlyn Bolton of the Rhythm and Sole Tap Ensemble.
Since its inception in 2015, the project has expanded to include Jacksonville tap dance entertainer Jenne Vermes of Noise Compliant and Rhythm Theory, Collier County entertainer Judi Baruck of the ReCreation Tappers of Southwest Florida and Pasco County tap dance professional Cathy D’Amico Scavelli of Tap Sensation.
Cowart believes that celebrating National Tap Dance Day is a way to recognize, remember, preserve, and promote this rich and multifaceted American art form. “It provides a venue for us to rejoice and refocus the attention of the American people on the dance” she states.
The popularity of tap dance has gone through several periods of highs and lows over the years; there was a time when the art form came close to dying out, but for the hard work of a few tap dance enthusiasts, such as Cowart. Thankfully, their efforts paid off, and now there are hundreds of free classes, festivals and workshops all over the world to celebrate the dance.
Cowart also joins these efforts to keep all the mythos and magic of tap dance alive. This September she will be hosting her second annual Dunedin Tap Dance Festival. A free and family-friendly event that provides free tap dance lessons to participants of all ages and abilities and tap dance performances open to the public at no charge.
Dance is life, and life is a dance, Cowart says. With her performances, videos and albums combined with her tireless efforts to bolster the visibility of St. Petersburg/Clearwater’s tap dance industry, the charismatic performer, entrepreneur and leader believes that many others will share her love for the art form in the Tampa Bay area and the state of Florida.