In honor of National Tap Dance Day, I had the pleasure of talking to Demi Remick, a phenomenal rhythm tap dancer and teacher in New York City. She has captured the attention of audiences and critics alike; she was recognized in 2014 as one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” and went viral as the soloist in PostModern Jukebox’s Super Mario Bro’s Tap Dance Medley. Her versatile nature has led her to unique performance opportunities in the United States and internationally, including with the Sydney Opera House, Radio City Music Hall, Company XIV, Caleb Teicher, and more.
“I aim to be the full package"
Not only is she a joy on stage, but her infectious smile and energy light up every corner of a room when she walks in. Although we weren’t able to speak in person, Demi shared with me her views on tap, teaching, and how tap dancers and audiences are reacting to the current coronavirus pandemic.
Demi as a dancer, teacher, and explorer
“I aim to be the full package,” Demi said, when asked to describe herself as a dancer she used the words, “music, movement, comedy, sensuality, power, and fun!”
A student of tap greats, Demi is very intentional in outlining the lineage from which she came, a list including Pamela Raff, Josh Hilberman, Barbara Duffy, and Michelle Dorrance. She credits these dance teachers with her skills, her sensibilities, her knowledge, and her maturity. Despite pursuing tap for the majority of her career, she received her BFA in Dance Performance from SUNY Purchase, a primarily contemporary dance program. “As a multiform dancer, I am continually influenced and inspired by contemporary movement,” she says, but “more so than that, the vernacular jazz and solo movements of the swing era.”
Beyond being a tap dancer, Demi also describes herself as a musician, and in her teachings she emphasizes that. “I like to help the audience and show them what they should hear by illustrating sound with my movements.”
In getting that point across to her students, she always stresses how tap dancers’ skills must go beyond what people can see. “Recently I’ve been telling my students to analyze the shapes they are making, and encouraging them to over-exaggerate the physical possibilities to see how they impact our sounds as instruments. You are as much responsible for your sounds, as a musical instrument, as you are for your movement choices. Don’t get lost in the sauce of either world.”
Demi asks her students to build a clear, strong, and simple base, adding layers later. Instead of pushing them through tricky sections, she asks, “Why are we missing sounds? Why isn’t this working?” Demi tells them, “when seeking answers, ask questions.”
Although she is young, Demi has been able to develop and share her teaching philosophies in NYC and beyond over the last few years. After joining Dorrance Dance, director Michelle Dorrance had Demi sub her classes at Broadway Dance Center in NYC. Then, Demi was hired to teach at tap dance festivals around the world; in her own words, “my teaching career just exploded.”
"I started offering the daily dance Instagram live tap classes because I wanted ‘joy’ to continue to be accessible for free."
Social media and tap in the time of the Coronavirus pandemic
As with many other performing artists, Demi has definitely been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, even more so as a tap dancer. Not only were her teaching and performance tours cancelled in compliance with stay at home orders due to the pandemic, but Demi has also struggled with finding space to rehearse. “Unlike contemporary forms of dance and ballet, where you can continue to train, to an extent in a small place, we [as tap dancers] have to rent space to practice.”
“Like many tap dancers living in a small apartment, I was immediately discouraged and depressed by the idea of being unable to tap dance for months,” she shared. With the possibility of noise complaints and downstairs neighbors to consider, she had to get creative. “With help from my loved ones, I’ve found wood, basements, and outdoor spaces to make it work.”
Demi was quick to react to the challenges tap dancers were facing as the coronavirus pandemic began shutting down studios and dance spaces around the world. “I started offering the daily dance Instagram live tap classes because I wanted ‘joy’ to continue to be accessible for free. I thought if I taught tap dance, told bad jokes and dressed up every day that I could at least offer a consistency of happiness. I wanted students of all ages to continue to feel like they had one thing they could continue to rely on when everything else is in flux. My hope is that through encouraging themes (hat day, 80’s day, etc), and encouraging posts, I would be creating a community on social media.”
While Demi isn’t able to continue offering free daily classes due to a change in space availability, she still finds that people want to tap through online dance lessons, possibly more than before. “I am currently offering classes and choreography commissions via Zoom. I am actually booked every day!”
While there are logistical downsides to practicing tap dance during the coronavirus pandemic, there is also an unexpected upside. “Kids finally have time to get their tap shoes on and practice every day. People that have always had tap dance on the back burner are reaching out and excited to learn. More advanced dancers are sharing what they know. There is so much virtual opportunity, it is overwhelming!”
Demi believes that the excitement for tap will last beyond the mandatory shutdown. “I’m hoping it will encourage people to continue to study tap dance in person and buy tickets to live shows to get inspired by professionals,” she says, “Tap dance is alive and well, and just like every art form there is a different flavor and performer for everyone [to be inspired by].”
Demi has been very candid over her dance Instagram, where she has been sharing almost daily posts and updates. “I hope people see what I’m posting and are brought joy. I don’t want people to be intimidated by my social media presence. If I add layers of comedy to my tap dancing it breaks the ice, and invites people in the door.”
When asked, she addresses the benefits of having an active and engaging social media presence. “I think my online presence definitely brings more people towards my work, though my goal is to connect beyond Instagram. If you like what you see on someone’s Instagram, see where they are performing or teaching in the real world!”
“I honestly don’t over-analyze my social media presence,” she says, “I just post what I worked on that day- I just happen to always be tap dancing!”
Demi hopes that younger generations of dancers and artists will learn to use social media in the same way. “ I think social media should be partially process-oriented instead of just all a perfected product. Share your finalized work but also share the work.”
She also interacts daily with her followers, who reach out to her over DM. “We discuss what they need to work on, how they can improve, when we can connect for a master class, or where I will be touring or performing next… they are the reason I get to do what I love every day.”
"You are as much responsible for your sounds, as a musical instrument, as you are for your movement choices. Don’t get lost in the sauce of either world."
Dreaming of what's next
When I asked Demi what she saw for herself, maybe ten years from now, she had some thoughtful responses. Besides continuing as a freelance tap dance soloist, company member, and collaborator, she hopes to start a company, or create works herself one day.
However, dance isn’t the only thing she’d love to do. She would love to be a guest host, or recurring character on Sesame Street who interacts and dances with all the puppets and kids! “If you know someone who works at Sesame Street, tell them I’m interested!”
Where to dance with Demi
top photo © Eric Morgensen