Katie Padgett Brown is a nationally renowned tap dancer, choreographer, and instructor, and we’re lucky to have her as part of our faculty. She joined Arts Together this past September, but you would never know she’s one of our newest teachers – she effortlessly fits in with our creative, collaborative culture.
Her accomplishments are many. She has taught at dance studios in Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, and North Carolina, and was invited to perform in the annual Kennedy Center Gala twice. Katie has also performed at New York City’s Lincoln Center in Broadway’s Greatest Showstoppers with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Marvin Hamlisch. Her students have gone on to dance with The Julliard School, Mark Morris Dance Group, Boston Ballet, various Broadway shows, and numerous college dance programs.
Katie has an openness and approachability that is kind, patient, and inviting. She communicates and relates to individuals of all ages with
a natural ease. Katie currently teaches Shake, Rattle N Roll and Multi-Arts Mornings for 3-to-5-year-olds, but this summer, she’s leading a brand new tap dance camp called Tap to the Beat for our Junior Sparks (ages 6-8) at Raleigh Charter High School in July, which she shares more about below.
Growing up in a musical family, she recalls her parent’s support and encouragement to pursue dance and creative ventures being influential in her life. Read on for more of her reflections on creative expression, dance, her students, and upcoming summer camp Tap to the Beat.
How and when did you become interested in dance, especially tap dance?
I started dancing in Kindergarten. I wanted to be just like my big sister, who was about 12 at the time. I began in a combo class of tap and ballet, and started taking jazz in third grade and other styles in middle school. From the time I started, tap always appealed to me. I think I liked making noise, but the rhythm and structure of tap also appealed to me and always just clicked. I became more focused on tap in college when I had the opportunity to study it with Gene Medler at Elon College (now Elon University). A new world of possibility within tap was opened up to me, and my hunger and love for the dance grew rapidly.
What has your professional journey looked like in dance, choreography, and instruction?
It's actually quite a coincidence of “right time/right place.” I had graduated from college (with a music degree), was living in Durham, had rent and bills to pay, and no job. I picked up the Sunday paper for the classifieds and found a listing that said “Tap Dance Teacher Needed. Call for Info.” I called, had an interview and demo class the next day, and was offered a part-time teaching job the following day. From that time on, there was no doubt that I wanted to continue teaching, and I haven't stopped since!
How did you become involved with Arts Together?
I relocated to the Raleigh area in the summer of 2017. Prior to that, I was living in the suburbs of Washington, DC, teaching at two studios – one in Virginia and one in the District. I worked with Meg's* daughter, Sarah, and when she heard I was moving to the Raleigh area, she immediately put us in touch. I started teaching for Arts Together in September of 2017.
*Meg Revelle is the Executive Director of Arts Together.
What excites you most about your summer camp Tap to the Beat from July 23-27?
I’m really excited to bring tap dance to Arts Together! I think the kids will enjoy the rhythmic side of this dance form, and who doesn't like to make noise?
Can you describe your instruction style?
I fully believe that all students can succeed if they are given the proper tools. I like to give the dancers many different ways to think about what they're working on. What part of the foot are we using? How can our posture or stance help or hinder the execution of the step or skill? What's the rhythm? How do I count this? What sound am I creating? Am I using the right or the left? Is it loud or soft? I encourage the dancers to do a lot of compare/contrast work and to explore the right and wrong way to do things. This way they understand how and why we do something a certain way, instead of just mimicking what I’m doing. Though that's definitely part of it!
What can parents and youth expect from this camp?
Loads of fun! We'll work on technique, study several important figures in tap dance, watch footage of famous tap dancers, and create our own choreography. We’ll also work on some traditional tap repertoire, such as the Shim Sham and the Coles Stroll and Walk Around.
What are tap’s unique attributes that make it stand out from other dance genres, like ballet or modern?
Goodness, where to start! There's the obvious points – the shoes and the rhythm. But I love tap, because it is truly for anybody. Tap master Honi Coles once said, “If you can walk, you can tap dance.” I truly believe this. I've had students as young as 3 and as old as 73 who have connected with this American art form. Tap dance is a bit friendlier on the body than some other styles can be, and there's definitely longevity in the art form. I also appreciate the range of styles within tap – there's definitely a style for everyone.
As an instructor, can you recall a meaningful moment or poignant interaction with a student that’s impacted you?
These are so plentiful. But I would have to say that I enjoy the little moments. Those instances when a student makes a connection or is able to approach a step or skill from a different perspective, either with or without prompting. Or when a student attends a performance and comes back with a fire and excitement about their classwork and study. Or when I show a piece of historical tap footage, and the student goes home and watches additional tap videos on their own. I love feeling that connection and sharing my passion with the dancers.
What are some ways you’ve seen your students grow beyond their mastery of dance skills?
I love to see my students support and encourage one another. The tap community commonly refers to themselves as the “tap family,” and seeing my dancers help one another, practice with one another, and share ideas with one another is probably tops on the list. Of course, it's always rewarding when my students continue to dance in college and into adulthood.
Before I moved to Raleigh from the Washington, DC area, I was dancing in a tap company based in Fairfax, VA. The company was comprised of tap friends I'd been dancing with for years, but also a few dancers who used to be my students when they were in high school. Seeing them as “grown-ups” with careers who still felt their love for and drive to be involved with the tap community always made me smile.
Another former student is in graduate school in Michigan where she is working on her Masters in Music, and her research project is structured around tap dance improvisation and how it relates to music, meter, mixed meter, tempo, and rhythm. Her ability to take her love of tap and combine that with her scholarly work has impressed me beyond measure. She truly combined her passions and has been presenting her work around the country this spring.
How has creative expression impacted your life?
I can't remember a time without dance and music. My parents were both very into music, and we often had music playing around the house. This ran the gamut from Gregorian Chant, to Mozart, to the Doobie Brothers, Three Dog Night, Wilson Pickett, and Aretha Franklin. I was always supported and encouraged to cultivate my own creativity, and my family really understood the value of this focus, even as a young child. Without dance and without music, I am not sure what I would do to get by.
How are you intentional about cultivating creativity both professionally and personally?
In our culture and society today, I think this can become difficult. An emphasis seems to be placed on being busy and being involved in many activities and hobbies. But this doesn't always line up for me with finding time to be creative and to nurture that side of myself.
I try to carve out time for myself to create, not just teach. The teaching side is wonderful and incredibly fulfilling, but the personal creativity is necessary as well. I seek out opportunities to attend tap festivals, workshops, and performances. Social media and the online world has been helpful with this as well – there are many opportunities to work with others via online platforms, learn contemporary and traditional choreography from videos, and share ideas with friends and colleagues across the world.
What does it mean to be part of the Arts Together creative community and what has your experience been like?
Family. Inclusiveness. Curiosity. Joy. Support. Openness. My experience at Arts Together has been wonderful! Everyone is so welcoming and encouraging. From day one, it just felt like the right place to be.
Kari Martin Hollinger, Communications & Development Associate
All photos and video courtesy Katie Padgett Brown, except multi-arts mornings image and video.