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Tap into Dance

Staff Writer

CHAPEL HILL — It didn’t take long for Elizabeth Burke to get hooked on tap dancing. When she was 6 years old, her mother took her to a performance of the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble (NCYTE) at the Carolina Theater. After the show, the enamored Burke turned to her mother and said, “I have to do that – find out how.” Twelve years later, Burke is one of NCYTE’s eight graduating seniors, and, with 11 years under her belt, the longest-tenured member in the group’s history.

Burke will be one of 37 NCYTE performers taking the stage in this weekend’s season-ending performances at the Carolina Theater. Titled Mass Appeal, the show features pieces that cover a wide variety of dance and music styles.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, you can come to the show and find something you’ll enjoy,” said Burke, who, along with the other seniors in the group has served as a production coordinator for the show by organizing everything from rehearsals to costumes and lighting.

“Mass Appeal is a real fun romp through the percussive dance world,” agreed NCYTE’s artistic director and founder Gene Medler. Music for the show ranges from Beethoven to Michael Jackson, with lots in between. The performance will be accompanied by a live Jazz quartet with contributions by dancers.

Guest artists Michelle Dorrance and Martin “Tre” Dumas have contributed to the show’s choreography and will join NCYTE’s performers on stage. Dorrance, a Chapel Hill native and NCYTE alumna, is currently on tour with the world-renowned percussive dance and movement show STOMP.

Medler started NCYTE in 1982 with a group of just 10 dance students. As the organization grew, Medler kept it moving toward two goals: to preserve the history of tap and percussive dance and explore contemporary choreography. “We were on the crest of the wave of the renaissance of tap dancing,” says Medler. “There are lots of people out there doing fantastic stuff.”

Over the years the group has expanded to include dancers from across the state and it is now regarded as one of the best youth tap ensembles in the country. Medler credits his dancers for a lot of the group’s success, adding that, “The hardest obstacle is people having the wrong idea of what to expect.” NCYTE is not full of top hats and Shirley Temple tapping, he cautions; it’s high-energy entertainment.

During the school year, as well as in the summer, NCYTE travels around the state and the world. Burke lists Finland, Mexico and Germany among the places she has performed. “We’re fortunate in this area because the schools are very open-minded,” says Medler. “They see this as a very valuable life experience.”

For Burke, being a part of NCYTE has certainly been valuable – and life changing. “It’s nurtured my love for the art form,” says the Chapel Hill High School senior who hopes to be a professional dancer one day. Though excited about the show and her future plans – she will attend Marymount Manhattan College in the fall – Burke can’t help being a little sentimental about the end of her NCYTE career.

PHOTO BY KATE GRIESMANN. NCYTE members Michael Cunningham, Breanna Polascik, Amanda Hickey and Katie Taylor land a jump at one of the groups’ final rehearsals before this weekend’s performances of “Mass Appeal.”

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