SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 29, 2012

'Widening perceptions': 6-foot-8 tap dancer to perform in Marblehead

By Will Broaddus Staff writer
The Salem News

---- — MARBLEHEAD — At 6 feet, 8 inches tall, when Ryan Casey says he has trouble fitting in as a dancer, he means it literally.

The ceilings of dance studios are sometimes too low for Casey, and he often bumps into other dancers when he’s warming up.

“Even for regular dance class, I don’t have the room I need to stretch out,” said Casey, who will perform “Transitions: An Evening of Tap Dance” at Marblehead Little Theatre on Sunday.

“Most people ask, if they see me, if it makes it harder,” he said. “I think I have a lot more to control than everybody else. That was the struggle growing up, to get that coordination going, and it’s something I’m still struggling to get down.”

But these physical challenges aren’t as confining as people’s preconceptions of what a dancer should look like, or the way they choreograph dances.

“My limbs give me a different look,” Casey said. “A lot of tap dancing is still very contained. The emphasis is on the footwork, and often very small footwork.

“But because I have this gift of long limbs, it’s about the visuals and using my arms and my body,” he said. “I’ve become an advocate for widening perceptions of what a dancer can look like.”

Casey, 21 and originally from Lexington, enrolled in tap dance classes at age 5 after seeing Savion Glover, star of Broadway’s “Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk,” on “Sesame Street.”

After performing with a local studio through high school, Casey moved to New York to study journalism and literature at New York University, where he also continued to dance.

It has been as a member of Dorrance Dance, a company led by tap dancer Michelle Dorrance, that Casey has hit his stride.

Dorrance, who teaches at the Broadway Dance Center and won a 2011 Bessie Award for her innovative work, saw potential in Casey and choreographed works for him.

“She was interested in creating work for a 6-foot-8 tap dancer. She’s created a vocabulary for me, and some pieces that were centered around me,” he said.

Those pieces collectively are called “A Petite Suite” and feature a narrative in which Casey evolves from “the odd one out, the really quirky one,” to a point where “I’ve become the normal one and the people around me are weirdos.”

“It’s like a mini-circus, it comes full circle,” he said. “She opened up for me what was possible in terms of what I could do artistically.”

Casey has performed sections from that suite in several venues and festivals, but the material in his upcoming show at Marblehead Little Theatre is all his own.

“It’s called ‘Transitions’ because I was looking at the work I had created during a time of upheaval in my life,” he said. “The first set is about my height, the initial self-consciousness, and self-acceptance of overcoming that and becoming confident about who I am.

“The second set is about my move to New York.”

In addition to changing people’s perceptions of what a dancer should look like, Casey wants to broaden the range of what tap dance can do.

In one piece, he will dance to a poem he wrote, in another to a piece of light verse by Shel Silverstein, matching his steps to the music in the language.

The show will also include a series of duets with Kelly Kaleta, who taught Casey tap dance when he lived in Lexington and now works with him as a partner.

The final part of the show will be a tribute to Fred Astaire and includes one dance with a prerecorded shadow and another with a cane.

“The shadow dance is from the movie ‘Swing Time,’” he said. “I’m doing my own, but it is inspired by the concept.

“Astaire is important in the way he so gracefully and easily embodied rhythm,” Casey said. “It was a real model to me of making everything look to easy.”

If you go

What: “Transitions: An Evening of Tap Dance”

When: Sunday, 4 p.m.

Where: Marblehead Little Theatre, 12 School St.

Tickets: $25 at the door or www.ryanpcasey.com.

More information: Visit www.mltlive.com or call 781-631-9697.