Chloe And Maud Arnold's DC Tap Fest Tapped The Airwaves This Year
Chloe and Maud Arnold.
For Chloe and Maud Arnold, the notion of having to cancel their massively successful annual Washington DC-based Tap Festival this year was a decision the celebrity dance siblings weren't quite ready to make.
Chloe Arnold — Emmy-nominated for her work choreographing "Crosswalk The Musical" on The Late Late Show With James Cordon, — and her younger sister, Maud — an internationally respected performer and teacher, and the overseer of the sisters' Chloe And Maud Productions, — founded the widely respected and attended DC Tap Festival twelve years ago. This year, however, the festival, along with almost every other large scale gathering in the US, faced cancellation due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Yet, even with the looming shutdown, the innovative and entrepreneurially spirited sisters — both Columbia University graduates and founders of the internationally famous, female-focused tap group, Syncopated Ladies — had a different idea. They opted to try something completely new. They opted to take their dance festival completely online.
Dance News & Culture was able to snag a (remote) interview with the superstar tap-dancing sisters to discuss the success of their first virtual festival, as well as what the future for Syncopated Ladies looks like, and how the pandemic shut down has affected their work-life.
Chloe and Maud Arnold.
— Hi Chloe and Maud! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. So, first, can you give our readers a brief summary of how you found your way to dance in the first place? Chloe Arnold: Our mom used to do experimental modern dance and had a love for the arts. She put me in dance school when I was 6 years old, where I took ballet, tap, and jazz classes. At around nine years old, she realized I had an affinity for tap dance and found a youth tap company for me to audition to be a part of. It was there that I fell in love with tap and got to learn and train with some of the legends of tap including Gregory Hines, Dianne Walker, Eddie Brown, Buster Brown, Harriet Brown, LaVaughn Robinson, and more.
Maud Arnold: I am the younger sister and dance became my "babysitter" as our mom worked two jobs. I feel in love with everything about it, the dancing, the environment, the community, and history!
— Speaking of the history of tap, throughout the years one of the things we’ve always loved about the tap world is how, seemingly, small it is. In that, everyone who's anyone in tap seems to not only know each other but LOVE and respect each other so deeply, too. That appreciation for style and that deep respect for those who came before can be such an influence on tappers, so can you give us a sense of where your styles developed and who your teachers and mentors were? CA: There is such a great respect for those who came before in tap, and, mentorship and community have both been a major part of my development. For me, Gregory Hines was the person who showed me how COOL tap is; he also showed me the many ways that you can share tap — film, TV, stage, music. And, Debbie Allen, took us under her wing, and showed us what it means to be YOURSELF as an artist, and the discipline and focus needed to excel.
MA: Tap is so special because it was very clearly born out of oppression and a need for and the feeling of freedom. This is why the community aspect is so strong — we are stronger together. It is also unique because as you get older in tap you gain more respect, whereas, in a lot of other dance forms, elders are forced into retirement and forgotten about as they age.
I would say that my style is very reflective of my personality in that it is very joyful and free. Toni Lombre, who was our foundational teacher, taught us such great technique and had us performing EVERYWHERE, from street festivals to insane asylums (yes) and school assemblies.
Dance is for EVERYONE and is meant to be shared!
— Yes, it is! And, you both have managed to share dance everywhere and with everyone, especially through 'Syncopated Ladies'. The group has become so monstrously successful with over 50 million views of your tap content and even endorsements from Beyoncé! What’s it like for you to look back and reflect on the growth, and, where do you want to go next? CA: It's an incredible feeling to see the hard work pay off and to reflect on what has been achieved with my sister and our sisters. This is a team that I built in 2003, and now, 17 years later, we are living our dreams together, and it has been the most rewarding journey. We are a family. We have a special and unique bond from which we can grow any and envision all of our dreams. I know that teamwork makes the dream work, and every single one of the ladies is a star in her own right — and that's what makes the magic: the mutual love and respect.
MA: Everything Chloe said! [The Syncopated Ladies] are scheduled to go on a 20-city tour — COVID-19 willing — in the fall. [Chloe and I] are also working on pitching TV shows and film projects. We want tap everywhere and accessible to anyone who wants to try to do it or just experience it in some form.
Chloe and Maud Arnold.
— Incredible. So, we want to ask you about your incredible and hugely attended DC Tap Fest. Before we get into this year specifically, other than being native Washingtonians, what inspired you to create the festival in DC? CA: We wanted it specifically in our hometown because we know the importance of what [DC] meant to us as kids. We also wanted to create the magical experiences we had — learning from the tap legends [who came before].
It's incredibly rewarding to have a program that has grown to be the largest tap festival in the world, where people of all ages, levels, socio-economic backgrounds can come, learn, and feel inspired and uplifted as people and artists. Education and access are really important to us, and we wanted to create an experience for tap dancers that goes beyond the steps. Now kids that have come through our program are successful adults with great mentors and are now becoming mentors. It's amazing to be able to create these opportunities!
— This year was different though, how did you handle it?
MA: Due to COVID-19 we had to cancel DC Tap Fest this year, but we created the FIRST Global Online Tap festival! What was extra special is that we were able to bring the vibe, the teachers, and the curriculum of the DC Tap Fest online and share it with an even bigger community!
— Pretty incredible! So, tell us, with the “Buy One Get One” aspect of the festival, how much of the event is dedicated to outreach for students who might not otherwise get a chance to dance with you all? How important is that to you? CA: Our Chloe & Maud Foundation was created for the purpose of making dance accessible to everyone. Outreach is a major component which is why we created the program. So often people want to help others, but they don't know how to. We have kids around the world that we work with and seek out to make these opportunities possible. MA: I would say that our event is geared towards everyone in a very real way. We make it accessible to kids who otherwise wouldn't be able to participate and, at all our programs no one knows who "the scholarship kid" is — everyone gets the same love, attention, and treatment whether you've paid or not.
It is EXTREMELY important to us to create an environment where everyone is welcome, feels good, and feels SEEN.
Chloe and Maud Arnold.
— With everything having to go online because of the pandemic, how different were things this year? Were you pleased with the outcome? CA: It was daunting to make the leap, but it was necessary. It turned out to be an incredible experience because we were able to connect with the world in a new way and keep the morale up of our dancers who had been planning to come all year. It was an amazing unifier and showed us the beautiful resilient spirit of our community.
MA: It was the hardest we've ever worked but it turned out GREAT! We are so thankful for all of the support. And, watching people from all over the world tap inside their own homes was so beautiful!
— The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions of people here in the US, especially those in the arts community. Other than the Tap Fest, has the pandemic affected other work for you? CA: COVID-19 has wiped out just about all of our work. Syncopated Ladies live performances, all of our television shoots, convention teaching, and masterclasses. However, we are resilient and have learned the value of a strong pivot. We are innovating in a new way and we are thankful to have the where with all to create new avenues and still maintain our purpose.
— We know you're preparing for an upcoming relief fundraiser, can you tell us about that?
CA: We, of course, are praying for the safety and well being of everyone. We are also doing our part to help others TAP INTO JOY during this time. On May 24th, we are doing a TAP-A-THON on Instagram Live to raise money for a relief fund for tap dancers in need. The following day, May 25th we are hosting an International Tap Dance Day Celebration with workshops, performances, and events.
MA: What Chloe said! We will also be offering basic tap classes and Syncopated Babies classes for the 4-7-year-olds!
We can't wait to celebrate tap with everyone on the 24th and 25th!
More: Camille A. Brown Leads The 2020 Lortel Award Choreography Noms You can follow Chloe and Maud on Instagram, as well as keep up with the DC Tap Festival. Be sure to keep up with what the sisters are working on together and all updates on Syncopated Ladies, as well. You can find out more about Chloe and Maud's foundation at www.chloeandmaudfoundation.org.
The Pod De Deux Podcast team is diving in with a summer series — The Women Of Broadway. With the goal of interviewing all 9 of the female choreographers slated to bring musicals to the Great White Way this season Michael Mahany, Kevin Michael Raponey, and Ellyn Marsh hit the airwaves to celebrate the unprecedented year. Check out Pod De Deux's page for more and listen wherever you get your podcasts. COMING LATER THIS MAY!
Michael Mahany serves as NYC Dance News & Culture’s founder and Editor-At-Large. Additionally, he is a professional actor, singer, dancer who appears nightly in the 10th Anniversary production of 'Rock Of Ages' in New York City. He's also a co-host of the 'Pod De Deux' dance podcast. Follow him on Instagram, Twitter, or visit www.michaelmahany.com for more. Story tips? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
All photos courtesy of Kim Hale Public Relations.