Two Decades of Tap Feats

Whitefish tap dance ensemble Feat X Feet to celebrate 20 years with special June 23 performance

Twelve years ago, Sophie Binstein was 6 years old and looking for a new way to express herself.

Binstein, whose family had recently moved to the Flathead Valley from Chicago, was already in dance classes, but they weren’t grabbing her imagination. The youngster was looking for something more, and she discovered it with Ashley Smith and her tap ensemble Feat X Feet in Whitefish.

“I found tap and have been in love with it ever since,” Binstein said in an interview last week.

It’s not uncommon for dancers to express the notion of belonging after they’ve discovered a genre or teacher or move to take them to the next level. Smith, who owns and directs the tap school and company, and her Feat X Feet crew have been creating and nurturing these feelings for 20 years in the Youth Tap Ensemble, and plan to celebrate the milestone with the dance company’s upcoming performance on June 23.

The youth tap ensemble hosts an annual summer production, which this year takes on extra importance with the 20th anniversary. Professional tap dancer Derick K. Grant will perform along with Jenna Roe, one of Smith’s first students who, after a professional tap dance career in Chicago and across the country, is now the manager and assistant choreographer to Chloe Arnold’s New York City-based tap company, Apartment 33.

Feat X Feet has made it a part of its philosophy to bring in professionals from outside the valley to teach students here. Grant makes the trip to Whitefish annually; he already came once in January to teach the ensemble a new piece of choreography for the June 23 performance at the O’Shaughnessy Center.

“I love watching the kids get that experience,” Smith said in a prepared statement. “It’s going to be a fun show. It’s a really amazing coming together of musicians, professionals and our local students all on one stage. It’s very unique and upbeat.”

Feat X Feet typically performs several times of year for the public, with two weekends of shows in January and then the big summer workshop show. The summer performance follows an intense schedule, Binstein said, because there is little more than a week of prep time immediately before they take stage.

The music during the performance will be live, courtesy of Blue Avenue, a Whitefish band featuring Rmi Strauser on saxophone, Marty Anderson on guitar, Josh Weller on bass, and Ethan Potthoff on drums. There will also be light appetizers and beverages available.

After Grant came to Whitefish from New York in January to teach students the choreography, Binstein said they worked on it until the final tap class in the last week of April. Then the school takes time off until June 19, when the dance ensemble meets up once again before the performance.

This has become an effective preparation method, Binstein said, because in the days before the show, the ensemble works off the rust and perfects dances they’ve performed before to use again in the upcoming show. Recycling material keeps it fresh and also gives dancers a running start for the show, Binstein said.

Binstein, who is now Smith’s directorial assistant, graduated this year from Glacier High School, with college in Colorado on the horizon. Dancing for the ensemble her senior year meant finally earning a solo spot in the performances, capping off a childhood of classes and work.

She’ll also perform during the show, as the tap ensemble’s most recent graduate. It’s bittersweet, Binstein said, but she’s looking forward to the future while holding on to the gifts tap dancing gave her.

“When I walk into the studio, I feel like all my stress and all my pressure are left outside,” she said.

Feat X Feet performs at the O’Shaughnessy Center on June 23 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. For more information, visit www.featbyfeet.com or call 406-471-4400.

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