‘Contagious Rhythms’ on Whitefish’s Winter Stage

By Beacon Staff

“Contagious” is not a word most people like to hear during the winter, but a local youth dance group hopes their rhythm is just that when they perform in the Flathead Valley this month.

A tap dance tradition, the Feat x Feet Youth Tap Ensemble, directed by Ashley Wold, will perform its 12th annual set of shows, “Contagious Rhythms,” in Whitefish. Shows run on Jan. 8 at 8 p.m., Jan. 9 at 4 p.m., Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m., Jan. 15 at 8 p.m. and Jan. 16 at 4 p.m. Each performance will be held at the O’Shaughnessy Center.

While the shows are playful, Wold and her students take the art of tap dancing quite seriously. Each summer, a group of them is invited to a major dance workshop in Los Angeles, Chicago or New York City, where they take a week’s worth of classes and finish out with a performance.

Wold said these workshops are an invaluable growth experience for her students, who make friends from across the country and dance with some of the best professional talent.

Hilary Syvertson and Dylan Rodwick

The students also have the opportunity for world-class instructors to come to them each summer, when Wold invites a modern tap choreographer and dancer to teach for a week.

Last June, her students learned from Nicholas Young, the captain and lead performer of the national tour of “STOMP.” Young’s dancing involves a lot of body percussion, she said, which will be part of her company’s upcoming shows.

Feat x Feet began about 10 years ago after Wold attended the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, a large tap dancing festival. There, she saw a youth ensemble from North Carolina performing with the adult troupes. Wold said she realized she had students who could form a similar company back in Whitefish.

“I had a group, a small group, that were so good and needed something more than to just go out and dance at the little recital at the end of the year,” Wold said.

Over the years, the small group of six kids has increased to a company that needs a 12-person limit, Wold said. This year, Feat x Feet has eight company members, which usually means more advanced high school students, and seven apprentices – typically less-advanced middle school students.

Company members are chosen through auditions each spring, Wold said.

“They’re so athletic,” Wold said. “The kids that I have are involved in everything and they’re good kids. They’ve had good role models.”

The tap company and accompanying school, which boasts 85 students in Whitefish and Kalispell, offers a good opportunity for these kids to interact in a refreshing way.

“They have made lifelong friends,” Wold said. “It’s not school, it’s not mandatory, it’s just an extracurricular that involves a lot of really unique people.”

Bridget Unterreiner

Company members include Glacier High School seniors Hilary Syvertson and Hailey Hammett, Whitefish High School senior Bailey Eaton, FVCC and homeschool high school student Andie Schee, Whitefish High School freshman Marlow Schulz , Glacier High sophomore Bridget Unterreiner, Kalispell Middle School eighth grader Maddi Paulson and Flathead High sophomore Jodi Newton.

This year’s show has four sections, beginning with a feature performance from Hammett. Several company members will also showcase a piece they learned at the Chicago Human Rhythm Project this summer.

In the second section, the students open with a South African gumboot dance, which ends with a showcase by Syverston. There will also be a body percussion performance during this section.

Section Three begins with the younger members of the tap dance school, followed by a duet from Eaton and Unterreiner, which Eaton choreographed. The section ends with a specially choreographed solo from Eaton.

The finale will feature multiple numbers, with dances ranging from the classics of the 1920s to modern tap.

The show promises to be energetic and entertaining, Wold said, and will most likely end up with audience members tapping their feet along with the dancers.

For Wold, the performance gives her a chance to see how far her students have come and how their tap experience could help them in the future.

“I just love watching the kids’ self-confidence,” Wold said. “Some of those company kids perform 20 pieces in the show. Their self-confidence to get up and perform in front of 300-plus people every night, I think is valuable.”

Ticketing information is available by calling 471-4400. All seats are reserved. For more information on Feat x Feet, visit www.featxfeet.com.

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