22 Years of Rhythm

Local youth tap ensemble Feat x Feet creates new and exciting sounds alongside jazz band Blue Avenue in its summer show "Tap Live!"

By Charlotte Bausch
Courtesy photo.

Feat x Feet has fostered a tight-knit bond among its dancers in the 22 years that Ashley Smith has directed the youth tap ensemble in Whitefish. For many of Smith’s students, Feat x Feet is a defining community in their lives.

Dancers often start taking classes with Feat x Feet as young children, and audition to join the ensemble after turning 12. According to Olivia Potthoff, who has taken classes with Smith since she was in kindergarten, those years of involvement bring the dancers together. The company is one of only 12 youth tap ensembles in the country and is the only group in Montana.

“Feat x Feet as a company is just so close,” Potthoff said. “It feels like a second family to me.”

Part of the ensemble’s closeness is its familial connections, including many pairs of siblings as current or past dancers. Potthoff’s older brother, Ethan, used to dance in the company and now accompanies its summer show as a musician.

“The older sibling usually gets put in and they just love it so much that the family just puts the younger one in,” Potthoff said, adding that dancers “get to know families as well as the individual kids.”

Even after graduating, many dancers return to Feat x Feet to watch performances or maintain ties in other ways. Smith gives former members of the ensemble the opportunity to attend classes or perform. Sophie Binstein is one of several alumni who continue to perform. Through their ongoing involvement, Binstein said, alumni remain close even after graduation.

“I’ve definitely found some of my lifelong friends throughout it,” Binstein said. “We support each other through everything.”

Feat x Feet’s unique community has kept New York City-based dancer Derick K. Grant coming back to the Flathead Valley for more than a decade. Grant, known for his work as the tap choreographer for the television show “So You Think You Can Dance?,”  has taught Feat x Feet’s summer workshop since he met Smith and her students at a tap event 12 years ago. Before meeting Grant, Smith had invited a variety of professional dancers to work with the ensemble.

“When Derick and I connected, there wasn’t really any reason to bring anyone else,” Smith said. “He is so talented.”

This year, Grant will teach the workshop from June 17-20. The workshop is followed by the ensemble’s summer show on June 21, which will feature Grant as a soloist.

The 2019 summer show, “Tap Live!,” will display the ensemble’s lively rhythm and its strong tradition of community, but with an improvisational edge.

“It’s all live,” Smith said. “With live music you just never know what could happen.”

Jazz band Blue Avenue will accompany the show, working with the ensemble to combine the rhythm of tap dancing with that of music.

“Live music … is just a really amazing learning experience for the kids, as opposed to dancing with recorded music,” Smith said. “It adds such a nice flavor to the summer show.”

Potthoff said dancing to live music is “exciting” because “there are just so many different rhythms that you can create.”

The show’s sound will be amplified by the company’s professional tap floor, which elevates dancers and makes the beat of their shoes louder, creating an effect “like dancing on a drum,” Smith said.

Most importantly, the show gives the dancers a chance to showcase their talent and devotion to their Feat x Feet community.

See Feat x Feet in action at “Tap Live!” on Friday, June 21 at the O’Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish. Tickets are $25. Beer, wine and other beverages will be sold throughout the evening, as well as treats. The show is at 8 p.m. and doors open at 7:30. For tickets call (406) 471-4400 or visit www.featbyfeet.com.