Today’s 10 Questions With… features Andrew J. Nemr, a tap dancer and artistic director that was mentored by Gregory Hines…
1. How did you become involved with dance?
I was very young, roughly three years old, and being home-schooled at the time. As an only child, my parents wanted me to do something with other kids my age and dance was the option that we collectively chose to explore. The first class I observed was a combination tap, ballet, and tumbling class taught by Chris Collins in Alexandria, VA. I think the fact that it was a male teacher was helpful for me. At any rate, I took to the activity and rose through the ranks of the studio, taking private lessons, joining the performing troupe, and competing. In 1989 I saw the movie TAP, starring Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis, Jr., and that proved to be the next turning point. I immediately began pursuing the more vernacular style of American Rhythm Tap, and have been stuck to it ever since.
2. What are you currently doing in the field?
I find myself involved in all aspects of the craft. I perform as a soloist in a number of musical collaborations from traditional jazz (Jake Sanders Band), Hard Bop (Nat Adderley Jr. Trio), world music (Max ZT), and electronic (Sean Hagerty and the 1to1Project). Exploring ensemble choreography with my tap dance company CPD PLUS (Cats Paying Dues), I’ve produced evening-length works since its founding in 2004. The most recent, Echoes In Time included reconstructed works of tap dance masters, tribute pieces, and original works, all telling the story of a tap dancer’s introduction to the craft from the first lesson in a classroom to the freedom of personal expression. In the hopes of supporting the preservation and promotion of the craft I co-founded the Tap Legacy™ Foundation with Gregory Hines in 2002. Chartered with a goal of building a cultural center in New York City dedicated to tap dance, Tap Legacy™ producing programming geared to re-igniting the oral history through which tap dance has been passed down over the years, while preserving and championing the craft’s history.
3. Would you share a special moment from your career with readers?
There are so many. The first that comes to mind is the first night I went down to the Iridium Jazz Club, here in NYC, to meet Les Paul. The very same Les Paul who invented the solid-body electric guitar, and multi-track recording, and who’s name is on every Gibson Les Paul Guitar. He was in his late eighties at the time and I was nervous. Les held court at the Iridium every Monday night with his trio and would have guest musicians sit in during the course of the evening. One of those regular guests was a friend of mine who offered to introduce me to Les. We go to the club, entering through the back door, walking directly into the musicians dressing room. My friend introduces me to Les as a “phenomenal tap dancer” and Les asks if I would like to sit in. I say yes. The night continues without much fanfare, until I’m introduced from the stage by Les as “someone that plays with his feet.” Les continues the introduction by installing a disclaimer: “I’ve never seen this guy before, so if he’s no good, we’ll just tell him that he’s wanted on the phone.” I approach the stage and request my first tune: Undecided. The band kicks in, Les playing as well, and I begin to dance. It’s a thrill. Not only to share the stage with a legend, but to share the magic of making music with him as well. The first tune finishes, and with a huge grin, Les says “Your good!!! Let’s do another one!!” I felt like I had been given a gift. That moment lead to three more years of dancing, playing, and talking with Les Paul. Many more moments that I will never forget.
4. What is the best advice you have received from a teacher or mentor?
I’ve had the blessing of having a lot of mentors. Each had their own ideas and concerns. For me, being a perfectionist/high-achiever type character, the best piece of advice came from Gregory Hines. We would often times find ourselves in situations of improvisation. He enjoyed seeing dancers explore the realms of self-expression. As it would happen my turn would come and I stepped forward to dance. Greg would say “Take your time, you’ve got all the time in the world.” Those words were aimed directly at the pressure of coming up with something, and making sure that that something was good. And those words took those pressures away. I can not express how important that guidance has been to my development as a dancer.
5. What is it like to be an Artistic Director?
Being an artistic director is an amazing experience. There are a lot of decisions that need to be made. What should the work look like this season? What should the company wear? Which dancers should be in what pieces? What stories do we want to tell? Then there are the dancers themselves. My hope is that, as artistic director of CPD PLUS, I am providing a place for dancers to come into their own regarding the craft of tap dance through the content of the repertoire of the company. So I find myself concerned both for public presentation of the company, and the providing of the learning environment. They both feed each other.
6. Do you have any advice for dancers that want to go on to a professional career?
Make sure you love it. Love is an interesting word, with a number of specific meanings, but I believe it applies here in its most complete. The cliché is to say that a career in dance is not easy. As with most clichés there is truth to that statement. However, I would recommend that anyone who pursues a craft or art as their career, continually check in with themselves. Do I still enjoy what I’m doing? Am I still will to sacrifice for the sake of the work? Do I still have the energy for the commitment? Some days the answers to these specifics might be yes, other days it might be no. Love on the other hand should cover all the bases. Do we love what we do? Yes. Then we do what is necessary in any given moment to continue on the path.
7. What is it like to teach at STEPS on Broadway?
STEPS is a great place. I’ve received a lot of support from the administrative staff there since I started and that is very special to me. I teach open classes, which means that whoever wants to come to class on a given day can. I’ve been really blessed to have a regular following, and I get to enjoy the excitement of meeting new people. I teach a combination of technique, fundamental theory, and choreography, and it feels good to be able to share those ideas with both a regular and rotating group of students, all at the same time.
8. What has been the most surprising thing you have learned about dance in your career?
Dance is finite. I used to think that dance was infinite. Although I believe that there is always something to learn within the dance, I’ve come to understand that dance is merely a finite exemplification of something much deeper. It is this deeper thing, my personal relationship with God through the Love of Jesus Christ, that I have found to be infinite. In relating this Love through my dancing and my life I have been able to experience amazing moments of sharing, clarity, and joy, both on the stage and off.
9. What do you enjoy most about your life in dance?
I enjoy the variety. I’m always around different people, in different places, doing different things, listening to different music. All the while I am struck with the underlying commonality. It’s a beautiful way to live life.
10. What’s next for you?
Right now I’m really excited about traveling for workshops and performances – Texas, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. are on the horizon. We’re in the planning stages for CPD PLUS’s new show for upcoming season, and the Tap Legacy™ Foundation has some really exciting events coming up. Personally I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to continue to grow and share what I’ve experienced with others.
WEBSITES of interest:
BIO: Andrew J. Nemr was mentored by Gregory Hines, and is considered one of the most hardworking and diverse tap dance artists today. Whether playing with Nat Adderley Jr., directing his own company CPD PLUS, or co-founding the Tap Legacy™ Foundation, Inc., Andrew has garnered a reputation for impeccable musicianship and sensitivity, and respect for the craft that he loves. The artist in residence for the Quarterly Arts Soiree (QAS) at Webster Hall, Andrew received an NEA Masterpieces: Dance Initiative Grant to reconstruct the works of classic tap dance soloists, garnering critical and popular acclaim upon their presentation in Echoes In Time. Collectively, Andrew’s choreography and solo work has been described as “a welcome return to the elegance of simplicity and the tap dancer as maker of aural magic” (exploredance.com) and “deeply touching” (Daily Gazette).
A featured soloist, Andrew has performed in venues nationally and internationally including the PNC Bank arts Center, NJ, La MaMa, Etc., NY, the Blue Note Jazz Club, NY, Town Hall Theatre, NY, The Duke Theatre, NY, and the Bloomsbury Theatre, London, England. Andrew was featured alongside Jazz greats Clark Terry, Jimmy Heath, Hank Jones, James Carter, and John Faddis in A Great Night in Harlem at the Apollo Theatre, NY, in support of the Jazz Foundation of America and, additionally on Harry Connick Jr.’s Only You Tour at Proctors Theatre, Schenectedy, NY. He has also been the featured tap dancer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra presenting Duke Ellington: The Sacred Concerts, at the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, and with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. Andrew also performed regularly with the legendary Les Paul at the Iridium Jazz Club, NYC, and was a featured guest
at his 93rd Birthday Show at the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee, WI.
Andrew’s continued musical associations include the Nat Adderley Jr. Trio, Max ZT and House of Waters, the Jake Sanders Band, and with electronic musician Sean Hagerty. The 1to1 Project, an electronic/acoustic concept developed by Andrew and Sean Hagerty was selected as the closing act for the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival.
CPD PLUS (Cats Paying Dues), Andrew’s tap dance company, has been critically and popularly acclaimed since it’s debut in All For Love (Mainstage Theatre at Playwrights Horizons). More recent seasons include Where the Music Lives (Julia Miles Theatre, NY) and Echoes In Time (LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, NY; The Egg, NY; Landmark on Mainstreet, NY, Symphony Space, NYC). Other
appearances include The QAS at Webster Hall (NYC), Jamaica Performing Arts Center (NY), The Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (NYC), the Wesleyan University Center for the Arts (CT), Williams College (MA), and Celebrate Brooklyn (NYC). Return performances include Norte Maar’s Fete De Danse (NY) the Tap Extravaganza (NY), DUMBO Dance Festival (NYC), and the Jerry Lewis Telethon (National Broadcast). The company has also been in residence at BRIClab (NYC), the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center (NYC), Symphony Space (NYC), and the Quarterly Arts Soiree at Webster Hall (NYC) for the development of new works.
As a host Andrew’s sense of humor and giving nature have made his appearances more than enjoyable. He has been the Master of Ceremonies of Walking in Time at the Historic State Theatre, Ithaca, NY and The Harlem Jazz Dance Festival (Jimmy’s Uptown), in addition to the legendary Buster Brown Tap Jam at Swing 46, NYC. Andrew also co-hosted his own ongoing session Dance Attacks, with Hayes Greenfield, at Teddy’s in Williamsburg, NY.
In his efforts to continue to champion the art form of tap dance, Andrew co-founded the Tap Legacy™ Foundation, Inc., along with Gregory Hines, chartered to build a cultural center in New York City dedicated to tap dance. Tap Legacy™ produces programming aimed at re-igniting the oral history through which tap dance has been passed down over the years, while championing and promoting the craft’s history. As an extension of this mission Andrew directed the 2011 Tap Extravaganza – New York City’s Celebration of National Tap Dance Day and narrated DanceTime Publications first tap dance DVD, Tap Dance History: From Vaudeville to Film.
A card-carrying member of the original Copasetics, Inc., Andrew has been blessed to receive the guidance of many of the great tap dancers including Eddie Brown, Harold Cromer, Dr. Bunny Briggs, Dr. Jimmy Slyde, Dr. James “Buster” Brown, LeRoy Myers, Ernest “Brownie” Brown, Henry “Phace” Roberts, Dr. Henry LeTang, Mable Lee, Tina Pratt, Dianne Walker, Savion Glover, Ted Levy, and Gregory Hines.
Andrew holds a BFA in Computer Art from the School of Visuals Arts and is certified in the Active-Isolated Flexibility System by the Wharton Performance Group. Andrew is on faculty at Steps on Broadway, NYC, and a guest faculty member of Broadway Dance Center, NYC.