We believe that every member of our community should have access to all the information, collected materials, and stories that informs the understanding of our tradition.
In any community it is imperative that every member have access to the material that informs the history of that community. If access is limited, classes emerge. We see this across history as religious, intellectual, and political classes emerge and consolidate power from the rest of the population through the control of information and narrative. In the world of active oral traditions it is normal for a select few members of a community to be tasked with upholding the standard of a particular tradition. They are usually the most experienced and trustworthy, but can also be part of a particular family line or tradition of apprenticeship and specifically trained for the role. Still, the power of these select few should be balanced by the active involvement of the entire community in the tradition, be it a celebration, religious ritual, or other expression of dance, music, or storytelling.
Today the tap dance community is separated by its geography. The lineages of tradition are many and do not always align with regards to approach to the craft. Furthermore, multiple collections of materials – archives of photographs, show programs and posters, audio and moving image recordings, and physical objects – are scattered around the globe, held both privately and by private and public institutions.
Digital platforms like YouTube have done wonders to surface video clips of tap dancers from long ago and spread around the world at the speed of the internet. But access isn’t just about the stuff. Access is about the quality and value of the information. It’s about context. So that what is spread ultimately supports the tradition which in turn supports the community. Learning a single tap dance step from a video is great. Learning the stories that surround that step, who your actually stealing it from, and who was behind the documentation of the clip itself are as important if not more when it comes to the oral tradition. Unfortunately the latter is much more difficult with the platforms we currently have, but we can fix this.
Access is the key. As we develop the Archive of American Vernacular Dance, access is at the heart of our endeavor. We aim to build a platform that is accessible to the entire tap dance community, not just a particular subset. We aim to build a platform that provides access to the material that informs the stories upon which the tradition of tap dancing and American vernacular dances stand. We aim to provide the tools necessary for anyone in our community to learn, understand, and contribute to the body of work that is our collective history.
Access to the stories that make up the history of a community is a matter of social justice. People inside the community should be the primary storytellers, not outside observers. We now have the technology to rectify this situation, which unfortunately has happened often in the world of American Vernacular Dance.
If this resonates with you, we want to here from you here.
If you’re moved to support this endeavor, you can do so here.