If your idea of tap dancing comes from old black-and-white Fred Astaire movies, you obviously haven't seen Shawn Byfield or his Funk Factory troupe. The local tap sensation's fancy footwork moves to an R&B/soul groove, and his influences come from the contemporary street, not the urbane nightclub. Byfield and Funk Factory tap up a storm tonight and tomorrow (May 24 and 25) at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.
How'd you get into tap? When I was six, I saw Gregory Hines perform on TV and he put the spark under my feet. I turned to my mom and said, I want to do that . She took me to a dance studio the next week. I started with tap and jazz and I've been doing it ever since.
Do you remember what Hines was dancing? Something by himself -- what I now call a catapa. He had so much energy and love for what he was doing, and I needed to see a male dancer doing it. Dance wasn't something that boys generally did. He blew me away.
Any other influences?I was a big Sammy Davis Jr. fan and grew up listening to Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul. All those R&B artists -- Stevie Wonder, Ashford and Simpson. There's a real rhythmic connection between that soul music and tap.
What's key to becoming a good tap dancer? Your sense of time. Basically, you're a metronome, a percussionist. You need to keep on tempo, especially if you're working with a group. You need to be able to transition from being light to being heavier and forceful.
How do you mix up a show so all the routines don't seem the same?It's all in the music. A song's got to have different layers. I love a lot of hiphop today, but you can't tap to it. The beats are generic or the structure feels the same, so it's hard to work with. For this show I've chosen tunes from back in the 80s, when funk was prevalent. Back then you had to know how to write beats, and deal with chords and phrasing and forms.
What kind of injuries are you prone to? The biggest thing we get are blisters on the backs of our heels, especially in new shoes. And shin splints. The impact of stomping goes right to our shins and knees. It's common to see dancers limping around.
You're in the upcoming film version of the musical Hairspray. Who do you play? I'm one of the detention kids -- I must be the teen who never got out, since I was one of the oldest "kids" in the film. Whenever one of the main characters like Queen Latifah was on set, we're dancing somewhere behind them.
What was the Queen like?She's the real deal. She can act, sing. And she's one of those artists who really love what they're doing. She wanted to get things going and wanted to be social with people. She loved laughing and dancing off camera.
Favourite tap sequence in a movie? Gregory Hines explaining to everybody where he gets his rhythms from in the movie Tap. There's a scene where three guys are doing an eight-bar phrase on a piece of wood in a construction zone that is absolutely amazing.
Additional Interview Audio Clips
On the expected life of tap shoes: