By Alicia Stemper
Founded in 1982, North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble (NCYTE) is a repertoire company with roughly 40 dancers, all age 18 or younger. Surprisingly, founder and artistic director Gene Medler did not start dancing until age 28. He quipped, “I didn’t want to blossom too young.” Likewise, regarding NCYTE’s nationwide and international reputation, Medler jokes, “We are an overnight success that only took 40 years.” Despite his kidding, NCYTE is one of the oldest and most recognized companies and it has produced big name dancers such as Elizabeth Burke, Michelle Dorrance, Jared Grimes, and Luke Hickey.
Caroline Vance, co-artistic director of the company, began her tap career at age five in one of Medler’s classes. She was an NYCTE company member throughout high school. She and Medler agree the hardest thing about tap dancing is the musicality. “You can teach anybody how to pick up a foot and do a shuffle, a hop, and a flat,” says Medler. Vance further explains, “…it’s not just moving your body and dancing but creating a rhythm that speaks to people and works with the music.” NCYTE’s brand of tap is traditional, also known as hoofing. It is very different from the tap offered at competition dance studios. One of NCYTE’s expressions is “Dance to express, not to impress.”
NCYTE belongs to the members; all share the value that the company’s interest is paramount. High school seniors lead Saturday rehearsals which include dancer’s choice and a history lesson. According to Medler, the directors “…just sit here and look important.”
After try-outs each October, approximately 15 new dancers join the company and begin year-round rehearsals, preparing for the annual April show, also led by seniors in the company. One such member is Asher Kirkpatrick who says NCYTE is “an amazing community of people. You have older dancers that are teaching younger dancers and there is a lot of give and take throughout the company.” He has been involved since age nine; his two older brothers are former members. Newer member Josie Rustay, 12, shares Asher’s enthusiasm. She travels to rehearsal weekly from Holly Springs. “NCYTE is kind of like your second family…they accept your mistakes and they help you through everything.”
NCYTE will host a homecoming show on November 24th at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham. Dancers from across the first 35 years who are in the area for Thanksgiving are invited to perform together. According to Vance, the first reunion show five years ago “… was sold out, with standing room only. The most interesting part was rehearsing with people who had graduated many years before, because they did steps a little differently. Dances change slightly over time – like a game of telephone.”
Please visit www.ncyte.org to learn more.