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Reclaiming Tap Dance for Black American Culture with Dance Artist Davon Suttles

In this hands-on — or should we say “feet on” — learning event, dance artist Davon Suttles taught us how Black Americans are reclaiming the art of tap dance from false narratives that attribute its origins to European cultures.

As part of that reclamation, we learned how enslaved Africans brought to the Americas originated the art partly because their drums were taken away. Tapping out the rhythms in dance was a way to preserve the many celebratory, meditative, and communication purposes that these rhythms had in their culture. It also became a way to code and deliver messages when (in slavery or other oppressive situations) Black people weren’t able or allowed to speak to each other. Black artists developed and carried the art to where it is today.

After learning more about the Black roots and development of tap, kids had a chance to learn and practice basic dance moves with Davon so they, too, could start tapping. We also invited our friends at First Baptist Preschool and Kindergarten for the presentation, so they could tap with us!

Davon Suttles is an alumnus of the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists and Columbia College Chicago’s Musical Theatre Performance program. In 2019, Davon received the Cultural Community Partnership Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board for their first self-produced work Melanized, a multimedia tap dance show about living as a person of color. This show addressed macro- and microaggressions towards POC (people of color) while showcasing the beauty of living as a POC. Currently, Suttles is dancing with M.A.D.D. Rhythms, a non-profit tap company based on the South Side of Chicago, whose mission is to preserve, promote and contribute to this art form called tap.

We’re thrilled that Davon also works with our students as part of the team of teaching artists from Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble that runs our Kid’s Project afterschool program.


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