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Reisterstown dance students heading to Germany for World Tap Championships

Abby Frisch takes dance classes six days a week.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, she has class after school from 4 to 8:30 p.m. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, she spends another up to seven hours in class.

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That doesn't leave much time for anything else.

But Abby, daughter of Jenn and Bill Frisch of Reisterstown and a sixth-grader at Sudbrook Magnet Middle, doesn't seem to mind.

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"I have made a commitment to dance," said the 11-year-old, a poised and pretty preteen who in recent months has intensified her practice schedule thanks to an upcoming competition.

Abby Frisch, 11, white headband, center, practices during an Oct. 30 tap class at Karen Sachs Academy of Dance n Reisterstown, along with, from left, Stephanie Glazer, Emily Signor, Ellye Alperstein and Elena Schutz.
Abby Frisch, 11, white headband, center, practices during an Oct. 30 tap class at Karen Sachs Academy of Dance n Reisterstown, along with, from left, Stephanie Glazer, Emily Signor, Ellye Alperstein and Elena Schutz. (Steve Ruark, Baltimore Sun)

Abby and Joey Little, also age 11 and a Reisterstown resident, have been chosen to participate in a world dance competition next month. The two will represent America as members of the United States Tap Dance Team in the World Tap Championships, to be held Dec.1 through Dec. 5 in Riesa, Germany.

In a highly selective process, the United States Tap Dance Team auditioned hundreds of dancers from around the country for 35 slots. In the child category, ages 5 to 11, 50 kids auditioned and five were chosen.

Abby and Joey are the only children from Maryland on the team, although two dancers in the adult category are Marylanders as well.

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"I'm proud to represent my country" said Joey, a dark-haired, dark-eyed preteen, son of Jeanine and Brian Little and a sixth-grader at Chapelgate Christian Academy, in Marriottsville.

"I thought it would be a good experience to audition, and I got in. ... I heard good things about this competition", said Abby, who, like Joey, attended an audition in Virginia where the choreographer presented a routine, then asked candidates to dance it, a standard procedure.

Abby Frisch and Joey Little performed their first duet, "Together Wherever We Go," at the age of 7 and won 2nd place in the Starpower Talent Nationals competition in Lancaster, Pa.
Abby Frisch and Joey Little performed their first duet, "Together Wherever We Go," at the age of 7 and won 2nd place in the Starpower Talent Nationals competition in Lancaster, Pa. (Photo by Starpower)

Whatever the age of the performer, tap steps are the same although the names may vary. There are steps that make one sound, such as the toe tap and heel tap; steps with two sounds, such as the ball heel and shuffle; and those with three and four sounds. Tap dancing is a combination of steps, like a shuffle into a ball heel, that make a percussive rhythm.

The dance community isn't that big and, young as they are, Abby and Joey are longtime buddies. They've known each other since they began taking dance lessons practically out of toddlerhood.

Until earlier this year, they both attended the same dance school, Karen Sachs Academy of Dance, in Reisterstown. Joey now attends Studio Bleu, in Virginia. Abby and Joey have competed separately and as a duo in state and regional competitions.

None of this could happen without their families, who spend enormous amounts of time and money on their children's potential careers. Maria Royals, dance department chairperson at Carver Center for Arts and Technology, a Baltimore County magnet public school, likens young dancers to child ice skaters and gymnasts.

It requires tremendous dedication from parents, she said of the lessons and coaches, costumes and shoes, travel and fees.

According to Jeanine Little, Joey's mother, he made his ambitions known early. "He was 3 years old when he told us he wanted to sing and dance on television," said Little, who signed him up for dance lessons when he was 5.

Joey's schedule is as intense as Abby's. Five days a week, Little drives her son nearly 90 minutes each way to the dance studio in Virginia.

Reisterstown resident Joey Little studies dance at Studio Blue in Virginia.
Reisterstown resident Joey Little studies dance at Studio Blue in Virginia. (Submitted photo)

He hops in the car after school lets out at 3 p.m. "We're there by 4:15. Class lasts till 9:30 and we're home by 11 p.m.," said Little, who has three other children, ages 13 to 18, and works as a bartender and waitress in Reisterstown. Joey's father manages a physicians practice.

Joey's lessons are spread among ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, contemporary, hip-hop, acro (a gymnastic form of dance) and acting.

"I see myself as a professional dancer, on Broadway or with a company," said Joey, who enjoys tap dancing, and a form of tap called Broadway-style, for its rhythmic sound.

Abby began dance lessons at about age 3.

"You learn new things. You make a lot of good friends," said Abby, who takes classes in the same variety of dance forms as Joey. Jenn Frisch, Abby's mother, is a former dancer herself. She took lessons through college, and was a member of the All-American Dance Team, which performed in half-time shows at football sporting events — the Holiday and Citrus bowls, among others.

"I didn't push her, but when Abby said she wanted to dance, I thought, 'Yes!' " said Frisch, the mother of two sons, ages 7 and 13, and a teacher at Franklin Middle School. She also works at the Karen Sachs studio finding competitions and performance opportunities and coordinating activities. Abby's father works in marketing.

Making the cut

The International Dance Organization sponsors the World Tap Championships. Nancy Chippendale, owner of Nancy Chippendale's Dance Studio, in North Andover, Mass., has been bringing a team of dancers from her studio to the event for the past 13 years. In 2014, she decided to open it to dancers from around the country and to name it the United States Tap Dance Team.

"It's absolutely been more than we expected," Chippendale said of organizing, choreographing, costuming and rehearsing the team and arranging the trip. Her daughter, Kelli Carberry, is the choreographer and co-director of the team with Chippendale.

The dance studio Ministry of Swing is relocating from St. Luke's Evangelical Lutheran Church to the old Ideal Theatre in Hampden

Chippendale auditioned 150 dancers ages 9 to 25, some by Skype, for the 35-member team. The team is divided among child, junior and adult dancers.

Before the team departs for Germany, Chippendale will have held four weekend practice sessions at her studio.

"They arrive Friday, dance on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then return to their home cities. It's intense," Chippendale said.

Not to mention expensive. And the trip to Germany for two, for the five-day competition and two days of sightseeing, could run $5,000 for airfare, hotel, meals and expenses.

Maria Royals, of the Carver Center, said the dance competitions reflect the two different schools of thought in dance training. One focuses on concert training, techniques to perform the artistic repertoire. The second stresses competition training, some of the same techniques but with a different goal.

"W'ere talking dance teams in college versus a dance company," she said, the former a career path to, perhaps, musical theater or a dance troupe.

"Dance competitions aren't a new phenomenon," Royals continued. "They've been around for at least the 30 years I've been dancing," she said. "But they are newly visible thanks to television shows such as "Dancing with the Stars."

"The availability of those shows on television has made competitive dance more popular. It brings it into people's homes," Royals said." And that's a good thing for the dance world."

Doug Hamby, acting chair of the University of Maryland Baltimore County dance department, agreed, saying, "Having dance on television ... has increased the popularity of watching dance. It has influenced dancers. More boys are involved in dance because of the TV shows.

Teams from 30 countries are expected at the World Tap Championships. Joey is dancing in four competitions: soloist, duo/trio, small group and formation. Except for the solo, Abby is dancing in the same formats.

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Before the competition, no one is talking about the specifics of their performances, not the steps or music or costumes. Chippendale does say that Joey's solo routine is called "Bad Boy, Good Man," Joey and Abby's group dance number is called "Hungarian" and their costumes are bright and handmade.

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"We will be competing against champions from all over the world," Abby said. "They said to focus on our steps. But to make sure we looked happy."

See it live

The World Tap Championships are being held from Tuesday, Dec. 1 through Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. The event can be seen via Live Stream at www.ido-dance.com

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