Macho, macho men

Tap Dogs is an athletic celebration of machismo through tap dancing

The men of <i>Tap Dogs</i> combine a dancer’s grace with pure athleticism.

The men of Tap Dogs combine a dancer’s grace with pure athleticism.

Rated 4.0

Tap dancing has come a long way from the elegant steps of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. It’s made leaps and bounds since Gregory Hines combined rock and funk music with dance in the 1988 movie Tap. The new school of tap dancers seems to delight in not just beating out jazzy rhythms with their feet, but in stomping, banging and crashing around on stage with all the enthusiastic abandon of a toddler just discovering the percussion potential of pots and pans.

Case in point: Tap Dogs, a touring production on stage through March 31 at the Eldorado Hotel-Casino. Creator Dein Perry based the show on his experiences as an industrial machinist in the steel town of Newcastle, Australia. Like a construction site, the Tap Dogs set is full of steel beams and scaffolding, pulleys and wires, duct tape and denim. And forget “the old soft shoe"—the six male dancers in this show are wearing Blundstones, Australian work boots that they have fitted with taps.

The result is a 90-minute celebration of machismo in all its blue-collar glory, wresting dance out of the gentle embrace of fine art and into the burly arms of athleticism. One dance number has the guys stomping up and down metal ladders, the muscles in their forearms bulging with strain. Another number features a solo dancer dribbling a basketball, the ball thumping out a bass line to the dancer’s rhythmic feet.

By the end of the show, all six men are drenched in sweat, with flannel shirts haphazardly tied around their waists, or no shirts at all. Their final bow is more of an exhausted hunching over, with several men leaning their arms on their knees to brace themselves. It’s no wonder that Tap Dogs uses a rotating cast—the physical demands of the show must be overwhelming.

The audience, on the other hand, rarely has a chance to get tired of the proceedings, because nearly every minute of Tap Dogs is fast-paced and in your face. Just when you think you’ve heard all the sounds their feet can make, they start hopping around on a row of sound pads that turn their dance into one big drum kit. Later they strap a couple of reverberating microphones to a dancer’s ankles, resulting in some oddly high-tech yet almost tribal foot music. Meanwhile, they’re showering the lead dancer with streams of sparks that look like they come from welding guns but sound like the screeching whine of a power saw on a metal pipe.

But it’s not all rough and tumble. Each dancer has a character to portray, and the way these characters interact is often funny and charming. Remember how your big brother used to swat you on the head or ruffle your hair? You probably knew then that those gestures were signs of affection, just as a lot of the macho swaggering on stage hardly conceals the camaraderie of the troupe. Some of the dancers get ample opportunity to goof off on stage, playing a game of “keep-away” with another dancer’s shirt or throwing fake punches.

The only aspect of Tap Dogs that I didn’t enjoy so much that a lot of the interaction between the dancers felt scripted, but even that can’t change the fact that this is one hell of an entertaining show.

Don’t miss it.