Tapping into the Tech

We know that tap dancers create their own percussive soundtrack when they perform. Back in the eighties, pioneering choreographer, teacher and composer, Alfred Desio, took this a step further.

Desio was a veteran Broadway performer, having appeared in original productions of West Side Story, Fiddler On the Roof, Man of La Mancha, Zorba the Greek, and many others, before settling in Los Angeles at USC to teach. He trained with Jerome Robbins and worked with Joseph Pilates, inventor of the now ubiquitous Pilates Technique offered at many a fitness studio across the country. Desio and his wife, Louise Reichlin founded Los Angeles Choreographers & Dancers, a non-profit dance organization composed of two professional companies, Louise Reichlin & Dancers (modern) and Zapped Taps/Alfred Desio (tap).

Desio made a splash with the 1982 debut of Tap-Tronics™, a system where tap dancers would be able to compose music and control audio effects with their feet. We’ve got all kinds of permutations of this idea today, with these tiny motion sensors, Wi-fi and digital synthesis. But when Desio invented this method of hooking choreography up to electronics, the technology was still really bulky, involving radio transmitters and tangled wires everywhere. So one might think this was a clunky notion, tethering a dancer to this kind of equipment.

Desio managed to overcome those limitations and devise a way for the tap dancer to create a fully realized score live and in the moment. Microphones were embedded in the dancers shoes, and wired to a portable transmitter. Receivers picked up the tap sounds and fed them through synthesizers, effects pedals, drum machines and vocoders. The music would modulate or change tempo with the muscles, pressure & rhythm of the body. If you watch this video about Alfred Desio, you’ll see that there was nothing heavy or dragging about his invention. For Desio, Tap-Tronics was all about heightening the pleasure of his art.

Sadly, Alfred Desio, the Electronic Tap Dancer, passed away on Valentine’s Day in 2007, at the age of 74. Tributes and more information about his career and legacy are maintained by L.A. C & D at http://www.lachoreographersanddancers.org/p3a_obit.html.

– Jocelyn

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