Tapology enriches lives through dance, education and community outreach

A woman leads a tap dance class.
Alexandria “Brinae Ali” Bradley, Tapology instructor and Bruce Bradley’s daughter, teaches a tap class to a group of students during the 2022 Fall Tap Festival. Photo: Mike Naddeo

LaCresia Brown knew at a young age that she was meant to be a dancer, but it took her several years to hone her craft and fully believe in her potential. She had moments of doubt and frustration that made her question her own skills, but she knew she loved dance, and for her, that was a good place to start.

Now, at the age of 16, her passion is even stronger, and she gets to share it with a younger generation. She said she owes a lot of that growth to her time at Tapology, a nonprofit organization in Flint that has been dedicated to promoting what the organization refers to as the “science of dance and art of rhythm” through performance, education and community outreach.

Brown first started dancing at 6 years old with Creative Expressions Dance Studio in Flint. She moved on to Tapology, which gave her the opportunity to continue to grow as a dancer and to create meaningful connections with the community. It was there that she unlocked her tapping potential, as well as a new level of self-confidence.

“I remember I would always break down in the middle of class because I felt like I couldn’t meet the expectations of certain classes, but over time I realized that I have proven myself and I am worthy of being in the position that I am in now,” said Brown, who is a mentor for Tapology.

“The important thing that I’ve learned is how to be open to … so many different cultures and how to be loving to the community. I think it is super important to teach others how to express themselves through rhythm and music.”

It is that connection to one’s self and community that Bruce Bradley hoped for when he created Tapology 22 years ago.

“Tapology impacts the culture of a community, and when you can bring this art form into a community, you are enriching all its citizens,” said Bradley, founder and CEO of the organization.

Tapology provides lessons in tap dance, art history and other musical art forms through year-round outreach programs for children and youth ages 8 to 18 and to people of all ages via its annual Summer Tap Intensive and Fall Tap Festival. Through these lessons, young people can learn the art of tap dancing while also immersing themselves in its rich culture and connecting with their past, present and future self.

Since 2006, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has granted more than $1 million to support Tapology’s efforts.

The growth of Tapology

Bradley grew up dancing, but it wasn’t until he was in his 30s that he found a love for tap dancing. He wanted to share that love with his children and others in the community. He began to take other children under his wing at Flint’s Creative Expressions Dance Studio, which he founded with Sheila Miller-Graham, who passed away in 2023. It was through Miller-Graham’s encouragement that he began to do even more to share his love of dance with young people.

Bradley started Tapology in 2001 as a festival of performances that focused on the experience of tap dancing. The festival highlighted tap dancing history and showcased tap dancing legends and performers. Young people in the community also were invited to participate and learn from the best.

An smiling older Black man stands at a microphone in front of a large Tapology banner.
Bruce Bradley speaks at the 2022 Fall Tap Festival. Photo: TRU Heart Photo

As Tapology grew, so did the opportunity. In addition to hosting an annual weekend festival, the organization expanded into doing workshops, outreach programs and performances year-round.

Bradley saw the need for children in the city of Flint to know and understand their culture and place in the world. Tapping is an Afrocentric art form that allows students to get into its history, Bradley said, and he emphasized that many of the steps done in tap dancing are direct steps from African dancing.

The focus on that history has been a guiding force for Outreach Director Shanzell Page.

“Tapology enhances an understanding of art’s importance to everyday life, developing a pride in our community’s culture, background and history,” Page said. “Tapology gifted me with direction toward this path at age 5. Bruce was my very first tap dance teacher. Thirty years later, I feel a fortunate responsibility to provide the same opportunities to a generation behind my own.”

A large group of young people wearing white shirts and black pants stand in a row on a stage on their heels with their arms raised. A band performs behind them.
A group of students showcase their talent at the 2022 Fall Tap Festival at The Whiting. Up to 60 dancers participate in the performance each year. Photo: TRU Heart Photo

The Summer Tap Intensive, which takes place every July, helps students discover, identify and develop their creative potential. Students can take classes and audition for the Tapology Youth Ensemble, a program geared toward younger kids who love tapping and want to showcase their talent. The Intensive offers classes made for the participants’ skill level. It also includes other dance styles, such as Afro-Caribbean Dance, African Dance and African Drumming Music Theory.

The Tapology Festival, which will take place Nov. 2-5 this year, is a great way for instructors and participants from Flint and across the globe to showcase their talents and connect the community with the tap culture. All events will be held at the Flint Institute of Music or The Whiting. There will be dance workshops, historical education and performances.

More than tap

Sa’Rah Hamilton started dancing as a young girl at church and community events but knew she didn’t want to stop there. She enrolled at Creative Expressions Dance Studio at an early age and then started learning tap under Bradley at the age of 10.

Hamilton said that, as a Tapology student, she learned much more than how to be a better tap dancer. The program also taught her to love herself more. She looked up to Bradley as a father figure, and when she didn’t feel confident as a dancer, Bradley always encouraged and uplifted her.

“I have become more comfortable in my own skin. Starting off in dance, I was a lot bigger than all the other kids, and that would lower my self-confidence, but Mr. Bruce instilled in me the confidence that I am good enough,” said Hamilton, who now serves as a Tapology instructor.

“I want the community to know that Tapology is just as important, if not more important, as any other programs that we have going on in Flint,” Hamilton said. “It has been here for so long, and it has impacted so many different generations before me, and I believe it will impact many more generations after me.”

A woman teaches tap dance to a group of young people in a gymnasium setting.
Francis Bradley, Tapology’s artistic director and Bruce Bradley’s daughter, teaches local youth during the 2023 Summer Tap Intensive. Photo: Mike Naddeo

Bradley’s hope is not only to produce great dancers, but also to produce great people who make positive impacts in their communities.

“My goal is to become a sustainable nonprofit that continues to bring all classes and races of people together using tap dancing,” he said. “There is a rhythm, a human rhythm, that is infectious in all people.”

Bradley wants his students to leave with a sense of purpose and passion. Along with learning tap, his students will form meaningful relationships with peers, learn how to be disciplined and leave with leadership skills they can take with them for the rest of their lives.

“When you can reach the kids who are looking for something other than negativity, to impact their lives, that is very vital to the community,” Bradley said. “It feels really good when you can turn a kid’s life away from crime and idleness and low self-esteem and give them something difficult that they can achieve. That builds confidence.”

To learn more about Tapology and the upcoming Fall Tap Festival visit tapology.org.