After just a few minutes of conversation with dancer Anthony Russo and you’d think you were talking to an Olympic athlete.
“You gotta eat right, that’s for sure,” says Russo. “Once you’re in, you kind of realize what it takes ... it’s 85 minutes of no intermission.”
Russo is a member of the six-member tap ensemble, Tap Dogs, coming to Strathmore on Saturday. While Russo and the rest of the Tap Dogs may not be training for the next Olympic Games, they certainly have the strength and endurance of world-class athletes.
Tap Dogs was started by Olivier Award-winning choreographer Dein Perry in Newcastle, a steel town north of Sydney, Australia. The group made its debut in January 1995 at the Sydney Theatre Festival and now tours North America, Australia and South Africa.
The loud and electrifying show is a hybrid of theater and rock concert, featuring six male tappers going fast-paced and non-stop on a makeshift construction site for nearly an hour and a half.
“We’ve been called the ‘AC/DC’ of tap dancing,” says Russo. “It’s six guys working incredibly hard ... We’re building the set throughout the show ... it’s hard not to appreciate the amount of work we put into it.”
Russo saw the Tap Dogs for the first time when he was 13 in St. Louis, about a half-hour from his hometown of St. Charles, Missouri.
“To see a group of guys dancing like guys, not wearing [sequined] costumes, it was really cool and inspiring at an age where dancing might not have been the coolest thing for a 13-year-old kid to be doing,” says Russo.
A dancer since he was 2, Russo says it was during his early teen years that he realized he loved tap more than any other form of dance.
After that first Tap Dogs show, Russo had the chance to meet the show’s dancers. He even tap danced for them. The Tap Dogs told him to come back in a few years and audition. Russo followed through, made the ensemble and went on a national tour with the Tap Dogs before graduating high school.
“I’ve been doing the show off and on for 11 years and it doesn’t get any easier,” says Russo.
Tap Dogs shows are always live and feature no pre-recorded taps. The dancers are accompanied by tracks and live percussion on a couple of numbers but also do a few a cappella pieces where the dancers’ feet provide the music.
Throughout his 11 years with the troupe, Russo has toured regularly in North America, Europe and Australia in addition to performances in other places around the world.
“We’ve been to over 35 countries and it’s appreciated by every culture and every language without fail,” says Russo.
Some of his favorite performances include a show at the Taipei National Theater in Taiwan in April.
“The sweeping roof, the details in all of the architecture is just exquisite,” says Russo. “And to be flown halfway around the world to do the tap show was pretty awesome.”
Russo and the Tap Dogs even did a performance on an outdoor stage in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. While he admits the mixture of sand and wind didn’t make for ideal conditions for tapping, it isn’t the toughest venue in which the group has had to perform.
Oddly enough, it was a 2003 football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Redskins that caused some serious headaches.
“They had a rolling platform that they wheeled out on the field,” says Russo. “We did 10 minutes on the a cappella track, no music .. it’s a pretty difficult venue to perform in because of the slapback. When you’re trying to stay in time, it’s a challenge.”
Despite the acoustic difficulties, Russo admits it was incredibly rewarding to perform for more than 60,000 fans.
“You grow up in a small town in Missouri where everyone plays football and everyone makes fun of the kid who tap dances,” says Russo. “And now you’re performing at the halftime show; it’s kind of a cool experience.”