Andrew Nemr: A Tapper Tour de Force

Embodying the oral tradition of an American art form, he promotes tap dance as a means of storytelling and community building.

An audience sits transfixed by the rapid-fire taps emanated by the solo performer as he pummels the stage with his metal-tapped leather shoes. He slows down and begins to speak profound truths, weaved into the story of his craft. All the while, he’s tap dancing, creating his own background “music,” accentuated with a flurry of riffs to emphasize his points. The story brought to life by his message in tap moves the audience, leaving them inspired with souls enriched. Such is the work of Andrew Nemr, a celebrated tap dancer, champion of a uniquely American legacy.

His love for the art of tap dance permeates every part of his being. He uses his whole body to communicate with an audience. Through incredible control of his lower body, his seemingly weightless, fluid moves, and feet striking the floor clearly and decisively, Nemr’s taps become his “vocabulary.” He’s an international performer and choreographer, runs his own tap dance company, educates, and gives speeches, and he’s also a man of faith and an avid writer of poetry.

Photo: Bret Hartman/TED

“I Want to Do That.”

At three years of age, born of parents from Beirut, Lebanon who immigrated to Edmonton, Canada, young Andrew Nemr started taking dance lessons. For the next seven years, he spent countless hours practicing and tapping his way into competitions. “I still have an untold number of costumes that still exist in my garage today,” he says at TEDxChemungRiver.

Since those early days, he has attained the status of being one of the most diverse tap dancers of our time. Derived from African and European traditional dances over 120 years ago, he recognizes tap dance as “one of America’s major contributions to the world of percussive dance.”
Perhaps the best way to understand tap dance is how Nemr describes its essence in a TED-Ed video, “It all really boils down to two pieces of metal on a leather-soled shoe, the wood to dance on, an audience to watch and listen, and something to say. It’s the balancing of these elements that is a tap dancer’s craftwork.”

Take a moment to view Nemr’s lesson on the tap dancer’s craft…

A Pivotal Moment

In 1989, Nemr was just nine years old when he saw the movie Tap, featuring Gregory Hines and hoofer greats, Sammy Davis Jr., Bunny Briggs, Savion Glover, and others from the 20s, 30s, and 40s. Mesmerized by their performance, he fell in love with the artistry of their tap dance and immediately started perfecting his skills and techniques. His biggest inspiration was Hines, who he met soon after watching the film. He had the good fortune to be a Hines protégé whose rhythmic literacy was adopted by Nemr. Hines once said of him, “His skills are rich and truly expressive.”

Working with famed Savion Glover and his DC Crew during the early 90s, Nemr landed a position with Real Tap Skills, an ensemble Glover had formed. The group traveled to New York’s Public Theater in 1995, where Nemr engaged with contemporary hoofers in performances of Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk choreographed by Glover. In 2003, Glover formed Ti Dii, a new group of top talent, which included Nemr.

The young Nemr fondly recalls his time with Glover, “I learned about never quitting and what it is to be in the creative process — to be completely within the craft amongst an audience or peers, to allow oneself to be vulnerable, and to allow the craftwork to carry you through.”

Preserving an American Artform

Nemr loves the art of tap dance and its impact as a genuine American artistic craft. In 2002, together with Hines, Nemr co-founded Tap Legacy Foundation, Inc. with a mission to preserve and advance the art of tap dance. The organization is developing a globally accessible digital archive of cross-referenced documents and works related to tap dance. Numerous events are produced by the organization to increase awareness of tap dance, including the New York City Celebration of the National Tap Dance Day.

In 2005 at age 25, Nemr founded and directed Cats Paying Dues, his own tap dance company, ranking among the top in the nation. Garnering critical acclaim, the company presents choreographed ensembles without compromising the individuality of the artists. Performances have been hailed as “a welcome return to the elegance of simplicity and the tap dancer as maker of aural magic,” according to ExploreDance.com and “the complete journey through American tap…” by the Daily Gazette.

Elevating the Dance

His masterful showmanship has shared the stage with many esteemed musical greats and Grammy Award winners, such as Hank Jones, Harry Connick Jr., the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and Les Paul. He also performs with the Nat Adderley, Jr. Trio, cellist Dave Eggar, visual artist Mako Fujimura, and others. His talent has graced the stages at the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival 2001, Winter Olympics Arts Festival 2002, Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, and the 2002 Nijinksky Awards.

Nemr has received many recognitions such as a TED Fellowship, grants from CUNY Dance Initiative, a FloBert award for Tap Dance Excellence, and various residencies from notable organizations. He received the National Endowment of the Arts Masterpieces: Dance Initiative Grant for reconstructing works by classic tap dance soloists. The result was his Echoes in Time presentation, which received critical and popular acclaim.

When not performing, he teaches tap dance as director of Tap Dance Freedom, cultivating the next generation of tap performers. His teaching method is “rooted in the fundamentals, encouraging individual discovery, and supporting the common vocabulary of tap dance.”

Advancing the use of tap dance as a narrative tool for live audiences has become his mission. As a speaker, he enjoys fusing his story with tap dance, touching on thought-provoking topics such as identity, community, love, and faith. His presentations have inspired audiences at numerous TEDx events, International Arts Movement’s INHAVIT Conference, The Gospel and Work Conference, the World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and other venues.

Nemr credits his talent to his deeply rooted faith in God. When describing the importance of performance, he says, “it is not the one in sight of people, but rather the one that is in the sight of God.” He continues to share his love of tap dancing and, in so doing, share himself with audiences all around the world.

To learn more, visit andrewnemr.com