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In the News > MauiWeekly.com The Maui Tap Experience

7 Mar 2007


Thursday, March 08, 2007
The Maui Tap Experience

Starr Tendo

Local couple brings tap masters from across the world to Maui.

Most Mauians remember when the biggest musical-type production of the year was always Peter and the Wolf at the Baldwin Auditorium. Not that Peter and the Wolf was a bad gig. I greatly enjoyed it every year—for a decade. But growing up, I always wanted more.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only Maui keiki that wanted to expand my horizons in the performing arts department. I lapped up everything that came my way—ballet classes in the fourth grade, drama class at Maui Community College, a really bad audition for South Pacific (can you say “tone-deaf?”). I even helped set up the ‘Iao theater for an all male-review in my late teens. Yes, that’s right, an All Male Review. Ah, good times, good times. Desperate? Who me?

Thankfully, times have changed. Today’s kids have it all. And I’m not just talking Lunchables, Heelies and the Xbox 360. I’m talking art, music and dance. In the past 10 years or so, Maui has become a hot spot of multicultural activity. The Maui Arts & Cultural Center has certainly played a huge role in this, but we can’t forget the individuals behind the scenes who have the vision to bring us magic like the Maui Tap Experience.

The Maui Tap Experience began in 2002 with the little dream of bringing some big Mainland tap dance to our island. Over the next few years, Maui went from a whisper in the world of tap dance to a hot spot. Tap masters from across the globe are eager to clippity-clop on stage on Maui.

Tap dance enthusiast Becky Pelissero and her husband, GJ, of Kula, created the Maui Tap Experience after attending a tap festival on the Mainland. At these festivals, professional tap dancers from various backgrounds teach and perform.

“We had been to several of these festivals over the years,” said Pelissero, “and I knew that this was something that I wanted to bring to Maui.”

Pelissero asked festival attendee Mark Yonally from Chicago, a renowned tap performer and instructor, if he would like to come to Maui and teach out of her Ha‘iku studio. Yonally accepted the offer, and it went well—The Maui Tap Experience was born.

“The students really loved Mark,” said Pelissero. “The outcome of the first year was encouraging, and it gave me the confidence to seek out more professionals for the next year.”

So in 2003, Pelissero added another instructor to the Maui Tap Experience, and held a show at the McCoy Theater, which boasted 65 tappers who had participated in the classes offered.

In 2004, everything went wrong. “We did three days of classes, and another show at the McCoy,” said Pelissero. “The turnout wasn’t what we hoped for, because there was a big tropical storm going on then, and The MACC brought in Tap Dogs Rebooted just two weeks before our performance.”

Discouraged but not defeated, the Pelisseros attended the Vancouver International Tap festival, where Becky met tap sensation and Emmy Award winner Jason Samuels Smith.

“I took his class and loved his vibe,” said Pelissero. “I introduced myself, and he was like, ‘You’re the lady doing the thing on Maui!’ It was awesome that he had heard about the Maui Tap Experience. I asked him if he would like to be a guest artist along with return instructor Mark Yonally, and he told me that Maui was his dream.”

Smith introduced Pelissero to Chloe Arnold out of Los Angeles. Arnold is the managing producer of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles, and is co-director of the L.A. Tap Festival with Jason Samuels Smith. She has toured the U.S. as a guest artist and choreographer.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Over the next year, Pelissero was contacted by numerous professional tap dancers who wanted to join Jason, Chloe and Mark.

“I think that it was the draw of working with tappers like Jason, Chloe and Mark, plus the added bonus of Maui,” said Pelissero. She and her husband spent a year organizing the event... and it paid off.

“We had seven world-class tappers come to Maui,” said Pelissero. “The classes were a huge success—people came from all over the world to participate.” The event was so huge that they decided to call it the “2006 Hawaiian Islands International Tap Festival.”

The festival took place in early November and closed with The Masters of Rhythm tap show at the Castle Theater. The Castle seats 1,500 people, and the house was packed. Seven awesome tappers from around the world put on an amazing performance that earned a roaring standing ovation from the crowd.

What’s in store for the Maui Tap Experience? Pelissero said, “More tap, of course! Jason and Chloe said that they’d come back to Maui anytime... even if they had to cancel something to get here.”

So there you go, Maui. Your very own international tap festival. Makes me want to dance.

For more information on the Maui Tap Experience, visit www.MauiTapExperience.org.