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The Arts Traveler, 10-23: From tango to teaching
Gracey Tune taps an art vein in Texas

When Arts Fifth Avenue held an Argentine Tango party this past summer, it was mobbed -- by locals in the vibrant arts center's historic Fairmount Disctrict; Argentine Tango dancers from throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth area; and debutants to silken advanced dancers. The party was so successful that A5A is doing it again tonight, Saturday October 23, with Tango on the Avenue -- and has started offering beginning classes in the form. Photo copyright Candice White.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2010 Paul Ben-Itzak

(This article was commissioned by and will also be published on ExploreDance.com.)

FORT WORTH, TX -- When some who have not experienced it directly think 'home schooling,' they conjure images of children kept at home being taught all day by their parents, and not meeting other kids. Others might think of it as being largely faith-based, motivated by parents' desires to raise their children in their own belief systems, free from outside influences. In fact, parents who choose what they call the HS option often turn to outside resources. Sometimes this can involve pooling resources with other parents also home schooling their kids, but it can also mean turning to professionals for some subjects. It was in response to such a need that in 2006 Arts Fifth Avenue (A5A), an all-purpose cultural center offering a full gamut of arts performance and participation options to the historically rich and demographically diverse Fairmount district (the largest historical landmark neighborhood in the southwestern US), whose streets are lined with ante-bellum houses and teeming with cats, decided to add home schooling in the arts to its rich palette.

"We added the Home Schooling program at the request of some parents as an alternative to faith-based home school arts programs," explains Gracey Tune, the legendary tap dancer and teacher (and sister to Tony winner Tommy Tune) who has run A5A's parent organization Arts on Tap for nearly two decades. (A member of the Texas Hall of Fame, Tune's choreographic experience includes the Broadway productions of "Steppin' Out" and "My One and Only," and performing and producing shows for tap legends Cholly Atkins, Savion Glover, Sarah Petronio, Ron Young, and brother Tommy.) A5A held its first day of classes at its present location on... September 11, 2001.

"None of us really knew what to do with ourselves on that day so our way of dealing with the grief and saying that no one could take our freedom was to open the doors and dance," recalls managing director Deb Wood. "We dance on 9/11 every year to rededicate ourselves to the freedom to discover, experience and express ourselves through the arts and to honor the lives lost that day."

Tune's investment in the Fort Worth artistic community began in 1977, when she moved here to build a HUD (Housing and Urban Development) high-rise for the elderly." I immediately became involved as an actress, dancer, and choreographer, with the Hip Pocket Theatre -- one of the most fascinating theaters I have ever experienced -- and began teaching tap, as rhythm tap was not taught in this area." Her talents were immediately tapped by other arts organizations throughout the city, including the Arts Council of Fort Worth, the city of Fort Worth, the popular Imagination Celebration, Jubilee Theater, Stage West, and the Kimbell and Amon Carter museums.

In 1989, Tune's mother died. "She had always wanted me to have my own space to create. With the strength and energy that passed to me after her death, I opened Gracey Tune Productions in the Cultural District of Fort Worth in September of 1989, offering tap classes day and night, founding a professional Youth and Adult Tap Company, hosting art exhibits and live music and also choreographing and producing performances and events."

As a pioneer in the resurgence of tap in the southwest -- she got the city's annual National Tap Day performance going 20 years ago -- Tune performed as a guest artist in many of the major events in the tap world, including festivals, lectures, conferences, and master classes, and served as guest dance educator for Texas Women's University, Texas Wesleyan University, Southern Methodist University, and Brown University. "With two dance companies and educating the southwest about the history of the great American dance form, tap, it became evident to me that for funding and grant opportunities it would be wise to apply for non-profit status. So Gracey Tune Productions morphed into Arts On Tap, Inc."

Today, Arts Fifth Avenue, of which Arts on Tap is the umbrella organization, offers (deep breath): Ongoing performance series with programs like this past summer's "Shakespeare in the Parking Lot," "Monk Monk Monk -- a night of Theolonius Monk's Music," "Walkin Movies on the Avenue," including a Jacques Tati summer film festival, Mondo Drummers in Concert, "Jazz by the Boulevard," workshops in sculpture and oil painting, and, upcoming, an annual celebration of Dia de los Muertos offering lessons on making Oaxacan tamales and papel picado (Oct. 30), "40 paintings in 40 Days: Selections from the Burpee Seed Catalog," an exhibition by local artist John Carlisle Moore (Nov. 26), Sceneshop's performance of "A 5th of Christmas," (Dec. 4) and "10th Annual Jazzy Christmas," featuring live jazz, tap, and vocals (Dec. 18).

"Arts Fifth Avenue... is a very small venue but what happens on its stage is invaluable to the art scene in Fort Worth," writes Mark Lowery of the Star-Telegram.

But the big addition to Arts Fifth Avenue's line-up is... Argentine Tango. An Argentine Tango evening last summer was so successful -- it was packed with both local denizens and Argentine Tango fanatics from throughout the Fort Worth / Dallas / Arlington area -- that A5A has invited its leaders, Val and Glenda Marchesoni, to teach a four-week class, October 4 - Oct. 25, open to all levels, with beginners invited to join from the first two weeks, more advanced dancers for the two final sessions. (More information at 214-236-9011.) It's perfectly timed to lead up to the next Argentine tango party, "Tango on the Avenue," October 23.

Other regular classes at A5A include, for adults and teens: Tap, ballet and contemporary dance, and hip-hop; hoop dancing and morning fitness; Sa-Zum, a salsa and Zumba-based exercise class, Tai-Chi, yoga, a chorus ("The Fifth Avenue Hi-Notes"), and sculpture; for adults only, a screenwriters workshop; and for children: tap, ballet, hip-hop, creative movement, intro to dance, art, language arts, and theater from far-away places.

The Home School, which currently has an enrollment of seven children aged 6-9 but is open to more (and, for future semesters, to older children as enrollment justifies it) is a distinct entity, meeting once per week with a full line-up of classes available (parents can choose which and how many to enroll their children in) including musical theater, hand drums (administered separately by Mondo Drummers), art, drawing, painting, and mixed media; dance and movement; and cultural theatre: folk tales, costumes, and masks.

But the best part is the cost: $90 for one class (for the entire 12-week session), $150 for two, and $195 for all day. There's also a 10 percent discount for two or more enrollments from the same family, and payment can be made in monthly installments. (Registration and tuition for the hand drums course from Mondo Drummers is offered separately.) It all culminates in a performance.

How is Arts 5th Avenue able to offer this at such a great price? "Our HS teachers are willing to teach for a reasonable hourly amount and several volunteer their talents because they appreciate and believe in A5A," says Tune. "We would not be able to offer the program without their donation of services. We also are aware that most if not all HS families are on a single income and so make every effort to keep prices modest."

How have the children responded? "Fantastically," she says. "Children want to learn, especially when allowed to use their imagination and offered the chance to be involved in the creative process. They don't realize they are learning basic math and science from music and dance, world history from Cultural Theatre, and geometry from art, but it is all natural and relevant to the process."

You might think that with performances, mini-festivals, the annual National Tap Day festival, classes for all age levels, arts Home School classes, and a new Argentine Tango element, Arts Fifth Avenue would rest with what it has but then you haven't met Gracey Tune and her team, whose future projects include building a tango festival around Astor Piazzolla; and possibly broadcasting live events on their website in the future. It has also been approved by Humanities Texas to create a series of performances and lectures, "The history of Jazz & Tap: A Multi-Cultural Collision." Tune is also working with Texas Wesleyan University on a long-term Tommy Tune Collection, to document her brother's career. With all this constant fermentation, one can forgive Gracey Tune the pun in her parting words to us: "Stay TUNED."


Special thanks to Marty Sohl and Edward Casati, who hosted this Arts Traveler in Fort Worth and turned us on to Arts Fifth Avenue.


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