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Ayodele Casel: Tip-Top Tapper

Tapper Ayodele Casel Capezio Athlete and Tap Dancer Ayodele Casel. Photo by Michael Higgins.

By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.

To be hailed as "one of the top young tap dancers in the world today" by the late Gregory Hines, one of the top tap dancers ever, seems almost impossible. To be that dancer and not have even started training until a sophomore in college seems even more impossible. But it is possible, and tap dancer, actor, choreographer and Capezio Athlete Ayodele Casel shows us that that's the case. 

As a tap dancer, Casel has performed with Hines, Jazz Tap Ensemble, American Tap Dance Orchestra and with Savion Glover as the only female in his company N.Y.O.T.s (Not Your Ordinary Tappers). She has also appeared on the cover of Dance Spirit, American Theater Magazine and The Village Voice. As an actor, her credits include Third Watch, Law and Order, Savion Glover’s Nu York, The Jamie Foxx Show and Bojangles. And as a choreographer, Casel’s work has been seen at Harlem Stage, the Apollo’s Salon Series, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and at New York City Center during Fall for Dance. 

Casel is surely an inspiration and a dream maker. Here, she shares her love of dance and her other interests with Dance Informa.

What made you want to be a dancer? 

“Actually, I knew from age nine that I wanted to be an actor. Dance came unexpectedly 10 years later. My senior year in high school, I became completely obsessed with classic movies, and it was then that I totally fell in love with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. To no avail, I would try to teach myself the footwork by watching their routines over and over again. It was during my sophomore year as an acting major at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts when I was first offered the opportunity to take a tap class. I have not taken my shoes off since. After I met Baakari Wilder, Savion Glover [and] Gregory Hines, and became more immersed in the culture of tap dancing, I knew I'd be dancing for the rest of my life.”

What is your favorite part about being a dancer?

“I love how being a dancer and artist affords me the opportunity to express myself and to celebrate life and rhythm as I see and hear it. I love the idea of being percussive, and I really love and appreciate the richness of tap dance history. I get to share my love for it when I teach and perform. Most importantly, I get to live with it every day, and it provides me immense joy and comfort in my life.”

Do you get nervous before a performance? What do you do to calm yourself? 

Tap dancer Ayodele Casel

Ayodele Casel. Photo by Michael Higgins.

“I almost always get nervous, but it is that feeling that lets me know it's all going to be ok. I remind myself of a very important fact: 'Nothing to prove, everything to share.' It's not always going to be perfect, however badly we may want that, but it is very liberating to know that it is a gift to have a talent, even more so to be able to share it. Hopefully, if I didn't fully honor my voice this time, there will be many other opportunities for redemption!”

What kind of Capezio shoes do you wear, and why do you like them? 

“I proudly wear K360s. For me, it is the absolute best shoe on the market for professional tap dancers and students who become serious about the art. I love the fit, look and sound of the shoe, and I think it's super fun to be able to customize them to suit my individual style.”

Dancers ranging from student to professional wear Capezio products. What do you think it is about the company that pleases dancers of every level?

“With Capezio, you expect the product to be of high quality. Dancers trust that the Capezio product is going to match the level of integrity we bring to our own training and, ultimately, our performances throughout our careers.” 

You also choreograph. Do choreographing and dancing satisfy you in different ways? 

“They are similar in that you are still very much responsible for the outcome of how the work is expressed. Choreographing allows me to serve my particular vision for a piece or a show. For me, there is an accelerated growth in an artist that occurs when you are responsible for creating something from concept to production. It's challenging, scary and exciting all at once. However, I feel the same way about dancing, whether it be as a soloist or in someone else's show. Though you are serving the choreographer's vision, there is still a responsibility to bring the highest level of integrity to their work. You are still very much working from yourself and bringing the best of you to their creation. The difference is there's much less pressure with regard to the overall vision as I am not responsible for creating the blueprint! I get to enjoy crafting a performance!”

I've read that you're also very into photography. What do you enjoy shooting, and how did you get involved in photography? 

“I always loved photography and became more serious about it around 2007. I really enjoy shooting dance. There's a rhythm in looking through the lens and knowing when to capture a moment that is very natural and enjoyable for me. I learned a lot by shooting dance recitals, believe it or not, but I'm really proud to have been able to shoot Philadanco! and Ronald K. Brown's Evidence: A Dance Company during their seasons at The Joyce Theater. When there is so much beauty and power on stage, it is thrilling to try to capture images that will convey the feeling of the work forpromotional purposes for years to come. It is truly a joy.”

What advice do you have for aspiring dancers? 

“Take as much time as necessary to educate yourself about your art. Realize it is a life-long mission. Train. A lot. Practice. A lot. Be open to everything. Know what's happening in the world currently. Get curious about what happened in your art and in the world before your interest peaked. Bring depth to your work. Become absolutely amazing but stay humble, and when you're able - and you are always able in some way – give back.”

What's something about yourself that readers may not know but find interesting? 

“I was the captain of my varsity volleyball team in high school and received two MVP awards! I've always wanted to say that in public! Yes!”