Among the younger generation at the festival are Tomoe Carr — she specializes in hip-hop, house, waacking, locking, popping and breaking — and Eddie Hernandez. Casel and Beard met Hernandez, a Latin dancer, during a presentation of Encores! Off-Center at New York City Center. “He was like 10 years old and just adorable and so talented,” Casel said. “He’s just joy. He’s 14 years old.”
In “Don’t Call It a Comeback,” Hank Smith, a 75-year-old tap dancer, and Rokafella, a hip-hop veteran, will join Beard and others onstage — and, for some, reclaim their identities as performers. Another program features premieres by Josh Prince, Ray Mercer, Darrell Moultrie and Tiffany Rea-Fisher, inspired by Casel’s prompts of “I am,” “I believe,” “I fight for” and “I strive for.” And the always captivating Casel, joined by five tap dancers and a band, will lead her own program.
“With young people, with older people, with percussive dance, I like the idea of saying this is all beautiful — it’s all worthy of being in the center,” Beard said. And to be at the center, the right conditions are needed.
For percussive dance, wood floors are ideal but difficult to have access to, both in studios and on stages. At Little Island, Casel was asked what kind of floor was needed, not just for her festival, but for the venue. They took her advice. “They purchased a sprung-wood floor that is the size of the big amphitheater,” she said. “I have been in a struggle for years of trying to get venues to understand the importance of the right surface for the work that we do. When I consider how many times I’ve had to pay out of my own artist fee for a floor rental? It is huge, huge progress.”