Syncopated Sisters

Tap-dance entrepreneurs Chloe and Maud Arnold are ready to click with a new generation - and heal the world through rhythm and shoes.

by Paul Hond Published Winter 2016
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Says Morrison, “Probably more people have seen tap dance through the ‘Formation’ and Prince videos than anything since the Hollywood era of the 1940s and ’50s. That in itself is astounding.”

Calls poured in. Chloe got hired as a choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance and The Late Late Show with James Corden. In July, Syncopated Ladies performed in Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention. And now, in the fall, Chloe and Maud were ready to roll with Apartment 33.

While Chloe creates dances and runs rehearsals, Maud meets people and closes deals. The Chloe & Maud portfolio now includes the two bicoastal tap troupes; the DC Tap Festival (started in 2009 and expected to draw, in April, six hundred dancers from around the world); an afterschool program in LA called Tap Into Life (“We want to provide education and scholarships for inner-city kids,” says Chloe. “We were once those kids, and we had mentors and got scholarships from Columbia — so we are very heavy on scholarships”); and the buoyant 2015 documentary Tap World, which showcases modern tap virtuosos and demonstrates the community-building potential of the form.

“We have dancers around the world aspiring to work with us, so our responsibility is to create work.”

Next, the sisters want to create a TV documentary series about their lives as tap dancers and entrepreneurs, and build franchised shows for Syncopated Ladies and Apartment 33 so that they can do their favorite thing: hire dancers, especially women dancers.

“Women have been marginalized in tap,” says Chloe. “We have dancers around the world aspiring to work with us, so our responsibility is to create work. We’re trying to create an industry.”

It’s showtime at Aaron Davis Hall. Apt. 33: Where Dreams Are Made is based on the stories of tap dancers in New York who have used Chloe and Maud’s real-life Washington Heights apartment (unit 33) as their communal crib. Choreographed by Chloe, the show projects Fame-era wholesomeness juxtaposed with present-day issues, as if the graffiti-covered New York of 1980 — the auditions and rehearsals and blue Greek-diner coffee cups — had fused with Black Lives Matter and an affordable-housing shortage.

Like many artists, the sisters are anguished by the unending incidents of police violence against African-Americans. They know plenty of people with stories, and have had their own disturbing run-ins. They wanted to say something in the show, to present a united front against what Maud calls “blind hatred,” a solidarity underscored by the diversity of the dancers, who come from India, Australia, Honduras, Montana, Brazil. “We can’t push forward unless we’re a collective,” says Chloe. “It can’t just be African-Americans fighting for our rights; it has to be everybody saying these are human rights.”

Onstage, video images pulsed behind the dancers on a large screen. Midway through the show, an ensemble performed a piece called “One Day . . .,” set to the ballad “Glory,” by Common and John Legend, from the movie Selma. As cell-phone footage of police violence played onscreen — of bodies lying unattended, of grief and terror and outrage — the lead dancer, Gerson Lanza, stomped ecstatically, mournfully, transmuting the dynamics of a national emergency into furious rhythm; and as the screen flashed with clips of civil-rights protests past and present, the dancers nailed the insistent steps, and ended with their fists raised in unity and defiance.

There was a soundless shiver. And then, one after another, the people stood. They clapped, whistled, called out, cried out. The air trembled. Tap had spoken.

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