‘A highly unique film with straightforward storytelling. A nice addition to the archive.’
Community building – especially if this group belongs to an oppressed minority and is often approached through prejudices – requires infinite effort, talent and support.
Damian James Le Bas (Junior) is a British filmmaker, poet and writer as well as the author of several prize-winning books and films. As a member of the English Traveller community and the editor of an important community website called Travellers Times, he searches for stories and individuals who represent the traditional British Gypsy identity and way of life. Thus, he can get rare access to the community and find real treasures, just like in the case of this English Gypsy tap dancer.
One of the representatives of this tradition is the sixteen-year-old Riley Smith, whom we can observe closely thanks to his intimate relationship with the director. Riley Smith learned tap dancing from his father, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and other ancestors. He develops his skills on a board in the family’s garden and then performs at shows. ‘They are better than the stage’, he says, ‘because they are always at my disposal’. In his case, taking to the board(s) does not mean celebrity, but rather self-confidence and an identity-strengthening practice. Damian Le Bas creates an intimate portrayal about the teenager with his family in the background – and one which might not have been recorded if someone else had been behind the camera.
Rather than investigating the importance of the tradition, this short video reportage captures its practice in the everyday life of the community. Presumably it has similar roots to flamenco, at least in technical terms. There is still a long way to go in discovering and legitimising the connections between these dances and the (ethnic) background of their famous performers and audiences.
Interview with Damian Le Bas, https://romediafoundation.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/romani-the-secret-tongue-of-the-north/
Goldberg, K. Meira, Bennahum, Ninotchka Devorah and Hayes, Michelle Heffner (eds): Flamenco on the Global Stage: Historical, Critical and Theoretical Perspectives, Jefferson, North Carolina: MacFarland & Company, 2015
Seibert, Brian: What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015