Big Screen: "Thinking on Their Feet" director Jenai Cutcher

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Meeting up at a rehearsal space in OSU's Sullivant Hall, third-year MFA student Jenai Cutcher brought her tap shoes along to demonstrate the dance form she's been obsessed with since she was an undergrad English major, taking elective classes in the dance department to get out of the dorms and away from a roommate she couldn't stand.

Her feet created a tight, staccato rhythm, though she admitted she hasn't been dancing much lately. Instead, Cutcher's been holed up in an editing suite for video projects related to OSU's nationally recognized dance program, completing a documentary about an underappreciated part of modern dance history.

Thinking on Their Feet, premiering this Sunday afternoon, explores the "tap renaissance" that occurred in the U.S. in the 1970s and '80s as a number of women trained in contemporary movement sought out venerable tap dancers from vaudeville and Hollywood to learn the craft and adapt it to modern dance methods. As Cutcher explained, "All the old hoofers encouraged these women to do it their way, because tap is very much about individualism."

A schooling in the unique ways the two concentrations came together and a smorgasbord for tap fans, Thinking spotlights seven women and includes wonderfully entertaining archival and present-day footage of their performances, as well as a peek at up-and-coming talents in the field. Cutcher received assistance in its completion from a 2008 University Presidential Fellowship, which gave her the financial freedom to work on the film full-time.

After kicking around Columbus following graduation (a time that included a stint writing for Alive), Cutcher moved to New York for a while to pursue further study and a career in tap dance.

"I was just struck by how many women there were," she recalled. "I hadn't seen anything like that here. I'd seen videos of Savion Glover, Gregory Hines and some older hoofers like the Nicholas brothers, but I'd never heard of Brenda Bufalino, and then suddenly I was in a tour van with her, watching her perform from the wings.

"I came to the decision to make a film about this subject because I got frustrated with doing shows for the same tap audience all the time, that were over in a night or two," Cutcher explained. "I really wanted to be more practical about disseminating information, so it made more sense to put it on screen."

Expanding that audience is another goal. "Everybody loves tap dancing, everyone knows Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire," she said. "It's one of the few indigenous American art forms, so the fact that it is a subsection of a subsection of a culture, I don't really get that."

"Thinking on Their Feet" trailer