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Music From The Sole celebrates tap’s Afro-diasporic roots

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Music From The Sole celebrates tap’s Afro-diasporic roots
Music From The Sole performs “I Didn’t Come to Stay.” PHOTO: TITUS OGILVIE LAING

Brazilian dancer and choreographer Leonardo Sandoval and African American musician and composer Gregory Richardson first honed their work together while busking on New York City’s High Line. From the very first beat, they made magic together, blending Brazilian and Afro-Latin percussion and movements with Afro-American musical traditions like jazz, gospel and house.

From this artistic harmony was born Music From The Sole, a tap dance and live music company that celebrates tap’s Afro-diasporic roots.

Composer Gregory Richardson (left) and choreographer Leonardo Sandoval, founders of
Music From The Sole. PHOTO: SAULZ

“We have this communication and this language together that we developed on the street, and I believe that’s what is special about the company,” says Sandoval. “That’s what motivates us to keep making work and bringing people to this dialogue that we have that is very rooted in improvisation.”

Their creative method is improvisational as well. Sandoval may come to the table with a few steps in mind or Richardson might play a few chords that have been resonating with him, and the composition develops organically from there. Since establishing the company, the duo welcomes input from the other dancers and band members as well.

In Boston later this month, the group will perform “I Didn’t Come to Stay,” a piece that fuses tap, percussive dance, samba, house and live music. The piece was commissioned by Works & Process at the Guggenheim and conceived during the pandemic shutdowns. During the show, eight dancers and a five-piece band explore tap’s lineage and the Afro-diasporic roots that connect Sandoval and Richardson across cultures and continents.

Music From The Sole PHOTO: TITUS OGILVIE LAING

“Even in 2023, I think a lot of people might not realize that tap is very strongly influenced from the African diaspora and is an African American art form,” says Richardson. “I think it takes some extra legwork to make sure that African American contributions are known, because it’s often whitewashed or left out of the picture.”

Music From The Sole will perform “I Didn’t Come to Stay” in partnership with Celebrity Series of Boston at New England Conservatory Jan. 11–13. The show on Friday, Jan. 12 will include a post-performance reception and artist conversation.

The company has performed at Lincoln Center, Jacob’s Pillow, Vail Dance Festival, The Yard, Caramoor Jazz Festival, Harlem Stage, Bryant Park and the Guggenheim. Given their roots, the performers are as comfortable on the streets of New York as they are at fine art institutions and on world-renowned stages.

“I just hope that the audience takes away some of the emotions that I feel when I’m playing,” says Richardson, “which range from feelings of love and admiration for my collaborators to some moments of real pure and sincere joy.”