2013 - Barbara Duffy (October 8, 1959, Webster, Massachusetts -- )
Barbara Duffy, tap dancer, company director, and internationally-regarded master teacher who has been described as a rambunctious virtuoso with street-smart edginess who socks audiences with modulated explosions of tapping, was born in Webster, Massachusetts, of Irish parentage. She studied dance at the age of six with Doris McGeary in Webster. In the early 1980s she studied with Esther Dolan, and then met and studied with Leon Collins in Brookline, Massachusetts, as well as with Collins’ company members C.B. Hetherington, Pam Raff, and Dianne Walker. In 1985 she moved to New York City to study with Brenda Bufalino, becoming a founding member in 1986 of her American Tap Dance Orchestra. From1986 to 1995, Duffy was a featured dancer and dance captain for ATDO. She was also one of the first in the company to carve out a separate career for herself as teacher and soloist.
In the early 1990s, Duffy played tap-dancing cowgirl sidekick to Savion Glover, Jimmy Slyde, and Buster Brown on the PBS-TV educational children’s program Sesame Street. Slyde admiringly commented that Duffy was “small in stature, but big in sound.” Along with Collins and Bufalino, Gregory Hines made an enduring inscription on Duffy’s style of rhythm dancing. He invited her, along with Mark Mendonca and Cyd Glover, to be part of a quartet that would perform in Gala for the President in 1997 at the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C., for President Clinton and guests. Hines choreographed Boom-- a rare Hines’ tap choreography, since he habitually was an improviser. The work set rhythmically tight-fitting unison tapping against free-style solos.
It was also Hines who inspired Duffy her to create an all-woman tap dance company, Barbara Duffy & Company, which made its debut at the New York City Tap Festival in 2001 with Duffy’s Speedball. Although Duffy continues to teach and choreograph and has conducted workshops in more than twenty countries, her solo work is most often praised, as with her 2002 performance of Soldier’s Hymn at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. She danced “her own choreography of quiet and unhurried syncopation in conversation with the music’s rumbling rumba. Occasionally she introduced more ferocious phrases . . . by the end, as she marked out some gentle swishes, punctuated by a few leisurely staccatos, we were her slaves,” wrote the London Independent.
In 2008, on a panel exploring the challenges facing women in tap, Duffy spoke about her company. “I like the camaraderie of dancing with women” she said about the group that had recently premiered Stages, a full-length work, using song, dance, dialogue, choreography, and improvisation to touch on issues of friendship and love, self-doubt, and the courage to express one’s true identity. Duffy said that she meant the work “to connect with a broader audience, leaving no doubt women can hit.”
Constance Valis Hill