‘I mainly use my body to become a better musician’

Tap dancer Janne Eraker in ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’. (2019)Sculpture Martine Petra

How silly, she thought. When Janne Eraker (41) came to the Netherlands twenty years ago to study Modern & Jazz at what was then still called the Rotterdam Dance Academy (now Codarts University of the Arts Rotterdam), the Norwegian had to master mandatory tap dance steps. What could be fun about that? But her teacher turned out to be well versed in all steps and techniques and Eraker got a taste for it.

She learned how to draw two sounds from one leg movement, how to create a swinging rhythm by touching and not touching the floor with your metal soles, and how a toe-heel-toe-heel forward differs from a toe-heel-toe-heel backwards. And also how to fly a bit by spreading your arms and shifting your weight properly. ‘Tap means that you always and everywhere know exactly which leg you are standing on and where your body weight is moving. You have to make sure your knees don’t lock. You can’t cheat with your balance,’ she says via Zoom from Oslo, to which she returned after further education in New York.

Next week the Norwegian will perform with her tap dance improvisation trio One Small Step in Rotterdam, with guest bassist Bruno Ferro Xavier da Silva, and in Amsterdam, with guest tap dancers Peter Kuit and Marije Nie. She presents her first album Gol Variations, which was recorded entirely on the basis of improvisations. Because, yes, Eraker’s tap dance sounds great on CD and vinyl. After years of study and experimentation, she has become a dancing percussionist. ‘I use my dance background to become a better musician. I like to really move and feel the taps all over my body.”

Tap dancer Janne Eraker in 'Rhythm is a Dancer' (2019) Image Martine Petra

Tap dancer Janne Eraker in ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’ (2019)Sculpture Martine Petra

She learned in America that tap dance can also be music, from minimal to jazz and from slow to swing. ‘As a black art form, tap is strongly linked to the richness of jazz culture.’ Eraker was taught by senior specialist Heather Cornell, founder of the renowned Manhattan Tap, among others.

It sometimes makes her sad that people tap dance, except at the Singing in the rainromanticism of film star Fred Astaire, especially reminiscent of the ‘rather square’ Irish folk dance, in which the lower part of the body rages at lightning speed while the torso remains imperturbably straight. Michael Flatley made it a world hit in seven minutes in 1994, when he was allowed to present the intermission number of the Eurovision song contest organized by Ireland. Although the American has since retired – his legs made him a multi-millionaire – his Lord of the Dance and Riverdance are still touring the world. Last week Lord of The Dance was still in the New Luxor, in the spring Riverdance will come to Ahoy with an anniversary show.

Not that Eraker has anything against folk dance, on the contrary. As the child of a Norwegian pastor, she often accompanied her German mother, a gynecologist who filled her spare time with folk dance training in the Balkans. ‘For example, I was occasionally allowed to participate in Bulgarian folk dances.’

What she especially dislikes is the spectacle content of these kinds of performances. “They turn it into competitive entertainment. It revolves around the hardest and fastest tricks with a lot flash steps. Lots of records, lots of noise.’

She herself is part of a medium-sized German tap dance group, the Sebastian Weber Dance Company, which creates theatrical dance performances on themes such as the beast in man or modern folklore. Eraker is also making progress as a choreographer. She made a solo performance for herself, Rhythm is a Dancer (2019), in which she unravels the basics of tap dance steps in order to reassemble them in a contradictory way. And she has created an experimental solo for tap dancer Helen Duffy, a cross between a film noir and Japanese horror. In Tap Noir, who is coming to the Motel Mozaïek festival in the spring, she creates suspense with a mountain of dazzling light from three stroboscopes. “You hear her drumbeats as you see Helen hanging alone in the air.”

She may be the only professional tap dancer in all of Norway, an exporter of modern jazz pop par excellence, Eraker has no regrets that she returned to Oslo in 2017 with husband (visual artist Michiel Jansen) and daughter (then six months old) . Since 2012, Norway has been supporting the top freelance performing artists with a fantastic system: The Alliance for Actors and Dancers currently ensures income for 54 dancers and 54 actors, even when they are not on stage. ‘You are selected on the basis of the amount of work, no one judges about quality. You have to provide a mega schedule full of contracts, posters and program booklets as proof. But once you are employed by this alliance, you will also continue to be paid for days on which you do not perform but invest in your profession, for example through travel, experimentation and research. Ten years ago, following the example of Sweden, they started with ten dancers and ten actors, now there are almost six times as many. I can now build a sustainable professional career as a tap dancer without falling far in income every time I don’t have a job.’

One Small Step, trio around tap dancer Janne Eraker with violinist Vegar Vårdal on the left and double bassist Roger Arntzen in the middle.  Figurine Thor Hauknes

One Small Step, trio around tap dancer Janne Eraker with violinist Vegar Vårdal on the left and double bassist Roger Arntzen in the middle.Figurine Thor Hauknes

Dance on a sound carrier?

on Gol Variations, the newly released first album by the improvisation trio One Small Step, you can hear the dancing feet of tap dancer Janne Eraker. Inspired by jazz and Norwegian folk music, she scrapes, stamps, rolls, taps and hammers on a rhythmic adventure with double bassist Roger Arntzen and violinist Vegar Vårdal (on Norwegian violin with four extra resonating strings). Vårdal also sings and whistles. The title refers to the recording location: the acoustic Valhalla of the nine hundred year old Norwegian Stave Church of Gol, rebuilt in the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo.