It's the rare family that can get through dinner without a squabble, let alone stage a tap performance in perfect harmony. Dad Derick Grant, dancer and choreographer of Broadway "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk" fame, and kids Kaleo, 12, and Lulu, 11, took the time to chat with Chicago Parent about dancing, reading and bringing their new show "Once Upon a Tap" to Chicago on Kaleo's 13th birthday.
How long have you been dancing?
Derick: I've been doing it my whole life, since I was 2. It was a way of keeping me out of trouble, keeping me busy. The kids have been doing it since they were young, as well. It's just kind of tradition in our family to dance. I didn't have a choice growing up. I had to dance, and so, like anything else when you're forced into something, you try to be that much more lenient with [your] kids. I didn't want them to hate dance, basically.
What's it like to teach your kids?
Derick: I would love to believe as a teacher I'm a pretty patient person, but I have always admitted kids are kind of my Kryptonite. Kids who have a shorter attention span, I just have to be a lot more clever about keeping their focus. Being [my kids'] first teacher was tough on all of us, I think. But they've just completed their second year at [tap school and] it's a lot easier to get with them and work on very specific things. We work a lot on improvisation. The kids are just able to free themselves and be themselves and express themselves, and I figure the technique will come later. When we get on stage, we do a lot of having fun, because they don't even realize they're learning when they're having fun. I bamboozle them by teaching them when they're not looking.
What is your dad like as a teacher?
Lulu: He tries to be someone the kids will look up to or someone the kids want to be around. He can be a little silly when he teaches, but the good kind of silly that makes us interested.
Kaleo: If you stay serious, he can be nice. But if you goof around, it can be harder to get stuff done.
Do you like dancing as a family?
Lulu: I enjoy it a lot. I wish we could do it more. It's nice having [my dad] at home because if we're struggling, we can ask him.
Kaleo: I think it's easier to work with him because he's our dad. We can always go to him [with] any problems or ideas. I feel like I'm really comfortable with it. [But] me and Lulu, we can drive each other crazy.
What is the show about, or where does it come from?
Derick: Steve Abrams [General Manager at The Harris Theater] had come to New York, and we were doing a holiday show that allowed us to invite our families to be a part. And Steve saw that and thought it was a great idea and encouraged us to flush that out. We spent a great deal of time here, making up songs.
Lulu: I thought of the name. My dad did another show called "Imagine Tap." We kind of had an idea of what he was thinking of the show. I just kind of randomly said the name, and we both thought it was a good idea.
This show is described as a "visual bedtime story." What is that?
Derick: I moved to New York to do "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk," [and] we used tap dance as a narrative. I don't think there was a time before that we used tap dance to tell stories. Since that, that's always been my goal - not just to be an instrument or dancer, but to be responsible for telling stories. This gave us an opportunity to do that.
Do you like to read together?
Derick: As a parent, to stay in the loop and try to maintain some cool points as my kids got older, I started reading their books. I'd hear my son and his friends talking about different stories. His friends got a kick out of the fact that I knew characters and plotlines. It just caught on like wildfire. After a while, we would read into the night every night. I even had them write their own stories. It's something we do a lot as a family, but we've never had the privilege or the challenge to do it on the stage in front of a bunch of people.
Kaleo: Whatever book I read, he definitely picks that up, even if it's a kids' book. Some people are surprised. But me and him both really enjoy it. Right now he's reading The Lightning Thief.
Which parts of the show do you think kids will most enjoy?
Derick: My kids and I are naturally silly. I think that a lot of times when people see dance, it's very serious, very artistic, very intellectual. While I certainly want to respect all of those things, we are really encouraging all of the audience what we like to consider the main ingredient, the fun factor. Families and kids will immediately attach onto that. We play together and have a lot of fun. We make a lot of noise. Instantly the kids can relate to the noisy guy. I think they'll get a kick out of that.
Are you doing anything special to mark Kaleo's birthday on Sunday?
Derick: I always thought the relationship between the dancer and the stage is so sensitive, and the idea of spending your life on stage is such a beautiful, romantic fantasy of mine. That my son could virtually grow from a boy to a man on stage is just too good to be true.
Kaleo: I think it's a real gift that my dad gave me [and] it's going to be really fun. It's not only a show, [but] I get to do it with my family, which doesn't happen a lot. It's my 13th birthday, so that's a big one to celebrate.
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.