Kat Richter is a dancer and musician. Her instrument, however, is her feet.
“I was drawn to the musicality of it. You are a musician and a dancer simultaneously. People don’t really realize that jazz and tap are linked; they developed in tandem,” Richter, of Front Street and Washington Avenue, said. “I do a lot of improv and go to tap jams. I try to always perform with live music because there is a great connection you can have with the musicians.”
Richter has been a tap dancer since age 5 — professionally since age 9 — and a teacher for about 20 years. She instructs at multiple locations throughout the Philadelphia area and also teaches creative movement.
“Essentially [creative movement] is focusing on using the body and using movement to explore other aspects of the music. As opposed to ballet, where you have to turnout and you have to be structured, you can explore other themes,” Richter said. “It’s primarily taught to younger children or for physical therapy. It’s interpretive movement so maybe we’ll read a story and then do a dance that explores the themes of that story.”
With degrees in dance, history and anthropology, she often approaches her teaching from a holistic perspective to give students an appreciation for the physicality and the cultural significance.
“I encourage my older students to come to tap jams with me so they can start seeing that they are not just a dancer, but that they are contributing to the music,” the 26-year-old said.
Richter spends half of her time as a teacher and the other as a freelance journalist for publications such as PhiladelphiaDANCE.org’s The Dance Journal and Dance Spirit Magazine. She hopes one day to have the balance shift in favor of writing.
“I love them both. I always think I need to pick one or the other, but writing helps me be a better teacher and teaching a better writer,” Richter said. “Even if I have a New York Times best-seller, I’ll always teach. I love working with kids and I love dance, but in terms of career goals, I’d like to be writing more than I am now.”
Her latest venture in the writing world is shopping around her book proposal. The nonfiction work, “Fieldwork in Stilettos,” is based on her blog experiment where a year ago she collected research on dating.
“It’s very tongue-in-cheek, pseudo anthropological experiment in dating from when I turned 25 I launched an online dating experiment. … Since I have a graduate degree in anthropology, I decided to approach dating and why I am still single and conduct fieldwork. I thought of each date as fieldwork,” she said.
Thirty guys and 80 dates later, Richter had a spreadsheet that included each date and details of what they did, if they went out again, etc. She analyzed these results and had some insightful takeaways.
“I’m very big now on looking at dating as fieldwork, meeting a lot of people and figuring out what you want. As a result of keeping this spreadsheet I was able to categorize, and see the sort of guys I keep falling for is the same guy,” Richter, who now has a boyfriend (whom she did not meet online), said. “As women, we tend to generalize about men that all they want to do is have sex and they don’t care about a woman’s feelings, but I dated so many sweethearts that were just as sincere as women in their dating efforts so that was refreshing.”
Beginning her dance lessons in Freehold, N.J., Richter joined a group at age 9 and began performing professionally.
“I was accepted as an apprentice in the New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble and we’d perform to live music every week. We performed all over the tri-state area with really great musicians,” she said. “It was pretty cool as a kid and I got to work with some really fabulous artists in a professional company.”
She attended Goucher College in Baltimore, where she double majored in dance and history, graduating in 2007. She spent a year in the grant-writing department at Center City’s Walnut Street Theater before moving to London to do a master’s program at Roehampton University in dance anthropology.
“There are only about five or six schools that offer that [degree] in the U.S.,” Richter said. “I received a scholarship to Oxford for a year when I was in undergrad and I loved being in the U.K.”
Richter headed back to the States to contemplate her next move, as she was thinking about Ph.D., work. Her parents had relocated to the area and Richter rented a spot in their new home to assess her options.
“Quite honestly I love this city and the part that I’m located in. I can hop on 95 in two minutes and I can walk to Old City,” Richter said.
The tap scene in Philadelphia could use a boost, Richter said, but she, and the current tap community are up for the challenge. In last year’s Philadelphia Fringe Festival, Richter and co-producer Pamela Hetherington put together an all-female tap revue, which they staged at Society Hill’s Bistro Romano.
“We sold out both of them, two performances … I had never produced a show before and it was extremely stressful, but we broke even,” Richter, who performed with about a dozen other local tappers, said. “I think we got a lot of really positive feedback.”
That show — which was entitled “Too Darn Hot” — and the many students Richter sees each day are some of the reasons she has decided, for the time being, to stay locally and continue to improve the accessibility to and appreciation of the art form.
“I enjoy Philly and a lot of tap dancers, myself included, think that we owe the art form a lot. I owe it to my students here to build the tap scene here and really help what’s going on here,” Richter, who still plans to complete a Ph.D., said. “There are definitely a lot of people in Philadelphia that are very talented and passionate about tap. It’s not really in the spotlight so much, but it’s a goal of mine, eventually, once I publish the book, to help promote it here.” SPR
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