If you’re a tapper in Philly, you probably already know (or at least have heard of) Pam Hetherington. She’s a driving force behind the local tap scene and recently opened Sound Space Philly in Fairmount. Thanks to her connections with Philly Dance Fitness, this beautiful sunlit studio has also become our newest satellite location! Pam started teaching Tap Tonic four years ago, but dancing has always been a part of her life. Read on to find out how this 37-year-old tapper extraordinaire juggles teaching, performing and being a mom.
Philly Dance Fitness: How did you get into dancing?
Pam: I remember when a guest teacher in pre-school led us in a simple dance exercise. After she turned on the music I felt immense joy at being able to follow along. It’s really powerful, that joy of music and dancing. I trained at Northeast Dance Academy, which was around the corner from my house in Northeast Philly. Tap dancing completely locked into my brain at 3 or 4. My mom said I would be the only kid on the correct foot in class. I remember feeling the tap shoes on my feet and thinking “I get it. Yes! This is exactly what I need to be doing!” I had an instant connection. It’s like an addiction. When I was about 15, I needed to find a new place to take tap to continue advancing. My mom slipped me into an adult community class at University of the Arts which introduced me to tapper LaVaughn Robinson. At age 16, I joined a company called Tap Team Two under the direction of Robert F. Burden, Jr.
What motivated you to open Sound Space?
When I was in my 20s, there was a lot going on in the Philadelphia tap scene. You would see very large national celebrations and dancers coming from New York to perform. One day it disappeared, and I was inspired to pick up the mantle and do my own stuff. I figured if no one else would do it, I had to!
I wanted to create a percussive space for dance forms that normally get pushed out: African, tap, flamenco, hip hop, classical Indian and Lindy hop. I started out by renting a small warehouse in Brewerytown in September 2015. I realized I needed something bigger and more visible for holding classes, which is how I ended up opening the space on 2511 West Girard Avenue.
You helped design the Philly Dance Fitness “Tap Tonic” program, which you currently teach on Monday nights. What excites you most about this class?
I love that it’s an entry point for people who might never access tap in the traditional sense. Anyone can do Tap Tonic. It’s a hidden core workout and also focuses on balance and working the calf muscles. Tap Tonic is a good way to introduce people to tap so if they choose to continue, they won’t be afraid of it.
Has teaching dance changed you in any way?
I’ve been an instructor off and on since I was 18. I never understood what teaching could really be until I started it full time. To me, it’s most important to create an atmosphere where the dancers feel comfortable and don’t worry about what they’re doing. “Figuring out the room” is essential to my teaching style. It’s not just about the steps — I need to understand what each person is trying to get out of the experience. Some people are there to have a good time, some are there to really improve and others are there to forget about everything else for an hour. I do approach each class with a little bit of rigor because it’s my responsibility to give dancers the tools they need to thrive. So much of tap dance is oral tradition. At least I know that if dancers come through my studio, I have passed on what I know and done my job.
Many of our instructors have “day jobs” outside of dance. What made you choose to pursue dance full time?
I think it’s my entrepreneurial spirit. When I was working in corporate America, I always had creative projects that I wasn’t able to do full out. I felt I could be spending time working on something I really believed in. I’ve learned over time that you’re only constrained by your fears and ideas. The progress I’ve made over the last four years working on my own stuff has shown me that, if I put enough time into it, it can happen. Sometimes it doesn’t happen in the timeframe I want, but there’s something about knowing I’ve come this far — I’m not going to quit after all of this!
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not at the studio?
Simple things like taking my dog to the park or spending time with my my kids, who are 11, 8 and 2. I love “turning off” and being a mom at home. I don’t get a lot of that with my work schedule. My husband is the one home a lot at night — it’s the trade-off with the work we do.
Tell us more about your performance background.
I’m really lucky to have performed all over the city with my company, Take It Away Dance. We’ve performed at Reading Terminal, the courtyard at City Hall and the Barnes Foundation. Our Reading Terminal performance was really special for me. I remember the music was going, we were tap dancing and everything felt great. I could feel the energy of the marketplace and I thought, “Wow, it’s happened. Here is another dream I always had, to put myself out there in the Philadelphia community.”
– Interview by Jennifer Schumann, marketing and operations assistant. Edited for brevity and clarity.