Penn Live Arts Blog

5 Questions with Caleb Teicher

Posted August 17, 2020

Penn Live Arts Recommends Dance

We continue our series aiming to discover more about Annenberg Center artists, Penn faculty and others whom we find interesting in just five questions. Today, we hear from New York City-based tap and swing dancer/choreographer Caleb Teicher, whose company made its Philadelphia debut on our stage in 2018. 

Recently featured on the cover of Dance Magazine, Teicher is known for his signature style of musicality, humor and warmth, and is the recipient of a 2019 New York City Center Choreographic Fellowship, two Bessie Awards and a 2019 Harkness Promise Award. Read on to learn more about Caleb Teicher!

1. What first got you into dance?

Kids are naturally wiggly, and I was no exception… There was always music playing in my house, and I bounced around like most kids do. I was also growing up in the era of *NSYNC, and dancing was (and still is) a major part of pop culture.

The first art thing I studied, though, was drumming — a neighborhood mom (Ellen Alexander) was an incredible percussionist, and she taught lessons in her garage. After a number of years of doing that, I saw tap dance on TV and asked my mom if I could try a class. I found a great teacher not too far away (Jennifer Dell) who was hosting an all-boys beginner tap class, and that made me feel comfortable enough to try it.

Dance studios (at least in 2003) were “girl territory”, and it can feel really intimidating to walk into a studio where you’re the only boy. This was also before shows like So You Think You Can Dance normalized boys in dance. Now, I really reject the binaries of boyhood and girlhood and gendered activities. But I also recognize that, if that all-boys tap class hadn’t existed, I probably wouldn’t be a dancer.

2. What themes do you pursue in your work?

Each project feels like its own world to me, but there are some commonalities. Most pieces I make live at an intersection of dance, music and the stories we — wordlessly — tell with our bodies. Most pieces I make are hopeful, presenting characters that are virtuous in some way. Most pieces I make are “pedestrian”; no one is acting, and no one carries any type of formality. Most pieces I make have humor because, well, the world is funny.

3. What inspires you to create?

Creating, for me, is another form of research or exploration. When I make a piece, it’s not because I feel confident in its conclusion. I feel curious about the elements at play, the ideas being pursued and what I might learn from the work. To make an analogy towards science, a piece feels more like a hypothesis than the presentation of a conclusion. My favorite and most meaningful creations have come from a compulsion to try, to explore, to live and learn.

4. Name a few artists you love that everyone should check out.

  • Dianne Walker - my favorite tap dancer of all time and a living legend!
  • King Charles - incredible Chicago Footwork dancer. 
  • Andy Anderson - my favorite skateboarder. This isn’t classified as dance, but it should be. 
  • Andy Seo - one of my favorite swing/jazz dance choreographers from Korea. If he didn’t live in Korea, I think he’d probably be choreographing for Broadway musicals. 

5. What role does the dancer/choreographer have in today’s world?

Great question! If anyone has a clear answer, feel free to email me:

I think we need to consider the structures or patterned behaviors — socially, economically, philosophically — that prevent us from living our healthiest, most peaceful, most meaningful lives. I think we all need to imagine simpler lives for ourselves, with less travel and less waste and less commodity. I think we need to stop thinking of the world as a zero-sum game.

I think “today’s world” is ours to make. I can’t say that dancers and choreographers will lead the charge in this effort, but I think we can all play a part.