Tap Dancer Travis Knights on Gregory Hines, The Tap Love Tour  & Soulpepper  Theatre

Sing! Dance! Act! Thrive! Podcast Episode 022

Travis Knights professional career started in 2000, when he was cast as a principal dancer in the motion picture biography of Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson with Gregory Hines and Savion Glover.  The legendary Henry LeTang choreographed the film. He shares what first inspired him to get into tap and what it was like to work with these legendary performers.

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SHOW NOTES:

Hello and welcome to episode 22 of Sing! Dance! Act! Thrive!

My guest today is tap dancer extraordinaire Travis Knights who is in the Soulpepper Theatre Company’s brand new concert, The Promised Land: Steinbeck Through Song running July 12-27 in Toronto. This concert reimagines the music from Bruce Springsteen, Nina Simone, Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan and more to illuminate the works of famed novelist John Steinbeck and the search for The Promised Land through song and dance.

Travis’s professional career started in 2000, when he was cast as a principal dancer in the motion picture biography of Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson with Gregory Hines and Savion Glover.  The legendary Henry LeTang choreographed the film. He shares what first inspired him to get into tap and what it was like to work with these legendary performers.

Travis is so passionate about tap that you will be inspired to follow your own passion no matter what it is as he believes that you have a responsibility to follow it.  We also talk about his podcast The Tap Love Tour and some of the amazing guests that he has had on the show and how they have inspired him. I loved talking to him, so I hope you enjoy it. Well, welcome to the show. What are some of your career highlights?

Travis Knights:            That’s a big question. It’s, it’s so strange. I’m a tap dancer.

Diane Foy:                      Yes.

Travis Knights:

And in this day and age 2019, there’s nobody looking for a tap dancer. Right. which means that I have to be an entrepreneur with it. This is the only a recent, I guess discovery for me.

Diane Foy:                 Right.

Travis Knights:

Because I started when I was 10 and as soon as I got started, my life has been touched and blessed by this dance. I used to be a very shy a child and for some reason when I started tap dancing, it just opened up my world. It was Gregory Hines, in fact, that I saw him dance on this tribute show. He was, he was paying tribute to Sammy Davis Jr who was dying at the time and all of Hollywood came out to pay tribute to Sammy Davis Jr. I promise. I’m going to answer your question I’m getting there. But, it was, it was a fantastic show. It was hosted by Eddie Murphy. Michael Jackson was on the gig, Stevie Wonder was on the gig and Gregory Hines was on the gig. And when he came out, I thought what he did was just so fantastic and entertaining and it was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like that before. And then sick, frail, Sammy Davis Jr got up on stage and they dance together and I was sold. And I was lucky enough to have parents that, that listen. Then I said, Mama Dada, can I do, can I tap dance? And I completely lucked out and found this teacher named Ethel Bruneau, who comes from this lineage of, of working performing artists. She’s originally from Harlem, New York, and she moved to Montreal in the 50’s and just stayed, my goodness gracious. And eventually in the, in the early nineties, I started to teach me to tap within two years.

Travis Knights:

Gregory Hines came to town and I got to perform with him on stage just like that. It was, it was magical. And it’s completely 100% changed my life. In 1996, he came for the, international jazz festival in Montreal and, by some kind of weird chancing, I really don’t understand the story. I should pay attention and ask somebody. But the CBC, they were following me around there. The story that they wanted was, you know, this child prodigy, he gets to see his idol on stage. Gregory Hines is such a generous performer that towards the end of his performances he would invite, tap dancers in the audience to come up on stage and, and do something with it. And so I went and rule number one as a tap dancer when you’re going to see a tap show, always bring your shoes, rule number one.

Travis Knights:

Right. So I had my shoes and I went up there. I was shy, I was 13 years old at that time and I said my name very high pitched. He made fun of me. It’s all good. It’s all good. I’d make fun of me. It’s okay. It’s okay. And then I did a step that I stole from his movie tap and, and he was taken aback and he said, asked me to do it again. And then we did it together and the whole time CBC was recording it that night. The story went out all across Canada and the next day I received my first gig. And ever since I’ve been, I’ve been working ever since. So in terms of career highlight, that’s just like the beginning has to be the beginning. Yeah. It’s like, it was like a supernova or it was like a big bang of, of my experience in life as a tap dancer.

Travis Knights:

And ever since, you know, I’ve, I’ve been traveling the world, I’ve, I’ve met some of my favorite people on the planet because of this dance form. And like it’s, it’s, it’s not something that I could have predicted or it’s still not anything that I can predict because the opportunities that I receive are, are just mind boggling. Bogglingly phenomenal.

Diane Foy:

Right. And was it always tap, did you experiment with any other types of dance?

Travis Knights:

It was always tap. I did try other forms of dance at the, you know, the urging of my teacher at the urging of my parents at the urging of my friends, you know, you should become a multi-form. No, I’m so stubborn. I only care. I only care about making music with my feet and dancing to it at the same time. Yeah. Yeah. So I’m, I’m kind of a stubborn dude.

Diane Foy:                     Well sometimes you have to be to make it.

Travis Knights:

Yes, and having said that, all these other forms that I see. I admire them they’re, they’re fantastic in their own ways. I’m just, I’m just, you know, kind of just one trick pony, it’s not only that I’m a one trick pony. That’s mean of me to say about myself. I love it so much. There’s so much to do with, okay, let me answer you this way. In the movie Tap towards the end, there was this segment where they attach to these like midi contact mics to Gregory Hines tap shoes and then they fed the sound through this computer board and it created completely different sounds and that that’s like a, a technology that they were developing in the 80’s. You can imagine where it is. I don’t, I don’t care. I don’t care if there’s, there’s so much left to be discovered with just the shoes themselves and the rhythmic possibilities that you can create on the, on the, on the fly to add a whole other element for me. You know, I’d have to live two lifetimes to get to, to get to that. So, so I feel, to answer your question, I feel so honestly overwhelmed at how much there is for me to learn within the dance of tap itself that I really don’t have the space for anything else.

Diane Foy:

Wow. And do you find like, because there’s less tap dancers, I would imagine that the, to get gigs, it’s kind of, you know, both good and bad because there’s less of you. But then is it also pigeon-holed of we only have room for one tap dancer but we’ll have room for like 10 hip hop dancers or whatever.

Travis Knights:   07:04

So I think the, it’s a bittersweet. So it’s bittersweet in the sense that I have to create most of my work for myself. Right. It’s sweet in the sense that as soon as I created there is, there’s this demand that happens. People love tap dance. They do. It’s just, it’s just hard to come by in abundance. I believe in abundance 100%. So I actually, I actually was a very good boy and, and follow the recommendations of my parents and I, and I got a business degree but before, before handing it to my parents and, and setting out to with my life in tap dance. But an important thing that I learned in business school was when you’re selling a product, you have to identify four key things. Number one, is the product valuable? Is it rare? Is it costly to imitate? And are you organized to exploit it? And if these four things are in line, you’ll be fine. Right? And tap dance is absolutely 100% valuable. It is rare, as you mentioned, it’s costly. Like you can’t just, you can’t just start tap dancing and be a tap dancer. It takes a very long time too. Okay. Sound good, let’s put it that way. And then the, the organization, that’s, that’s my big, that’s the challenge of my life. I think, you know, as a, as an artistic type, I don’t want to be stereotypical about it, but I am, I am pretty impulsive and fly by the seat of my pants. I’m passionate. And to organize my fonts to organize my, my work is, is a kind of torture that I’m a, that I’m, I have to engage with. It’s just something that I have to do in order to create a demand in order to create a market for this dance that, is oftentimes forgotten in the, I guess the, our cultural is like guys.

Diane Foy:

Right. And I saw that you later were in a movie with Gregory Hines.

Travis Knights:

Isn’t that crazy? That’s crazy. That’s great. That’s crazy. Yeah. Yes.

Diane Foy:                        Yeah. Did you like stay in contact and be like best friends?

Travis Knights:

Not quite, at all, I’m a socially awkward child. That was a big, that was a big Gregory Hines superstar superstar NBC. Just by chance. Hey, I think, I think at this point I want to sing o Canada if possible. But, but just, just have that in the back of your mind. There’s a law, there’s a law in Canada where if you film here, you have to have a certain percentage of Canadians, people on the job. And it was the same thing for that movie. Gregory shot that movie here in Toronto. And because of that, he, he was, he had to have a certain amount of Canadian actors and dancers in the movie. And he remembered me and called me and I, I fell over in my chair. I didn’t, I didn’t have to audition. He auditioned me that night on the stage. Do you understand what I’m saying it’s like, it’s so, it’s so magic to me. I can’t believe it, but yes, I got to be in a movie with Gregory Hines but not only that, it was choreographed by the late great Henry LeTang who’s this insanely important choreographer to the cultural history of, of North America. Okay. Period. The end.

Diane Foy:

I googled that and yes he’s worked with a lot of famous people.

Travis Knights:

Yes. Yes. and made them look fantastic and got to work with them. My teacher, was well aware of Henry LeTang. They both come from Harlem, New York, so they were very, very close and she prepared me for the, the, can I say this hard ass that he would be this, this, this kind of task master type. But I thought he was 100% charming and I was hungry and ready for all the work he threw at me. So it was, it was just a fantastically magical experience.

Diane Foy:

What are some of the key lessons that you learned from working with both of them? Gregory Hines and Henry? That must have been like a masterclass.

Travis Knights:

Absolutely. So there’s one lesson that I’m still learning and I’m still trying to implement. Right. The one thing about Gregory that I remember that was, that still blows me over today is to this day is he was enthusiastic and charming and generous and warm and just he had this, he had this pleasant demeanor about him welcoming, you know, if ever I was alone on set, he would welcome me into whatever he was doing.

Travis Knights:

He was, a very open, open person and myself by contrast I’m kind of brooding and little dark at times. I love listening to Radiohead, somewhat antisocial. You get the picture, but it was to be around. That kind of energy was infectious. And I can imagine, you know, I can imagine if you, if you, if you’re thinking about working with someone, you want that kind of person in your corner too, to be a cheerleader when, when that needs to be, to be an excellent, a source of excellence. When that’s required as well. Gregory was an incredible force to be reckoned with. Henry LeTang work ethic, work ethic, work ethic, show up on time and prepared. No excuses. Your excuses are your own. I’m not in your head. I’m not your mother. Just do your job and we’ll be friends or at least friendly.

Travis Knights:

Henry LeTang that taught me about preparation, and excellence, it was, it’s, these are 100% lifelong lessons, but I, but I feel myself, engaging in them today and referencing those experiences, those experiences specifically.

Diane Foy:

Now you are in more of a leading role in some of your projects, so you have to kind of take that to heart and, and welcome in the newer ones.

Travis Knights:

Exactly. That’s right. That’s right. Because it was because I remember as a child those experiences, I was so, I’m grateful. I remember being grateful to these men for, for welcoming me. And they didn’t have to do, they could have treated me like a child. I worked on another show. That they did the opposite. They, it was like tough love. It was like a child role in the show and they gave that child that tough love.

Travis Knights:    12:22

You know, you’re on this big show and we’re going to prank you. We’re going to punch. You were going to, it was, it was not my style was like no man. Because I was exposed to the opposite and I was enriched because of it.

Diane Foy:

Right. So where did you go from there? You were like, what, 15, 16?

Travis Knights:

I did the movie Bojangles and then, I started my own tap dance company in Montreal and we did a lot of good work. We, that’s when I dipped my toe into producing and understood. Started to understand the difference between a dancer and a producer. The difference between as someone who you hire to do the work and, and creating the work and defined, I started to define what it would take to make a, career out of this thing. That was a very important time in my life.

Travis Knights:

That was at the same time that I was finishing up high school, going into stage up in university and I’m really understanding or starting to understand the business side of tap dance and entertainment. Yeah. and then yeah, just like opportunities just kept on rolling in. I, you know, the, the great thing about tap dance or any type of dance, I’m a believer in abundance. So if someone is successful, for example, in New York that is going to up the profile of tap dancing and people, all of a sudden every, we’re going to be looking for tap dancers. Case in point, there was a movie in 2005, 2006, a called Happy Feet. Tap dancing penguin tap dancer was none other than Savion Glover, he’s incredibly genius and because of that movie, they made a video game and the video game company resided in Montreal, Bam, Bam. Just like that. I got that gig. It was it’s just that kind of, that kind of, I guess would you call what, let’s call it the trickle down economic effect, what would you call it?

Diane Foy:                      Well that’s your business school talk.

Travis Knights:

I call it abundance. It means that because of that experience, whenever I see a colleague of mine or an elder of mine or anybody else in my field being successful, I feel genuinely happy for them because I’m, I’m, I’m somewhat hip to the abundance that that’s around in the world. I remember once I, once I got my, that’s it. No, we won’t go there. Well, if we, if we go there, we’ll go there. But I eventually auditioned for a show called Stomp in New York. It was like one of my first auditions I drove from Montreal. I was in Montreal at the time. Just once you got to New York I’m so excited. Oh my goodness. Basis. It was, it was my first, in Australia they have this term called up a walkabout. I felt like it was, I was becoming a man, you know, getting in my car, but fine.

Travis Knights:

Okay. So do the audition and then make it all the way to the end. It was fun on this and learned some great things, met some great people. At the end, at the very end of the audition, the producer comes up to me and says, are you Canadian? I’m sorry. We don’t provide these as for non-Canadians, we’re done here. My heart, my heart, but then my heart, it just, it just drove right. That’s a tail between my legs. I drove back to Montreal and before I got into the city, I stopped off in perfectly the middle of nowhere where it could see the stars. And I got out of the car and I looked up and I remembered and recognized and took in the vastness of the cosmos and understood and realized how small the opportunity of stomp is compared to the vastness that is for me. And immediately felt 100% better. Immediately went back to Montreal and started practicing. You know what I’m saying?

Diane Foy:

Yeah even that play Stomp like it got everyone more aware of tap dancing for sure.

Travis Knights:             Yeah. Yeah, definitely. The music in that show is incredible.

Diane Foy:                        How did you get involved with the Cirque du Solei?

Travis Knights:        15:56

Cirque du Solei once again, I, I lived in Montreal. I’m a juggler Douglas last tap dancer named Masha, phenomenal juggler on my guess. I don’t know how I met her, but she approached me about doing a project with her in Cirque du Soleil and we we worked on this juggling tap dance bit. She would juggle on tables who bounce the balls underneath the table and, and it would like rebound and she would catch it and that would create a rhythm and identity, those rhythms that she created. So there were three different levels of tables. So they’re the smallest table, I’m sure you can imagine. You bounce the ball right, the medium table to go to my table too. And so with these three tables she created, it feels amazing to create these rhythms and ideas on top of the tables. Jump from table to table and it was, it was, it was a big fine. So we put together this bit, this set and performed it, in front of it was like that. I remember it was the top floor of the, of the, I guess the facility, the [inaudible] facility, and we performed it in front of, I think it was nine directors of completely different shows and producers, all of all the top press, a administration of Cirque du Soleil. And after that performance tap dance was included in three different shows. I’m pretty astonished and proud of that. And, and that’s, yeah, that’s how I became at the tap dance consultants, so to speak. Yeah.

Diane Foy:

What are some of the challenges that you faced along the way in making this a career?

Travis Knights:         Where to begin? You kidding? Okay. Well.

Diane Foy:                   We had success after success after success, but we all know there are some downtimes.

Travis Knights:                 Okay. So, I don’t even know how to like begin.

Diane Foy:                  Were there times that you were between jobs and not sure what’s happening next?

Travis Knights:

100%, absolutely. It definitely happened a lot more when I was younger in my twenties. I’m not 35 with 2.2 kids and a wife you know what I mean, a responsible, responsibilities. And so there’s, I have much more of an impetus to trust, to create the work for myself. But back when I was in my twenties and much prettier and, and the testosterone was, was through the roof, I was selling myself through. A kind of a sex appeal was, my approach to the dance and, it, it worked out. I would be busy in the summer times and lazy in the winter time. I would supplement my income with, with teaching. The, there was a lot about show business that was just, obscure to me. I didn’t quite understand the, the work it took other than engaging the dancing, but it didn’t understand the work that it took. Even it’s with business schools. This after business school didn’t understand the work that it took to, create, a career out of this. And, and even even now, it’s, it’s a struggle. Even now, I’m, I’m constantly thinking about, you know, months and months and months in advance and what’s gonna happen next. And, putting together multiple different projects and expecting most of them today. But all I need is all I need is one success. So it’s you know, the hardest part about all of it, and this is, this is, I, I imagine it’s the same for everyone in every single field. Every single field is, is the mental. If I, this is a blue collar as it gets, if I don’t get up bright and early in the morning, do my job, it won’t get done. If, if, if I have some kind of depression and I can’t, it doesn’t get done. The cashflow, the cashflow stops, the creativity stops, you know, it’s all dependent on my ability to, get to work in the morning, so to speak. My ability to approach what I do with enthusiasm, and, and faith that the, the work at the time that I’m putting in right now is going to pay off eventually. It’s a lot of faith. And, and a lot of positive mental outlook. And there are times, honestly, I told you I’m not this brooding and there are times when I don’t know how to get out of it. I’m lucky enough to have a supportive wife that understands me and gives me space when I need to and doesn’t give me space when I think I need space and really, really has learned the, the inner language of my emotional self, which is less than stable, you know? But I don’t think that’s, I don’t think I’m special in that regard. I think that’s just the human condition. Pledged by I try to eat right and workout. You know just stay positive. My kids helped me every time I’m feeling in a crappy mood, they remind me of the joy of life. But yeah, I would say the hardest thing is not having no work. The hardest thing is the mental, because I do believe in abundance. I do believe in our collective ability to create anything that we put our minds to. It’s just hard to realize. It’s hard to go through the formality of realizing the dream. That’s the real work. It’s going through the formality of realizing a dream.

Diane Foy:

Yeah. And what keeps you going? Was there ever a time where you consider, I don’t know, giving it up, getting a real job?

Travis Knights:

Thankfully, no. I’m pretty stubborn person. I did four years of university and every single day I was, I wasn’t bitter, but I was, I’m focused on tap dance. I knew the whole time it was tap dance, tap, dance from the age of 10. It really showed me the world and opened open to me. Off I became, I went from being a shy, introverted, okay. person into this still saw, I still introverted, but with something to say and in a way to say it. And, and I, I, it gave me acceptance. There’s nothing else. I’m, I’m a tap dancer, so it’s a no, there was never a time.

Diane Foy:

That’s great. Yeah. And you, you have that passion for it, that that’s the only thing that you want to do. So I guess when you have a bad day, it’s like, well, that’s what I want to do. It’s, I gotta keep going. You gotta get up.

Travis Knights:

No it helps. Exactly. Three years ago I started this podcast called The Tap Love Tour Podcast. And it’s, it’s my means of, getting mentorship from people that I would otherwise not have access to. And I tell you, the process of podcasting, the process of booking guests and interviewing them and it, it, and listening to the podcast, I’ve listened to old episodes and I’ve become reinspired like, oh my goodness. Yeah, that’s a great idea. Blah, Blah Blah too. Because I’ve, I’ve done so many and of course I can only retain and remember so much. And there’s something about the energy of listening to the mentor called the mentors. They’re my mentors. Absolutely. In the moment that you say just continues to feed me. And so I feel like I’ve put a bunch of different things in place to keep me grounded and, and running.

Diane Foy:

Yeah. That’s why I love podcast too. When I start getting into it, it’s like anything you want to learn or if you want to be inspired by different people and also that there’s no real time limit. So maybe if you see this person that you admire on entertainment tonight, it’ll be like a five minute thing. Whereas podcast, like there was one Jimmy jam and on this podcast and he’s like, I thought it’s called 10,000 nos. It’s an actor that does this podcast. And he’s like, oh, it was so hard to book that. I thought I had to be like in and out in 20 minutes. And the guy talked for two hours and it’s like, listen to Jimmy Jam, tell stories for two hours.

Travis Knights:                 What’s better? What’s better?

Diane Foy:

Like fantastic. So that’s why, you know, I love doing this and I love talking to other creators and also it’s why I’ve seen a lot of podcasts for actors or dancers or musicians, but I kind of wanted to do all three because we can all learn from each other and it doesn’t have to be so separate.

Travis Knights:                  100% Yeah.

Diane Foy:

Get to entrepreneurship. We all have to be an entrepreneur.

Travis Knights:   23:09

I’m sorry, I’m sorry. This is like what radio felt like when it first came out. But I really feel like the, my, the, the amount that I’m earning from podcasts, it’s something that I can’t really account for in any other epoch of my life. I feel like I’m my cup runneth over with information specifically from long form conversations that that’s made possible by podcasts. I really feel like this, this, revolution in, open source knowledge. It’s, it’s, it’s a crazy innovation and we’re just at the beginning.

Diane Foy:

Yeah. Not everybody’s discovered them yet. I was like, I have a podcast. They were like, I don’t really know how to listen to that.

Travis Knights:                   I don’t even know. I’m like, wow, you got to love them.

Diane Foy:

Once you get into them, you’re like, oh, what’s the new podcast now what? Can I get it?

Travis Knights:

Yeah. He talked to so-and-so. Oh my God, that is going to be so amazing.

Travis Knights:                   Totally. Totally.

Diane Foy:

Yeah. And the cool thing is, is that half of the ones, I don’t know who the person is that’s running the podcast and I didn’t even know the guest, but it’s always a really interesting conversation.

Travis Knights:

Exactly. I agree. 100%. So I follow, I follow some comedian that do podcasts. And I’ve 100% modeled my process as a tap dancer after, after the, the comedians, the process of a comedian it’s a 100%.

Diane Foy:                    Tell me more.

Travis Knights:    24:26

You should see me, I’m taking notes when I’m listening at these things, well I’m going to talk about the process. So you don’t think a stand-up comedian, nobody’s not necessarily looking for them. It’s a one, it’s a one man show. They do it all. They write down their own [inaudible] depending on who we’re talking about. Most of them, they, they write them, they write their own material and then they, they suck it up and get up on stage and fail, fail and they bomb and bomb and bomb and bomb. And then eventually they get a chuckle. That kind of humble work is right up my alley. These comedians I listened today, they say that they feel stale if they don’t get up on stage at least three times a week. Right before, before hearing that, you know, I was, I think I started listening to podcasts about five years ago.

Travis Knights:

And for me it was, it was a lot of teaching. My income was composed of a lot of teaching and maybe, I’d get up on stage to be generous. Let’s say once a month. Now I think that’s being generous. You know, it would be some kind of, maybe it would be that there are a lot of tap dance festivals around, so it would probably be like five minutes at five to 10 minutes out of that it’s happened in festival or a, there’d be a random, a corporate gig, but it’s the sparse, sparse stage time. Right. And for me, I’ve known since I started this thing, I love the stage. I want to perform, I want to come volunteer at the end. And so after listening to enough of these stories of the process of these Comedians, I started a jazz jam in Toronto called the Jazz, you know, the  Jam and the, the, the main, the personal goal for me was to have a place where I can go to and perform once a week.

Travis Knights:

But the goal for the jam itself, was, we connect all of the disparate elements of jazz culture. So the music today, the music is over here, the dance is over there, singers are over there. It’s, it’s very disconnected. If you go to almost any jazz festival on Earth, I think it would be some kind of miracle to witness a jazz dance in the, in the jazz festival. So you, you, you’re likely not to see tap dance. Tap dance is a part of jazz dance, jazz culture. So is Lindy Hop, you know, it’s, it’s, there’s a whole culture around jazz. And so, so the goal of the, the jam is, is to reconnect all of these elements together. We’ve been doing it for two years and my relationship to the dance has grown exponentially. Something. It’s a practice that I wish I was doing 10 years ago.

Travis Knights:

My knowledge of jazz growing once again exponentially. And that’s just once a week. There’s another gig that I do, as well, which is a more hip hop jazz and it’s, it’s a, it’s, it’s stretching me in a completely different way. Soulpepper instructing me in a completely different way. As soon as I engage, started engaging in this weekly practice, the, the Toronto dancing, the Toronto entertainment scene just opened up to me. It was, it was, and it was all because of listening to podcasts and understanding what successful people do to become successful, and, and being comfortable. This is the most important. Being comfortable with failing, being comfortable with just being awful until you’re not. That’s completely new for me.

Diane Foy:                     Yeah. And putting yourself out there no matter what.

Travis Knights:                 Exactly. Exactly.

Diane Foy:

So that sounds fun. So if you just invite a bunch of artists and performers and I guess audience members and everyone just dances and sings, what does this mean?

Travis Knights:  27:25

Well, that’s back. That’s my dream Post. It’s got to be just like this informal hang. But everybody that that would be my dream for everybody to just swing on the two and four and a half at the time of their life. So to do that, we have to change the culture. And what I find in, in, at least in the Toronto culture is, people are accustomed to sitting down and observing, observing and It’s kind of like they’re there out and about watching Netflix or something like that. It’s, it’s strange. But, we are growing in the end, the people that are showing up to the jam we are becoming accustomed to each other and it’s changing slowly. Okay. So Jazz United Jam it’s every single Sunday. Some of the trends that club in Toronto, the format is genius. I say genius. It didn’t come from me. But It came from one of my partners. His name is a Christian Foryay. He said at the very beginning, okay, we need, different, musicians to host every week. And so the way that Jam is structured is from seven to eight. There’s a house band that does their set and then from eight to 10, it’s open to anybody who wants to sing, dance, play, whatever. It’s just open. But but that, that, that opening house band, there’s always new every single week. The of the, where I benefits what caused me to grow, exponentially is I always put myself in that house band. So I’m dancing. So where whereas I would be accustomed to at these tap dance festivals, for example, To dancing for five to 10 minutes. Now I’m dancing every week for an hour in front of people. It’s just, it’s a completely different animal. Completely different. Today it’s, you know, for, for five to 10 minutes at, you introduce yourself, you, you dance the song, you pull out your power tricks, you pull out your slides, you engage the crowd, you do an outro and you’re done. It’s thoroughly exhausting. It’s wildly entertaining. It’s something that I grown accustomed to doing. For the hour you introduce yourself and then you pace yourself and then you engage and, and you find new things. You play the song, you keep it simple, you get extravagant. But then you can [inaudible] so it’s so big and epic and it’s something that I’ve been failing at for the better part of two years. But I promise you I won’t fail too much longer.

Diane Foy:

Yeah, that’s great. And so you created this opportunity for yourself.

Travis Knights:

100%. Yes. Yeah, of course. Not by myself. With the help of some amazing people, but, but yeah, it came from, it came from a desire. That was it. I came from a seed that was planted by, by people that don’t do what I do. Oh, the miracle podcast.

Diane Foy:

So who are some of your favorite guests that you’ve had on your podcast?

Travis Knights:          Wow. Okay. So.

Diane Foy:                      And what did you learn from them? Follow up question.

Travis Knights:     29:58

So there was someone who does, she sees the mother to a soul right as soon as she, that Gregory Hines. So that told you about earlier with this, where the CDC, recorded the opening dancer, the dance and open for Gregory Hines was Diane Walker. Lady Diane Walker is one of the most impeccable tap dancers ever. Period. The end. She put me onto festivals in the, in the United States, of which she’s still a part of most of them. Her teaching style is, is a mix of unfiltered charm, this incredible ability to tell stories, incredible ability to tell stories and this approach to tap dance. That is crystal clear. I’ve been, I’ve been dancing for years, many years before I met Diane Walker and I didn’t know that tap could sound so good until I met Diane Walker and I asked her to be a part of the podcast and I asked them, they asked and I asked her. Then finally episode 50, oh, was she give me her time. And, and I asked her about very specific things that I, that I want us to know and I learned so much from her. It’s ridiculous. Another favorite is, Dr. Barry Harris, I believe he is. He’s in his mid nineties right now. He is a jazz pianist, lived for 10 years with a late great a Thelonious monk, well accomplished countless albums and awards. You know, he’s a doctor in the field, high priest. He’s a general in the army of jazz music and I’ve never been more intimidated speaking to anyone. than Dr. Barry Harris and I, I, I said to him plainly, at the top of the interview, and this was very recently at the very top of the interview, I said to him, listen, I’m a young, no, nothing, no nothing. I find with young people we have amnesia. We don’t know what happened before us. And that’s unless we’re told. And so, you know, from your experience as a jazz musician, I want to know your, your thoughts about tap dance. I want to know from you as a musician, how do I tap dance? And he started, he said, first of all, y’all don’t know songs anymore. You know, back in my day we knew songs. It was, it was this folkloric tradition, you know, eat like I would know songs and my mother would know the same songs back in the day. This, you know, in, in a time where you had to actually go out to listen and experience music. This is before mp3s and CD players and, and Cassettes and eight Jack. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s when things were a lot more live when, when you heard an instrument, when you heard somebody pluck a string, the vibration from the instrument and what hits your body that has a completely different effect on humans and speakers too. Right. And, you know, back in that time we were all dancing to the same music, so you know There’s a song called, “How High the Moon”, so Gerald me that, that song famous, it was so popular that that everybody knew the song. So that song to call that the culture in the swing era of jazz and then the, during the Bebop era of jazz, Charlie Parker created a different song off of the same chord progression of how high the moon, it’s called the Ornithology. And if you listen to it closely, you can hear How High The Moon within this new song called “Ornithology”. But if you don’t know any songs as a dancer or even as a jazz musician, I’m speaking to new jazz musicians up today as well. You don’t know the songs. You don’t know how to necessarily improvise in an intelligent way, improvise in a way that references all of the history that came before you. Right. And it, it just, it just blew my mind and it focus me on the folkloric tradition of tap dance, the folkloric tradition that is jazz just because jazz was so popular and became, became, you know, I guess very heady doesn’t, it doesn’t mean that it was once they folk art a folk music. Right, and so that conversation just, it blew my mind. And y’all, y’all young people don’t know any songs. And so that changed the way. Oh, he also said that we say too much tap dancers. We, y’all be saying too much. You know what I mean? To say a lot less than what you’re saying oh my gosh.

Diane Foy:

So is it because you usually only get like a few minutes to perform?

Travis Knights:   33:47

That’s jazz and that’s the style. That’s what happens. It changes you as, as a, as a, as an artist, the, I’ll call it the economy of the economy around the arts shapes the way the artist presented back in the day when, when tap dance was so popular. You know, it was, it was on film, it was on television, it was touring of Vaudeville circuits. It became this very distilled specific thing meant to entertain the crowd. But before that it was this folk dance. And currently in my practice, that’s what, that’s what I’m trying to get back to too, to discover what it’s like.To play with musicians to to not even on a regular basis. Always play with musicians. So I’ve made it, there was another guest on the podcast his name is Heather Cornell, fantastic. She’s Canadian, moved to United States, started being in Manhattan Tap is 20 year touring tap dance company. Worked with crazy minds of people. Fun. So she said this to me. She’s made it a commitment for most of your career, never to press play in front of an audience. Right? so, which means that she’s always working with musicians and if there are no musicians available, then it’s just the, the sound of the taps and that’s it. If you think about most other dance forms in 2019, at least the dance, a lot of the dancers that I’m around, I find myself around. There’s a lot of press and play. Which, which, which, which, shapes how it shapes the dance. It shapes the culture. It’s the reason why I wanted to start, as I said before, the Jazz United Jam agenda because as I said, the musicians over here, the dancers are way over there. That is just unnatural. If you go anywhere else on earth, on earth, outside of North America, the musicians and the dancers are still having a great time together, great time together. So yeah, only I went on on a tangent. I apologize.

Diane Foy:

Oh, that’s great. I love it. So you’re now in a new show at Soulpepper, The Promised Land. Tell me all about that.

Travis Knights:

Oh my goodness. Yes. Soulpepper’s a fantastic theater company. I’ve been working with them for three years. I want to say, don’t quote me, me, I’m divorced with, with time, the opportunity to work with the artist that I get to work with in Soulpepper theater company is, is, is a dream come true. And working with people like no, Atlanta on this show is a Atlanta Bridgewater and divine drowned Haley Gillis. Oh my gosh. Didn’t go as Austin Scott Hunter, Raja Javin bar. I’m Mike Ross. They’re all epically insanely incredible at what they do. Adam One, of course, very good. There’s a narrator, Joseph Ziegler is  fantastically accomplished actor. Everybody’s at the top of their game. Anybody’s excellent at what they do. And it forces me to show up prepared and fight harder to be excellent. It’s, it’s not like, you know, the my jazz jam where I can, I’m allowed to fail. I’m allowed to, you know, practice what I’m doing in, in, in this context. I’m pulling, I’m pulling from my 25 years of tap dance experience and funneling it through this very specific context that’s provided by their show. The show is, it’s called Promise Land, a Steinbeck Through Song yet, you know about John Steinbeck. Fantastic author, visionary and we’re approaching his work. We’re approaching his approach to work a through song. And so this is a concert that we’ll just have you, they’ll have you laughing. It’ll have you crying, know it, it, it goes through all the fields and it’s really exciting to be a part of the musical director is the slate family, a director of music at Soulpepper. His name is Mike Ross he’s a bit of a genius. No big deal. He’s a bit of a genius. He has this ability to, I remember the first time I worked with him, he sized me up. He gave me a challenge and just nudge me in a very specific way and it worked. And he keeps on doing it. And every single time we work together, he pushes me a bit more, a bit more, a bit more, and I’m, I’m thankful for it. I’m amazed by his ability to see through my, a brooding, insecure nonsense that I bring into rehearsal sometimes let’s be honest and, and, and just pull the best out of me. And he does that with all the artists. It’s an open environment to work in. There’s a writer involved. Her name is Sarah Wilson. Dora award-winning Sarah Wilson and Mike Ross, my, by the way, but, but the, the way that she, distills all of the work of Steinbeck and, and provides a context for the show, is it’s incredible to me. I’m, I’m learning so much as an artist, as a tap dancer, as, as a, as a storyteller myself, I’m very happy and privileged to be a part of this fantastically, fantastically excellent team of performers.

Diane Foy:                        Cool. I’m going to come see them on Friday.

Travis Knights:

Yes, yes. Let me know. Let me know. I’m going to meet you afterwards. I promise I’ll bring a towel and I’ll be somewhat decent.

Diane Foy:

So what advice would you have for someone that comes to see the show on Friday and wants to do what you do? Who has that moment that you had with Gregory Hines with you?

Travis Knights:                    Oh, wow. With me?

Diane Foy:

Someone sees you dancing like that and goes, I want to do that.

Travis Knights:

It’s the same. It’s the same thing for everyone. Everyone’s on a very specific journey and they shouldn’t. You should, you should honor that. Don’t try to be like anything. Anybody else. That’s the great thing about tap dance is if you look like someone, it’s not, it’s not a good thing. It’s a very, a stylistic dance and everybody has their own specific style and that is something that is celebrated in tap dance. And I think it’s also celebrated in much of life, believe it or not. And so whatever your journey is, get to know it. And the more you brush up with it, the more you’ll understand what that journey is and keep on pursuing it and stay true to yourself and stay the course, stay the course, stay the course. I feel like a lot of people tend to give up right before the miracle happens. Right. And I’m talking as someone who’s had the privilege of having your goals happen almost, almost immediately after I started tap dancing. But I was just, I was lucky that way.

Diane Foy:                             Yeah. Not everyone gets that, but.

Travis Knights:         39:19

Exactly. Yeah. But it, but if you have a passion and you know it’s a passion, you already have a leg up over a lot of different people who don’t even know what that, what that is. And so I think it’s, I actually think it’s your responsibility. I’m using that word, responsibility to, to honor that passion and follow it wherever it leads because there’s more going on than, than just your just your input. Just your insecurity, just your relationship to whatever the thing is. You have the potential to influence people around you in a way that can save lives, that can improve lives, that can change the world in a way that we desperately need these days. So I’d say it’s our responsibility. If you know that you have passion for something, it’s your responsibility to pursue it, as, as wisely and as smartly as possible. Don’t, don’t be ridiculous and just drop everything that you’re doing and that to suit the thing without, without having a plan, but be responsible about it and be smart about it. And I, and I do believe in Him. I do believe in miracles, do believe in abundance. And I’ll tell you, I meet a lot of people, I believe in people too.

Diane Foy:

I love that. That’s, I think I even say something similar in my bio I ended with, you know, as creative artists, you have the ability to change lives with your talent. And then I say like, you know, my mission is to help you achieve that with what it is that I do. So, right. Yeah. Like performing artists, artists, it’s like, it inspires the world.

Travis Knights:

Can I go before, before we sign out, can I give you an example of, well, I’m talking about?

Diane Foy:                           For sure.

Travis Knights:

So, I’m a black male and I have a very specific relationship to tap dance relative to my identity. My, my teacher is from Harlem, New York, a black woman. And so another layer of why I took the tap dance so hard is because she was giving me a sense of history that I wasn’t getting from Canadian cultural sense of history that I wasn’t getting from school. Quite frankly. I was learning about these, these figures, these giants in the dancing, these giants in jazz, these giants in film and television that were black. And it was, it was, it gave me a sense of self that, that, that, that, that made the ground underneath me firm, okay. So now that I’m in this, I call this the age of influence, right? 35, I, I have enough under my belt and knowledge under my belt to weigh. Now I want to make things in regards to what I make as, as a, as a performing artist, I do feel that sense of responsibility to be a storyteller, a specifically a black storyteller. In an age where there’s, there’s a real, I feel like for the first time in my life, there’s a real interest in, in different diverse voices. And so if I choose to and it’s there, the option is there and the option is there for me to go into my whole, it’s, it’s, it’s like this, there’s this fear that I have in me that is alive and well let’s put it that way. I, if I choose to do that, if I choose to not meet my responsibilities as a person who’s been lucky enough to pursue this dance, pursue this life, have wonderful opportunities, if I choose to squander that, I, I do believe that the world will be deficient for it. Less for it. I feel like I have to, I have no choice but to, do my job as best that I can. and I feel like that is the case for everyone if they choose to see their there, their interactions, as, as a kind of responsibility, I think. I think anyone has a kind of responsibility to themselves and each other.

Diane Foy:

Yeah. That’s amazing. And, and to follow it and to do it and not give up in the hard times, it’s amazing. Exactly. Exactly.

Travis Knights:

Exactly. Because there’s no choice. They had them try to help me, help me.

Diane Foy:          42:40

Well, I usually ask what is your why? But I think this whole thing has been your why. I already know your why. Cool. So where can people find you online?

Travis Knights:

Oh yeah. I’m on, I’m on Facebook. I’m on Instagram. TK Experience. I’ve done Instagram. I have a website and travisknights.com. check out the podcast, that’s The Tap Love Tour. It’s on iTunes and Spotify and Soundcloud and Stitching it Up. Yeah, wherever you get, you get your podcasts. I’m all over the place. I make sure if you do fall, you know, listen, make sure to give a nice robust five star review to Sing Dance, Act, Thrive podcast.

Diane Foy:                              Yes.

Travis Knights:                     And while you’re at it, do the same type Tap Love Tour podcast. I think that helps. It really does help.

Diane Foy:                       I have no reviews yet.

Travis Knights:             No oh, we’ll change that today. Take that today. Get it together. Listen.

Diane Foy:                        Somebody, anyone review. We are on episode 22.

Travis Knights:                Oh Nice. Nice. Good on you. Good on Ya. How’s it been so far?

Diane Foy:

It’s great. It’s been an amazing, like it’s just more opportunities to talk to people like you and, and be inspired by other creatives. That’s the part I love. I love the interview part. So, cool. That’s all I got for you.

Travis Knights:                  All right, well thank you. Thank you for your time.

Diane Foy:

Thank you. That was such a great conversation and I look forward to seeing the show on Friday and seeing him perform live.