“Growing up I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to live in the land of make-believe, the land of creativity, the land of imagination. And I knew that from the time I was nine years old.”
But then, one day when she was in high school, a young Ayodele Casel was watching a film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and there she was – that beautiful, blonde Rogers making her way to those very places Casel wanted to go herself. But Rogers was doing it with tap shoes.
“Seeing them dance was so amazing,” Casel says. “I became obsessed with following in Ginger’s footsteps. But could I, a Black Puerto Rican from the Bronx, actually achieve that?”
The answer to that question would turn out to be “yes,” which Casel would soon discover.
Armed with a new passion in life while still clinging to her original ambition, Casel began her professional training at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for acting. While at Tisch, she began to seriously study tap dancing too, even frequenting tap events in New York where she would begin to learn improvisation.
But becoming a successful tap dancer wasn’t going to be easy. “Tap dancing was an art form that seem to belong to men,” Casel reports. “When I started I think I may have actually blazed new trails, but at the time I was so intrigued by the art form itself that I wasn’t intimidated at first. I just wanted to be part of it.
“Eventually, I joined the New York Shakespeare Festival Institute of Tap, and soon met Savion Glover, the man who helped me launch my career,” continues Casel, who will be making her debut at the Annenberg Center for the Performng Arts on May 6.
“Shortly after seeing me perform, Savion invited me to join his Not Your Ordinary Tappers (NYOT’s) group, making me the first woman to join that company. Working with the group for two years, I got to perform at places like the White House, Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall.”
Casel also created commissions for the Harlem Stage, The Apollo Theater and Lincoln Center, and showed off her acting skills while featured in such productions as “Third Watch,” “Law & Order,” “The Jamie Foxx Show” and others.
Along the way, the tap dancer/choreographer performed with such groups as the Jazz Tap Ensemble, the American Tap Dance Orchestra, and the late Gregory Hines, who once called Casel “one of the top young tap dancers in the world.”
In 2019, Hines was featured on a U.S. Postage Stamp honoring the Black Heritage Stamp Series. And soon, Casel’s likeness will join that of four other talented dancers on stamps to honor tap dancing as an all-American classic dance form.
“Today, I feel very fulfilled by all I’ve done and the places I’ve performed,” Casel admits. “I see it all as such a blessing to be able to do all the things I love to do. But as far as being on a stamp, who would have believed that?
“Gregory was never able to see his likeness on a stamp, but I can, and I feel so honored,” Casel concludes. “It’s amazing and quite a wonderful experience.”
For more information on Casel’s Philadelphia show, visit AnnenbergCenter.org