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Barbara Vargas: VCC's tap dancing percussionist

Posted on July 25, 2016

As published in Vancouver Metro.

Barbara Vargas danced her way into being the first percussionist at Vancouver Community College’s music program to graduate with tap dancing shoes as her instrument.

Using her shoes, hands and body to make music with others seemed like the natural thing to do, said the 30-year old dancer. The school was initially hesitant about the idea but jumped on board when they saw her audition she said.

“Tap dance in general is a very percussive art form. Even just solely being a tap dancer, it’s very musically focused,” said the Vancouver dancer.  

“You really have to be conscious of what you’re putting out here in the world, musically as well as visually.”

Vargas, who is originally from Edmonton, started tap dancing when she was three years old and has since performed in Germany, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. She plans to continue dancing for decades to come, something that not all dancers are able to do, depending on the type of dance they specialize in.

“The stretch of your tap dancing career is so vast. There are tap dancers who are amazing and they’re in their 60s, 70s, and 80s and they’re still growing and they’re still learning,” she said.

“I don’t see myself taking off my shoes anytime soon.”

Studying music, even as someone who has tap-danced for 27 years, has made her a better performer, she said. Much of her lesson time was spent trying to imitate the wide variety of drum sounds and rhythms using only her shoes.

“Gravity is not an issue when you’re sticking – but it can be when you’re dancing,” she said, laughing. tap dancer shoes

Vargas graduated from VCC in December and was a feature soloist with the VCC Jazz Orchestra.

“Its amazing. It brings back that old-school Cotton Club feature dancer idea which is great.”

But the transition from dancer to musician had its challenges for the accomplished tap dancer who was once part of the Canadian national tap dance team.

Other musicians sometimes don’t take her seriously, said Vargas.

“They ask me, what are you going to play? I say, I’m a tap dancer and then they laugh,” she said.

“There are still a lot of walls separating the two art forms, which can be a task for sure.”

With her music diploma in hand, Vargas plans on breaking down those walls.

“My dream job would be to create an institute for musicians and dancers to learn and create together much like the Royal Winnipeg ballet, but for the rhythmic arts,” she said.

“It’s an exciting time for tap dance – it’s coming back.”

Watch Barbara's video.

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Learn more about VCC's music program by attending an upcoming information session.