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Thursday, September 17, 1998 Published at 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK


Tappers & hip-hoppers delight

The two separate dance groups met in New York

Cool Heat Urban Beat stormed the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and have now arrived in London to display their incredible skill and energy.

The show brings together two separate dance troupes - Urban Tap and Pure Movement. Both names aptly describe what the audience gets. The three tap dancers are streetwise, while the eight-strong hip hop freestyle crew know all the moves and then some.

[ image: Cool Beat Urban Heat: Mixing up styles]
Cool Beat Urban Heat: Mixing up styles
Music for the show is provided by DJ Signify and the performances are framed by Joey "Lil" Middleton Jnr's three brief black consciousness rap poems.

But hang on: hip hop and tap? Surely some mistake?

Even Cool Heat Urban Beat's publicity people appear confused. Promotional material claims the show is the most exciting thing to hit the UK since the Australian hunks called Tap Dogs.

Admittedly, the crowd at the Peacock Theatre goes wild every time one of the dancers takes his top off - causing the police to be called three times in one evening - but such comparisons demean what is essentially a performance of living culture.

Rennie Harris: "Hip hop and tap is African dance"
To the tappers and hip-hoppers alike, though, there is no cause for confusion.

Pure Movement's leader Rennie Harris, who is also the show's director, says: "Hip hop and tap is African dance - it's nothing more than African culture that has been carried on to this particular generation."

[ image: Tap dancing on your head]
Tap dancing on your head
"When I say Africa, I mean diaspora Africa and whatever influence that happened within that particular time, whatever culture dominated the other.

"There's a lot of influence from around the world - you'll see a little bit of everybody's culture. But it all stems from rhythms, rhythm and blues and just hoofing. It's all about rhythm and drums."

He says logs written in 1783 first record a phenomenon called Dancing of the Slaves, which contains the origins or tap.

"In Dancing of the Slaves, they picked up these kettles or whatever and they made these rhythms and the Africans danced in chains and shackles and they danced with the rhythms and they tapped out rhythms."

Herbin Van Cayseele: "In African culture, there's the talking drums"
Herbin Van Cayseele, leader of tappers Urban Beat, agrees: "In African culture, there's the talking drums, the drum is to talk, there's no telephone.

[ image: DJ Signify (centre) calls and the dancers respond]
DJ Signify (centre) calls and the dancers respond
"Now, if you look at slavery and the people that were taken from Africa, the drum system would be highly developed to communicate between walls, through stomping or whatever, because that was a part of their history."

Cool Heat Urban Beat bring that right up to date. And whether you follow the logic or not, the two disparate elements combine to make an electric show.

Matthew Grant

Cool Heat Urban Beat are at the Peacock Theatre, London, till 27 September

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