Melba Ayco :: Diversity
Like so many things here in the Southend, Northwest Tap Connection is more than it appears. The almost invisible grey building crouched behind a car wash and mini-mart off Rainier Ave and Henderson at the top of Rainier Beach Square, is bursting on the inside with a dance explosion and a hard-hitting commitment to the community. Much larger than it appears, the building seems to go on forever with every corner full of wiggling, giggling children. Girls check their postures in ballet plies, and boys bust a hip hop move or tap it out like friend of the studio, dance superstar Savion Glover.
Behind it all is proud Melba Ayco, owner of Northwest Tap Connection and full-time Seattle Police Department employee. “That I do both is not a mistake,” she says. “They go together.” Through Northwest Tap Connection, Ayko offers ballet, modern, African, swing, ballroom, and hip hop, as well as tap (including a class for boys called “hoofin”) to 125 boys and girls as a healthy alternative to other choices that the youth could make. A postcard for the studio points out that a philosophy of “Choices, Options, and Consequences” are a part of all dance curricula at the studio. “If I’ve got a kid here in the studio,” she said, “I won’t see them come across my desk at the SPD.”
But the promise of Northwest Tap Connection goes far beyond just keeping kids off the streets. Ayco has made a commitment to “close the gap” in the lack of cultural diversity represented in the arts through a seven-year partnership with Seattle Theater Group (STG), and a scholarship fund to help economically challenged families keep their kids in dance classes. Through the STG partnership, the studio produces an annual “Taste of Broadway” show, and welcomes professional dancers from companies like the famous Alvin Ailey modern dance company among others, to teach master classes to her students.
As a result of these efforts, her troupes have traveled to Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. In 2011, a group of students toured and performed in Europe. In 2012, four of them performed at the Kennedy Center in New York. Others have secured positions at the prestigious University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. Some students and instructors have danced with tap legends such as Gregory Hines, Buster Brown, Savion Glover, Jeni LeGon and Jimmy Slyde. “We are not just teaching dance,” says Ayco. “We are changing lives.”
Northwest Tap Connection is not limited to youth. The studio also offers adult tap lessons on Wednesdays. Northwest Tap Connection is located at 8732 Rainier Ave S Seattle, WA 98118.