How tap's top dog swapped his hard hat for dancing shoes
Dein Perry has now hung up his tapping boots, but is still touring the world as the choreographer for Tap Dogs
Australian tap dancer Dein Perry’s "positively electrifying" world tours are incomplete without stops in SA. He has been to the country five times since 2002.
He first came as a dancer with his world-famous ensemble Tap Dogs. Now that he has hung up his tapping boots, he is still touring the world as the group’s choreographer.
Perry left school at the age of 16 and went to work in the construction industry.
"When I was doing my apprenticeship, as a fitter and turner in the steel industry, the furthest thing from my mind, I guess, was dancing," he says. "My whole family was in the steel industry in construction."
Perry’s mother had sown a seed, though, by taking him and his siblings to dance classes. It later blossomed and he left the drab construction life and joined the world stage.
"I learned tap dancing when I was very young. When I went to work at 16, I gave it all up. And I didn’t return to dancing until I was about 21," he says.
When Perry quit school, he thought he’d be a fitter and turner or truck driver. It was only when he was 19 or 20 and working lots of night shifts that he thought of doing something else. The night shifts, working with big machinery and "talking dirty all night" took a toll. They were also lonely and depressing "dog watching" times, as night shifts are called in Australia.
"If you’re on day shift, there might be 100 guys working, but at night only seven people. You start work at 11pm and finish at 7am. It was quite depressing, to be quite honest," he says.
The only other thing he could do was dance. When he was about 21 years old, a friend he used to dance with alerted him to a show looking for entertainers. Perry took the chance and has been in the entertainment industry since.
Since making their debut at the Sydney Festival in 1995, the Tap Dogs have appeared on The Jay Leno Show in the US and danced with musician Stevie Wonder on Quincy Jones’s 50th anniversary special.
"From there, I just stayed in the entertainment game trying to do musicals and theatre," Perry says.
But as much he hated his depressing fitter and turner days, Perry incorporated construction elements into his tap dancing shows.
This has created something unique. His dancers are clad in unintimidating construction gear. The stage designs are modelled on buildings under construction. Dancers tap materials including scaffolding and steel ladders. They also operate live power tools like angle grinders so sparks literally fly onstage.
Tapping on different surfaces produces different sounds, Perry says. "What we wanted to do was something quite different, be able to get different sounds from the boot. There are different types of metal you can manipulate to bring different sounds," he adds.
In 2005, Perry hung up his tapping boots when the dancing began to take a toll on his body.
"It started to hurt. Tap dancing is a very energetic show. You have to be superfit to do it. It’s a very much like being a sportsman and being in a team," he says.
"You get to about 35 years old and it starts to hurt. Then you want to have a family and children and that’s really hard to do if you’re touring around the world."
Perry says he’s lucky to be the choreographer and overseer of Tap Dogs. "My show could continue to tour the world and I didn’t have to be in it. I just have to keep an eye on it and look after it."
Perry lists performances in London and New York as some of his most memorable shows. He travelled abroad for the first time when he was 32 and was surprised at how positively audiences reacted to his shows.
"The audiences in SA are just phenomenal," he says. "We are very similar. We seem to laugh at the same things. We seem to be hard workers. Our sportsmen are really hard, they compete hard.
"I think that there are a lot of similarities between SA and Australia, we just have different personalities," he says. His 20-year-old son will be making his debut on this South African tour.
Tap Dogs is coming to SA for a limited season. It starts at the Grand Arena in GrandWest, Cape Town from August 22-26 and at The Teatro at Montecasino in Johannesburg from August 29 to September 9.