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KRISTEN INBODY
Photograph by Larry Beckner
The Great Falls Tribune
March 04, 2011

 

Watching a performance in the park, 7-year-old Chris Constantino was captivated by tap dancers. “I enjoyed the rhythm of it,” he said. “Both my parents play instruments and tapping is like its own instrument.”

A decade later, the Great Falls High School senior is one of the top teenage male tap dancers in the country.

In a snazzy tuxedo from Kaufmans, Constantino tap-danced his way to the Dance Educators of America Senior Boy Titlist rank at the national competition in Las Vegas last summer. His tap solo to Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” received a platinum award, the highest given by the judges.

The accolades continued as Constantino was among five dancers chosen to perform from the more than 400 dancers in the competition at the banquet that was the culmination of the event.

This year, the defending titlist is wondering how to balance national competition and starting college. “I don’t know if I want to be in the dance world as a career, but it’s going to stay in my life,” he said.

Constantino is a student at Miss Linda’s School of Dance, where he’s part of a troupe that dances “about anything you can think of.” Jazz, hip-hop and African are among the genres they’ve explored.

Constantino starts the week at the studio with a Monday practice session that stretches from 4 to 9:15 p.m. He juggles practice and teaching through the week, has Friday off and then is back to practice on the weekend.

“Most of the time” it’s worth the sacrifice to pursue his art, he said. “It’s rewarding to go to a competition and do well and be recognized for all your hard work — but it’s not for everybody. “You get a lot of blisters, and I’ve lost a toenail or two,” he said. “It’s demanding and at times a little bloody.”

His winning “Fly Me to the Moon” dance was choreographed by teacher Jennifer Asprocolas, but this year Constantino and his friend Lexi Hughes put his dance together to Nat King Cole’s “L-o-v-e.”

“Choreography is a bit different with tap,” he said. “It’s not only moving but adding instrumentation — percussion — to the music. It’s definitely tricky.”

The pair worked on his moves for a week, but the dance continues to evolve. “We went with what worked and what sounded good,” he said. “Even while performing, I was adding new touches.”

Constantino said he enjoys the old standards by Billy Holiday, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and the like. “They’re really easy to tap dance to and people like hearing it,” he said. “Everyone enjoys Frank Sinatra, and it’s how you would think tap dancing would be.”

And one of the benefits of that style of dance is “you don’t have to wear tights,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed dressing classy but I’m not too keen on sparkles and spandex,” he said. “But I enjoy the suits.”

Constantino’s favorite dance moves are wings and pull backs. “They’re crowd pleasing,” he said.

Wings involve moving one’s arms and legs in circles at once, and pull backs involve making two sounds while jumping back.

Constantino’s dance role models are Fred Astaire, Sammy Davis Jr., Gregory Hines from the 1989 film “Tap” and choreographer Savion Glover, who tap danced for the film “Happy Feet.”

Before the national competition, Constantino spent a week at a ballet seminar. At the competition, Constantino attended nine days of training in a variety of dance disciplines taught by an international faculty with other students from across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“It was super-dance week for two weeks,” he said. “It was intimidating but good to have the push. West Coast dancers are extremely strong and very good. It’s good to see everyone’s skill level and push yourself.”

Chris is the son of J. and Marni Constantino and grandson of Bud Nicholls, a friend of studio owner Linda Fuller who connected the two.

Constantino teaches jazz dance classes for younger students and said it’s something he’ll consider continuing as he moves into the next stage of his life. “You understand how dance works better, the things behind it” when you teach, he said.

Being one of only two teenage boys dancing at the studio means the dancing formations aren’t as balanced as they could be, but Constantino said he has enough friends outside dance that he’s not starved for guy friends.

“You can’t ask too much in Montana, where guys aren’t expected to be dancing,” he said.

 

Copyright © 2011 Great Falls Tribune

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