When Chris Rice created his first dance video for YouTube he did it as a creative challenge separate from his work in Broadway’s The Book of Mormon with a loftier goal of making tap more mainstream. He made it on a non-existent budget, after one rehearsal with a few friends. Since then, the video has had over 3 million views on YouTube. This unexpected success motivated Rice to create the official Tappy series and tons more videos.
Rice’s latest project is a dance party video “Disney Jungle Dance Party” or DJDP, released today. “I wanted to capture a full on dance party with tons of different dance styles all in one video dancing to songs that we knew, but maybe in a world that we hadn’t heard it before; kind of like an adult Disney dance party,” he explains.
The process to create DJDP took approximately two months. Rice initially had the idea to do a Tappy video for the song “I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song)” from Disney’s animated classic The Jungle Book, but scheduling conflicts put a halt to the concept. Eventually, the idea morphed into what is now the Disney Jungle Dance Party. “In the end it was a good thing because the project evolved quite a bit, but that song stuck with me, and I thought, ‘Well, what else could be do? What else makes me happy? What’s music that I have that I haven’t really explored dancing to?’’
“If you’re going to do a video to a current pop hit, by the time you pick a song, choreograph, find dancers, teach them, get a videographer, location, that’s about a month process and a song that was at the top of the chart one week may be overplayed in a month,” says Rice.
With his songs selected, Rice reached out to friend Clinton Sherwood, who he met at The Book of Mormon, to create the musical arrangement. Another friend, Carl Cully, recorded and mixed the band and vocals. Recording original vocals allowed Rice to involve his singer-focused friends who had not been “tapped” for one of his Tappy videos. In the studios, Rice enlisted the help of Audra Bryant as his associate choreographer.
“I choreographed a lot of tap dancing in the past,” says Rice of his series’ title style. “It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also super specific. I wanted a chance to also explore other options and some other dance styles. Musical theatre is in my soul, so I was excited to do some non-tapping and to do some jazz. I also have a little bit of hidden swag somewhere in me that I like to whip out, and I thought hip-hop was a cool way to explore that, and it’s something that I haven’t gotten to do a ton in my life but I really enjoy.”
On set at Chemistry Creative in Brooklyn the room buzzed with energy. Rice’s dancers were excited to do what they love to do and share it with the world. As for Rice, choreographing is a creative impulse, a need. “I think it's like a writer who has a story to tell,” he says. “They need to get it out of them and share it with the world. So far, choreographing has been the same for me. I have had something inside of me that I needed to express.”
Since Rice uploaded his first Tappy video, he has received several emails about the positive impact the videos have had on people’s lives. One woman wrote in about her son, who has Down syndrome and struggled to communicate with his peers. After seeing a Tappy video, he was inspired to take tap classes and has developed new friendships with his fellow dancers. “When you think about something silly that I put together for a YouTube video,” says Rice. “If it can affect someone’s life in a positive way like that, then, as an actor that’s the best possible hope I could have for anything I could be a part of.”
Watch an exclusive behind-the-scenes video below!