Some people might believe that tap dancing resides in a bygone era, an art form that has been left in the past. Kayla Cowart is proving otherwise. Performing with the stage name Tap Girl of Florida™, Kayla enlivens audiences of the Off Broadway sensation ”STOMP” with her rhythmic urban flair.
Throughout the history of tap, dancers have created many styles and aesthetics. Some dancers have combined other forms of dance and art to create their own style. Smart. Beautiful. Rhythm™ is the trademark for the collections of music and body of work produced by Kayla for the next generation of tap dancers. The music is distinguishable from traditional tap dance music and includes trending tracks of rap, hip-hop, dance hall, trap and trip hop. Tap, Kayla believes, is the purest form of dance because the act produces music itself.
Determined to create a new appreciation for tap dancing, Kayla has emerged as the innovator of a movement devoted to making St. Petersburg-Clearwater one of the best areas in the country for world class tap dance entertainment. When she is not performing in the cast of “STOMP” at the historic Orpheum Theatre in New York City, or on tour with “STOMP” at venues across the country, the Tap Girl of Florida is to putting the St. Petersburg-Clearwater region on the national dance map as founder of The Florida Tap Dance Project, The Tap Dance Ambassadors of Florida and The Annual Dunedin Tap Dance Festival.
Dance has been a monumental part of her life since even before she can remember. Kayla took her first dance lesson when she was two, entered community theater at age six and was a part of Ruth Eckerd Hall’s “Chocolate Nutcracker” and the Mahaffey Theatre’s “Chocolate with a Twist.” She was a longtime student of the late Elaine Forestier, who founded Patricia Ann Dance Studios in downtown Dunedin and served as an inspiration for Kayla’s passion for dance. Under Forestier’s guidance, Kayla trained as a novice across genres at Patricia Ann Dance Studios. She is skilled in jazz, lyrical, ballet, and contemporary dance; however, the diverse dancer has always felt a fondness for hip hop and tap.
After graduating from Largo High School’s ExCEL Magnet Program in 2015, Kayla launched her first endeavor to transform St. Petersburg/Clearwater into one of the finest cities in the country for world-class tap dance entertainment. She founded the Tap Dance Ambassadors of Florida featuring herself and St. Petersburg/Clearwater tap dance professionals Angelillis-Storrison of Tapped In, Inc., Ruth Ann Martin of the Truth Tap Company, Ashlyn Bolton of the Rhythm and Sole Tap Ensemble, New York dancer Aubrey Cheek and Raymond Bennett.
Kayla spent a semester at St. Petersburg College following her high school graduation with intentions of earning a business degree, but she quickly recognized that dance is her true passion, and not the corporate life. When she learned about an open-call audition for Off-Broadway’s “Stomp,”, Kayla headed to New York City with dreams of performing in the Big Apple. After three auditions, she landed a part in the high-energy music and dance production that debuted in 1994 and entertains audiences in New York City and nationwide.
As a part of her training, Kayla has participated in annual master workshops and has taken advanced classes with tap legends like Avi Miller, Ofer Ben and Ted Louis Levy. She received instruction from some of the industry’s Masters, including Professor Robert L. Reed, Anthony LoCascio, Derrick Grant, Jason Samuels Smith, Sarah Reich, Chloe Arnold and Maud Arnold and Michelle Dorrance.
Performing is a passion for Kayla, who is 21, yet her dedication to bringing attention to St. Petersburg/Clearwater as the capital of Florida’s tap dance industry, inspires her beyond the stage.
Motivated with the goal of showcasing the Tampa Bay region’s emerging tap dancers, and to help Florida’s trending tap dance industry gain more visibility on the national tap dance circuit, she pioneered the Florida Tap Dance Project, also in 2015.
It’s difficult to compete with well-known tap masters and established seasoned dancers in cities that are more notable for its creative arts and vibrate entertainment industry. Still, Kayla believes that her experience from the “STOMP” performances will help her reach her goal of putting Florida on the national tap dance tour map.
Kayla has not forgotten her dance roots and where her love for the art form started. She created The Annual Dunedin Tap Dance Festival, which is hosted by Patricia Ann Dance Studios every September. The event is free to the public and includes networking opportunities, free tap dance workshops facilitated by the Tap Dance Ambassadors of Florida, and performances in Dunedin’s John Lawrence Pioneer Park that are open to the public at no charge. It is a community tap dance festival for people of all ages and abilities to become immersed in the world of tap dance. Keeping the activities free is important, Kayla believes, because it encourages participation from tap dancers who cannot pay.
Looking ahead, Kayla envisions the debut of an International Tap Dance Festival on Clearwater-St. Petersburg Beach, and a first-class tap dance production in the Historic Capital Theatre in downtown Clearwater.
In addition to her role with “STOMP,” Kayla is working on the release of her first music/tap video and her first album of music that was produced specifically with the tap dance performance and tap dance theater production in mind.
Dance is life, and life is a dance, Kayla says. With her performances, videos and albums combined with her tireless efforts to bolster the visibility of St. Petersburg/Clearwater’s tap dance industry, the charismatic performer, entrepreneur and leader believes that many others will share her love for the art form – in Florida and nationwide.