New York dancer and choreographer Lisa Hopkins isn't sure whether she would consider tap the happiest form of dance.
"But it's my favorite thing to do," says Hopkins, co-founder, choreographer and director of "Tap Kids," which is coming to Century II tonight. "Unlike ballet or jazz, tap is inherently joyous. It is like playing drums. You become one with the music."
Hopkins, who has danced on Broadway and was assistant choreographer for the revival of "Follies," created "Tap Kids" in 2002 with her husband, Philip Stern, as a touring show for the tap workshops she started two years before. With her studio now in Burlington, Vt., she said she selects her youthful tappers not just for their technique but also for their versatility because she incorporates some improvisation.
While her group is still so new that there hasn't been much turnover, some of her original "Tap Kids," who aged out at 21, have gone on to burgeoning careers. Among them are Britt Stewart, who was in all three "High School Musical" movies, and Tony Testa, who appears in Michael Jackson's "This Is It." Still in the group as dance captain is Brittany Parks, who has danced on TV behind Justin Timberlake, Rihanna and Katy Perry. She's currently also performing in TV's "Glee."
For the Wichita performance, which is part of the Connoisseur Series sponsored by the College of Fine Arts dance program at Wichita State University, Hopkins is bringing nine of her current core of 12 performers.
Hopkins described "Tap Kids" not as a dance company but as a theatrical troupe that tells stories through dance.
"The kids play characters and there is a through story line," she said. "We're a hybrid form sort of between 'Tap Dogs' or 'Stomp' and '42nd Street.' The story deals with kids during their last few months of high school as they prepare for graduation and their future."
Hopkins balked at calling "Tap Kids" a dance version of Disney's "High School Musical."
"'High School Musical,' which we predated, was all about the kids being in a musical. In ours, the kids aren't trying to be in any show. Instead, they express themselves through dance. The tap is not a performance but a story," she said.
Plot threads, she said, include a longtime couple facing a breakup, geeks and jocks discovering what they can learn from each other, and the new kid in school trying to fit in.
"There's drama at the school dance, mischief in detention, graduation excitement and pending adulthood," Hopkins said. "We're full of positive messages but we're on the right side of believability. We capture that feeling of empowerment that comes from youth when all your hopes and dreams are fresh and intact."
If you go>
What: New York-based dance theater with performers ages 9-21; sponsored by WSU Performing Arts/Dance
Where: Century II Concert Hall
When: 8 p.m. today
How much: $28, $22 and $15; available through WichitaTix at 316-219-4849 or www.wichitatix.com.