Here’s one reason why ballet is better than boxing, according to legendary tap dancer Joe Orrach, appearing this week at Jacob’s Pillow: in dance, no one’s trying to punch you.
Orrach offers another reason; one he quickly discovered when his boxing trainer sent him to take ballet to improve his footwork.
“All of a sudden I’m lifting these beautiful girls,” he recalls happily. “And then I put them down, and they’re looking at me like, ‘maybe I like you!’”
Orrach became an Air Force welterweight champion boxer, but quit boxing soon after he separated from the service to take up dance fulltime.
“I was driving a truck for my brother’s business,” he recalls. “I would park the truck at 56th and Broadway, run upstairs and take a dance class, and then get back in the truck and finish my deliveries.
“One day, I decided that was it. I threw him the keys and all I’ve done ever since is dance.”
Orrach and another dancer from his class started dancing on the street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, made a few bucks and got booked for a few commercials. He was on his way.
Since then, he has appeared with pretty much everyone great you can think of—Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, the Nicholas Brothers, Liza Minnelli, Bob Hope, the Smothers Brothers, Charles “Honi” Coles, Joan Baez, Woody Allen, Chuck Green, and Lon Cheney, just to name a few.
This week finds Orrach in the Berkshires, where he will appear at legendary dance venue Jacob’s Pillow in a program called “TIRELESS: A Tap Experience” curated by Michelle Dorrance.
The program, which features four different groupings of tap dancers, is the brainchild of Dorrance, who The New York Times has called a “tireless ambassador of tap.”
“Tap is much more than you think it is,” Orrach says. “Just look at our program.”
Tireless features tap dancer and bassist couple Reona and Takashi Seo of Japan, Chicaco’s Jumaane Taylor and M.A.D.D. Rhythms, a solo piece with Orrach, and tap dancing siblings Joseph and Josette Wiggin of Los Angeles.
“I’m humbled, excited, and scared to perform at Jacob’s Pillow,” Orrach confides. “You walk around this place and you look at the beautiful buildings, the cottages, the barns, the incredible theater.
“The incredible performance space is set in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
“I think about what a visionary the founder, Ted Shawn, was. He imagined all this and brought it into reality. It’s awesome to be here.”
Jacob’s Pillow has been at the center of cultural life in the Berkshires since 1933, nestled among the lakes and forests of the New England town of Becket, MA.
The festival and school offer performances and classes open to the public all summer long.
In the Berkshires, there’s no such thing as summer without Jacob’s Pillow.
And in tap, there’s no such thing as a performance without Joe Orrach.
“It’s a chance for people to see just how exciting, athletic, and fun tap is,” Orrach says.
For more information: www.jacobspillow.org/events/tireless