Reprising his role as shoe-shuffle king, Adam Garcia returns to the stage in the global dance phenomenon, Tap Dogs. With a global audience of 11 million people, and sell out shows in London and New York, Tap Dogs combines the strength and power of workmen with the precision and talent of tap. Here, Garcia taps into his love affair with dance and confides to Anna Tsekouras why he hates the way he looks when he dances.
Tap Dogs is a bit of a homecoming for you, given your role as Sean in Bootmen (the film based on the Tap Dogs story) how does it feel to be back?
I actually ache. I was having lunch with Dein Perry (Tap Dogs creator and director of Bootmen) and he said, "Do you reckon it's time to do this fucking show?" and I was like "Yes." It's been 15 years since I've done a tap-dancing show and before my legs fall off I really wanted to challenge myself and see if I could do it. I've seen the show so many times and I love doing his choreography and think the show is brilliant and unique. So I thought why wouldn't I want to be a part of it? Everyone associates me with the show anyway and I would've felt like a fraud if I didn't do it.
What's it been like working with Dein again?
It's great and it's really challenging because I haven't done this sort of tap in a long time. But it's great getting my feet back. I would say, "Dein, why do a toe there, why not just do a heel there? It's so much easier." And he would say, "Why would you want to do an easy show?" and he's absolutely right.
What's it been like testing yourself again and seeing if you still have your tap legs?
Oh man, it's frustrating, but I love it. I love making myself upset. I've left dancing a lot of times, like I'm the worst lover in the world. I'd say to dance: "I'm breaking up with you, I'm leaving." Then five years later I'm like, "Oh I really still fancy you." It just keeps on dragging me back.
What was the biggest driving force in you pursuing performance as a career?
I think the biggest influence was money. Most kids would get a part-time job to earn extra cash, but I had the privilege and the opportunity to be surrounded by dance teachers, like Dein Perry, who would invite me to earn money by teaching dance from the age of 15. That's why I got into the performing, but I still never thought that I would actually make it a career. I always thought I would go to university and get a regular job.
You dropped out of university didn't you?
Yeah. I blame Dein (laughs).
You didn't take up dance, instead you studied science?
Yes, I did, but I wasn't very good. I wasn't a particularly a good student, although, I had a very keen interest in it. I think I passed math, and I failed physics. Then, in 1994, Hot Shoe Shuffle came along, which Dein was involved in, as well as David Atkins. I had been working with them on little bits doing this thing called Tap Brothers. They said, "Look we're going to be doing this show, do you want to be the kid in it?"
Then, I got lobbed into chemistry and biology – which is what I am good at - so I thought, every kid defers uni and decided to join them and defer for six months. Most shows go for about three to six months and so I thought I'll go and be a dancer for a year.
I considered leaving school at 15 for other work, but our school principal said, "Don't, don't, don't, don't, you'll regret it – you go to this school for a reason you're a good student, get your HSC just in case." It was just the best advice I've ever been given, so I stayed in school and he said, "You'll always get another chance, you'll have another chance to do a show trust me". He was completely right.
Do you come from an arts family?
Absolutely not. Mum worked as a physiotherapist and Dad worked in the stock markets and stuff like that. My brother is a financial planner, although he is a really good dancer and an amazing public speaker - much better than me!
How old were you when you had your first dance lesson?
I was seven. I first discovered ballet. Well, my friend Morgan had to go to ballet because his sister had cello lessons next to the studio in Chatswood, Sydney. And being his best friend he said, "Well, you've got to come with me I'm not going alone". Apparently, I just said to my mum, who was doing the dishes at the time, "Mum, I'm going to ballet tomorrow with Morgan." That was the beginning.
Did tap feel more natural than other kinds of dance?
Yeah, I was really rubbish at it and then after two years my feet just knew what they were doing. I was about 11 at the time. I had no idea how. It was literally a change from one day to the next. To me, tap-dancing is the combination of an instrument and a dance more than any other format of dance, because you're making music all the time and I like that.
Have you become part of an important movement, helping young boys (who may be ordinarily playing video games indoors) introduce them to the performing arts and to the idea that dance can be embraced by both sexes?
Yes. I don't care what anyone says, everyone loves to dance. Even if you pretend you're the biggest butch in the world, that's still not an excuse. That's why dance clubs exist. Michael Jackson brought that to the floor, people love dancing. People at weddings dance, everywhere people go into bars and listen to music so they can dance. I think even for the last couple of generations that's become more and more acceptable and the criticism of boys who choose dance is, thankfully, on the decline. So I don't think the responsibility is profound, but it is certainly still there in terms of inspiring guys and girls or just children or anyone really to get up and express themselves. The idea of human expression is what differentiates us.
Do you try to make every performance slightly different?
Absolutely. I know guys and, God bless them, but I've been in musical theatre and they do the exact same thing every night. They don't think of changing anything because they've been told, "This is the way you do it." What's the point in being an artist? What's the point in being a dancer? If you have no self-expression – you're a robot.
Is that an age thing or just a case of experience?
I think it's a choice thing.
How does that influence your film acting, when a director asks that you do something over again in the same way?
It depends on the director, but yeah I find it hard to replicate something exactly. It probably doesn't make me a very good film actor.
So you prefer theatre to film?
I think I'm a better theatre actor than a film actor, simply because I can understand that discipline better.
Does dance remain your first love?
I think so, yes.
Do you worry about being referred to as that guy from Coyote Ugly?
I don't really mind to be honest. I just want to be famous. I just want to be headlines. (laughs). No, I mean I think I'm getting good at film acting, so I'd like to do more, but it depends on if Hollywood would like me to. I was a dancer, I saw it was the lowest rung on the totem pole – I saw how they were the pawns in the chess game, they were the foot soldiers. They were the lowest paid, they're the least unionised and they are the least recognised. You have the longest apprenticeship, then you have the shortest career. It's not an easy industry being a dancer. Then you've got musical theatre dancing that is slightly more well respected, then you've got theatre actors that are very well respected and then you've got the film actors who are the elite. I always promised myself that I wouldn't allow myself to get pigeonholed.
Do you read your reviews?
Yes. I probably shouldn't as there is always something disappointing, misunderstood or simply not correct.
Unlike reviews, audience reactions are instant. How do you know when you're putting on a good show?
Dein was telling us today, "Those first 20 minutes of the show you're going to gauge how the audience will react." Theatre for me is like telling a joke. You're weighing people's reactions as you tell it so that you can play with it a little, you can build them up a little and you can take them away a little. When you read a kid a story before they go to sleep you do enhance it and make it dramatic for them. That's telling a story. And doing Tap Dogs, you have that instability in reaction. So you get to play with them you get to give it to them you get to tell the story, you get to lead them on the journey. That's where the good fun is.
What do you do after the show, given you must be on a bit of a high afterwards?
I might go and have a few beers or get some dinner, but I'm a bit of a sook when I come home. I sort of just sit there and maybe watch some TV. I'm a bit of a family guy.
What music makes you dance?
Jamiroquai. He's so funky and his band have this great skill and you can just see them having so much fun. It's always something new with him – he's very cool.
What's been a career highlight so far?
Performing at the opening ceremony of Sydney’s 2000 Olympic games. I was hidden in the truck with gauze and then I had to come up through the centre quickly, I was sort of sneaking a peak and all of a sudden it just hit me. This wall hit me of sound and human experience and I was like, "Wow, this is amazing. People are really experiencing this on a real and a visceral and heightened level. You're part of something amazing here, this is a real privilege you should definitely tap into that. Realise that this is something that you cannot simply discard, just fucking live it, be in the moment." So I think it was the first time that I consciously said to myself, "If there is a time you should show off - it's right now."
Yes. I just really went for it.
Tap Dogs is now playing at Sydney's Capitol Theatre, until February 6. Visit www.capitoltheatre.com.au.