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These Washington Sisters Want to Empower Kids Through Tap Dancing

Chloe and Maud Arnold are the organizers behind this weekend's DC Tap Fest.
Tap-dancing sisters Chloe and Maud Arnold got a lot of help when they were kids. Now they're looking to give back. Photo courtesy of Chloe and Maud Arnold.

Chloe Arnold owes a lot to Beyoncé. More than ten years ago, the tap dancer from Takoma joined forces with her sister, Maud, and launched the Syncopated Ladies–an all-woman tap dancing group. Their big break came a few years later in 2007, when Chloe worked as a director’s assistant in Beyoncé’s music video for “Upgrade U.” The sisters followed by recording a sort of tap dancing tribute to the R&B star, and Beyoncé hit them back by sharing the troop’s video with her 65 million Facebook fans. The video went on to get more than half-million views.

That’s when the Syncopated Ladies really took off. They went on to appear in the HBO show “Boardwalk Empire” and on FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance.” Their newfound success, however, made them realize they wanted to be more than dancers; they wanted to give back to the community. “I want to rock out in tap shoes and get women in tap elevated to another lever of respect, skill level, and appreciation,” Chloe says. This weekend, the sisters will be doing some of that. For the seventh time this year, they are hosting the DC Tap Fest, an event that puts local kids in lockstep with internationally renowned tap dancers for a week of lessons, competitions, and performances. The sisters know they owe their success to the mentors they met while growing up in the area–and they hope to do the same for others. Chloe began tap dancing when she was six, but it was at the age of nine that she was officially initiated with Chris Belliou’s DC Rhythm Ensemble. From there, she joined Savion Glover’s DC residency, a summer program organized by the Washington Performing Arts Society, and even scored a performance at the Kennedy Center. “That really inspired me to want to tap dance,” she says. After watching her sister’s rehearsals, Maud landed a small appearance in one of Glover’s shows. Her role? It involved walking across the stage in tap shoes holding a sign.

Year after year, as the sisters continued their journey in tap, they encountered people who were willing to lend a helping hand. At one dance school, the office manager let their tuition slide because she saw their potential–and because she knew the girls’ mother couldn’t afford to pay for lessons. “We were always on scholarship growing up. Or we cleaned the studios, we always did something,” Maud says. Both sisters went on to earn film studies degrees from Columbia University and land roles in acclaimed DC choreographer Debbie Allen’s dance musical, “Brothers of the Knight.” But it was when Chloe came back to DC for a performance at the Kennedy Center that she realized it was time to do more. “[I got] this full circle feeling,” she says. “We need to recreate that for the next set of kids.” In 2009, the sisters launched the DC Tap Fest. Every year since, they have brought in celebrity tap dancers to teach Washington kids–of all backgrounds and levels–how to dance. Since its debut, the charity has granted more than 275 scholarships. This year’s festival culminates tonight at the University of the District of Columbia Theatre with a performance of 25 students, who have all completed a four-day intensive class. As for the soundtrack, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if a Beyoncé song just happens to make an appearance. DC Tap Fest March 23 to March 30 The all-star concert will take place tonight at 8 PM at the University of the District of Columbia. Tickets are sold-out, but email dctapfestconcert@gmail.com to be put on the waiting list.

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