Leonardo Sandoval has taken the dance world by storm with his innovative, grassroots approach to tap. A native of Brazil, this 26-year-old dancer delights audiences with a Brazilian-infused style of tap dancing, whether he’s performing in a concert hall or taking tap back to its roots dancing on the street. Whatever the setting, his steps seem effortless, animated by the Afro-Brazilian rhythms that inform his dancing. The Chicago Sun-Times described Sandoval as “a thoroughbred … capable of authority and nuance.”
Sandoval began dancing at age six. Growing up in São Paulo with a father who played drums, Sandoval’s dancing was always imbued with rhythm. Following the suggestion of a teacher he turned to tap. In his words, “tap dancing is music.” He beats out Brazilian rhythms found in bossa nova and samba music, and also draws from forró, a music that originated in northeastern Brazil in the 19th century that is being reinterpreted by young artists like Sandoval.
Through infusing tap with traditional Brazilian rhythms, music, and dance, Sandoval is paving new ground in an art form born in 19th-century America from the cross-pollination of African rhythms and European step dancing traditions, especially from the British Isles. Minstrelsy, vaudeville and Hollywood, in turn, popularized tap. In the early 20th century, the rhythmic motifs, polyrhythms and structured improvisation of jazz influenced tap dance. During the tap renaissance of the past 20 years, jazz has been an important vehicle for showcasing this percussive dance, while Latin and Afro-Caribbean rhythms, hip hop and funk continue to add new beats and sensibilities to the mix. In an effort to widen tap’s appeal in his native country, and encourage other dancers to incorporate moves and rhythms rooted in the Brazilian vernacular, Sandoval founded the dance school Cia Carioca de Sapateado in Rio de Janeiro.
Tap is, and always has been, nourished – not in the conservatory – but in the street, dance hall, and social club, where dancers share, mimic, steal, and reinvent steps and playfully challenging each other to “battles.” In this spirit, Sandoval tapped in the streets of Brazil and now busks in New York City. You can find him on the High Line, the elevated train track repurposed as a greenway, sometimes with an accompanying musician but more often on his own. Sandoval is recharged by these street performances where “you never know what’s going to happen.”
When his quick feet, indefatigable energy and charm are not drawing crowds on the sidewalks, Sandoval has appeared at the American Tap Dance Festival, the Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s “Rhythm World,” and Tap City in New York. Earlier this year, he debuted his first choreographed work in Baltimore. At the Richmond Folk Festival, he will perform with Jennifer Vincent, an accomplished bassist with a command of Latin jazz and Brazilian rhythms.