Tapping out her signature style

University dance student Kaleena Miller makes her mark with 'Scuff Marks'

Katrina Wilber

Kaleena Miller went from bopping around the dance studio where her mother was a teacher to producing a show as a senior dance major at the University.

And Karla Grotting – University dance instructor and the owner of that studio – will be right there with her.

In fact, she’s been there all this time.

Miller’s mother was an assistant teacher at Grotting’s studio, so it was only a matter of time before Miller started dancing. She studied with Grotting until she was about 8 years old.

All dance majors have an adviser, a member of the dance faculty that works with the students when registering for classes and planning senior projects. Miller ended up as one of Grotting’s advisees.

But the whole thing came full circle when Grotting agreed to be one of Miller’s 11 dancers in the show.

“It’s cool to have Karla in my show, but it’s also kind of strange,” Miller said. “Now the roles are switched.”

Miller’s senior project, a tap dance show called “Scuff Marks,” showcases her work as a choreographer and a performer. Producing a show has been a “lofty goal for a while,” she said. So when it came time to find a senior project, she knew exactly what she wanted to do.

Although she wanted some jazz dance in the show, she knew the performance, like her background, would be rooted in tap dance.

Miller came to the University as a tap dancer. Most dance majors are proficient in ballet, modern dance or jazz.

“The only decent teacher we could find when we moved here years ago was a tap teacher,” Miller said, “but it also seemed the most natural dance form to me.”

Miller came to the University after a year at St. Olaf College in Northfield, where she discovered the lack of tap dance and the small town wasn’t for her. The University’s dance program presented another challenge for Miller, though, because it focuses on other dance styles.

“She had really only studied tap until she went to college,” Grotting said. “She had less technical training than her peers, so now she has a very unique style. I love it that her strong suit has always been tap.”

The other three dance forms tend to be very stylized, such as in the George Balanchine ballet form, the Bob Fosse jazz form and the Martha Graham style of modern dance. Tap is a more relaxed and personalized dance form, meaning that two tap dancers might have entirely different manners even if they’ve trained with the same teacher.

“It’s kind of tricky for me to catch her style,” Grotting said. “Everyone has a different style, and it becomes a very personal thing.”

In keeping with her combination of styles, Miller incorporated numerous styles of music into her show as well. Her four musicians play both old-time jazz and newer forms.

Miller has performed with Buckets and Tap Shoes, a local tap dance company, since 2004, which made Grotting’s advising job that much easier.

“She’s had so much experience performing professionally already that she didn’t need much advising,” Grotting said. “I just reminded her to start planning early.”

Miller’s keeping her options open for after graduation. She might audition for some dance companies or keep performing here.

“But that’s not all,” she said. “There’s a lot more out there for me.”