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August 5, 1943
Mount Clemens, Michigan, U.S.
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Fred Strickler (August 5, 1943) is an American dancer, educator, and co-founder of the Jazz Tap Ensemble.  He is known for his originality, musicality, and fusing jazz, tap and modern together.
Fred was born on August 5th, 1943 to Kenneth and Lynnette Strickler in Mount Clemens, Michigan. His immediate family moved to Columbus, Ohio when he was only four months old. Although his father left the family in his early adolescence, his mother, siblings, grandmother, and various aunts and uncles remained close. Brought up in a close-quartered home, Strickler was foreign to the idea of privacy. Between sharing space in an eight-room home, at times housing up to 18 people, all of which with loud personalities, Strickler didn’t experience calmness much. He frequently fought, notably out of love, with his three older brothers, Dan, Alan, and Jeri, as well as his two sisters, Ruth and Mary Sue. The family expressed love through raising voices, high expectations, and immense amount of support. Without a father figure, Strickler relied on his mother and grandmother as personal mentors.
The home was always packed. His grandmother’s children rotated in and out of the home, bringing in guests and, hopefully, contributing to the family income. The Batey clan, Batey being his mother’s maiden name,  struggled financially. In a time without welfare, the Batey’s somehow always managed to put food on the table and pay for lessons, both music and dance.
The siblings resented Strickler because he was the favorite grandson. This was mostly evident through the attention he received, rather than tangible objects. After all, there was not much room for leisurinley spending. His grandmother’s influence significantly impacted Strickler. He viewed her as a warrior, a survivor, and a clever woman wrapped into a small, frail physique. She cared deeply to stay in tune with her fellow house residents, frequently asking about each day’s happenings. Most of the valuable lessons he learned were via his grandmother and mother, outside of the influential dance figures in his life.
The Batey clan was not a notoriously artistic family, however, Strickler’s earliest memories of the performing arts stem from attending the symphony orchestra with his siblings and uncles. He adored the idea of getting dressed up and being captivated by a world he never knew existed. The children began taking music lessons as a part of their primary and high school education, as well as for personal development. Strickler had an extreme fascination and curiosity for sounds. He would tune into foreign radio stations just to dissect the accents and languages of unfamiliar people and places. His exfictiation on sounds is later evident in his original choreography and musicality.
Strickler attended Chicago Elementary School, then Starlet Junior High. Both schools were in a grim neighborhood that have since gotten socioeconomically worse. Strickler later did residency at Starlet in hopes of becoming a beacon for children growing up in a similar position as he did. He attended Central High School in Columbus Ohio
Introduction to Dance
Before he ever took his first dance class, Strickler and his siblings tagged alongside their sister, Ruth, who began taking lessons at Jimmy Roland’s Dance Studio. Jimmy Roland was a former vaudevillian, dancer, businessman, TV host, and just so happened to be his mother’s former high school classmate. As a teacher, he demanded great things, but always managed to treat his students well. Strickler later cites Roland to be a major influence on his career.
Around 10 years old, Strickler began practicing dance with his sister, Ruth, at home. After muscling up the courage to stray away from musical lessons and switch to dance lessons, Strickler found his first love: the dance studio. Roland’s studio was an elegant, glamorous space, in which his creativity and movement exploration initially developed. Training in jazz, tap, ballet, and ballroom, Strickler was enamored by the art form and always striving to match his peer’s skill sets.
In order to pay his way through lessons as a financially unstable child, Strickler worked at the studio as a substitute and janitor. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as he was granted the change to explore the studio after hours all by himself. His fondest childhood memories include the Saturday nights where he let the creativity direct him to wherever his body landed.
By the time Strickler reached his teens, he began exploring other performance modes and trainers. Musical theatre emphasized his initial love for dance. He fit in well with the dramatic and flamboyant environment. While at Jimmy Roland, Strickler also trained and performed with other companies to diversify his repertoire.
College was an inevitable path for Fred. The maternal figures in his life always saw higher education in his future.
Strickler entered Ohio State University in the fall of 1961 as double major in Mathematics and English Education. Having not fathomed the idea of studying dance full-time, Strickler pursued paths that objectively made sense, having interests in teaching and critical thinking. Lynn Rolands-Dally, daughter of Jimmy Rolands and fellow Ohio State student, introduced him to modern dance classes through the university. At the time, he had rarely explored this style, yet he instantly fell in love. The university only offered modern. About a year and half into his collegiate career, Strickler changed his major to a bachelor of science and education in dance.
Ohio State’s modern training was an encouraging and demanding environment. Strickler was able to experiment with the feeling and art of dance, rather than the performance and entertainment aspect that he was accustomed to through tap and musical theater. University students viewed theatrical styles as far lesser of a high art than modern. There was a certain stigma attached to that industry, but Strickler continued to pursue those styles via outside gigs, which served as financial support for tuition.
Notable teachers during his time at college included José Limon, Martha Graham, Judith Dunn and Anna Sokolow. Strickler deeply enjoyed those experiences, felt he was a great student, but recognized that he didn’t have the talent for that technique. This did not, however, disway him from continuing his modern dance pursuit.
In an effort to avoid the draft, Strickler completed his graduate education at Ohio State University as well. Although, he did not actually care to attend school, but rather start his professional career in New York. He never completed his graduate degree and pursued his teaching and touring career instead.
Strickler’s most notable career beginnings occur during his undergraduate years. He found opportunities to set modern aside, the only style he trained in at college, and dabbled in his other favorite styles. Whether it was entertaining military troops abroad or seeking small fiscal support from musical performances, Strickler attempted to maintain a relationship with his jazz and tap shoes.
Bella Lewitzky played an integral role in Strickler’s career. As one of his most influential mentors, Lewitzky paved the way for national and international touring gigs, added master experiences to his repertoire, and gained a deeper understanding of technical body knowledge.
While living in Riverside, California as University of Riverside, California professor, Strickler would travel at least twice a week to Los Angeles to take Lewitzky’s classes. Later on, he became her assistant at the California Institute of the Arts, choreographed pieces for her company, Bella Lewitzky Dance Company, and toured domestically and abroad.
The two dancers became quite close, but this did not come without its trailing times. In order to cope with his dual career of academia and professionally dancing on tour, Strickler used numerous narcotics. In 1975, Lewitzky’s disapproval of his behavior, burnout from his professional and personal life, failure to technically evolve with other company members, and a desire to advance his career elsewhere led Strickler to leave the company after seven and a half rewarding years.
The summer before his departure, Gary Bates, fellow Lewitzky company member and University of California, Los Angeles graduate dancer asked him to collaborate on a project with six other members. This eventually became known as the Eyes Wide Open Dance Theatre. The beauty of the dance theatre was the experimental aspects. All six co-founders delve into synthesis, developing costumes, scores, lighting and set design.
Alongside this “mutual apprenticeship,” Strickler received his second choreographers fellowship, experimented with his own composition, and continued experimenting with freedom in dance, as inspired by Merce Cunningham and the Judson Dance Group, two premiere names in the modern dance industry at the time. He also trained and performed with Lynn Dally and her modern company. 
The Eyes Wide Open Dance Theatre evaporated after six years when the co-founders fell into the relative career projects. There was no shortage of arguments throughout their six year journey. No one wanted to take responsibility for business happenings assuming someone else could take care of it. Eyes Wide Open Dance Theatre was failing to make profit and consequently not paying rent for studio space. Strickler, whose name was on the contract, was personally affected by the financial shortcoming.
In 1966, University of California, Riverside professor, Christena Schlundt, sought Strickler out because of his teaching experience. He quickly moved to California from Ohio, despite his aspirations of fleeing to New York, to teach modern and work as an associate in dance. In addition to that sound job opportunity, he had a personal agenda to reestablish a relationship with his distant father, who lived in Riverside at the time, and train with his idol, Bella Lewitzky.
Strickler spent 40 years teaching and professional advancing at UCR. He rose in the ranks from associate in dance, to tenureship, to full professorship, to distinguished professorship. He sat on several boards and was fully involved in University life between student and fellow faculty relationships.
Throughout his time at UCR, he taught beginning and intermediate modern, folk dance, musical theatre, and choreography classes. He also participated in works himself, as well as set pieces on his students for collegiate showcases. Around 1975, Strickler was asked to teach tap due to popular demand. This was around the renaissance of tap, when the genre had a resurgence in interest. His professional partner, Ray McNamara, made many accompaniment appearances in his university classes to pianist and percussionist.
Strickler was also invited as an artist resident at San Jose State University to teach one class for one student, Christie Wyatt. He quickly became a mentor of hers as she performed his own piece, “Excursions,” at 22 other colleges. Eventually, Strickler referred her to Linda Sohl-Ellison’s company, where she trained for almost six years.
Fred Strickler & Friends
As Strickler faded out of Jazz Tap Ensemble, he became the artistic director of an original project with percussionist Ray McNamara, pianist Althea Waites, and later on, dancer Denise Donovan. Other guest musicians, composers, and dancers worked with the group throughout their seasons as well.
Strickler was looking to return to his initial love of dance and curiosity for sounds. He created “The Tasset Agreement” and “The Tasset Understanding,” while experimenting with what his body is inclined to do when he hears certain sounds. He claims to be some of his most notable works during this time.
Fred Strickler & Friends created New Ideas on Tap, which is intended to highlight innovative tap movement in a synthesis with other musicians and performers.
In 2008, Fred collaborated with McNamara and Donovan again for the intimate concert series, Where I Live, that took place in Strickler’s home territory of Riverside, California. The performances were held in an oak-wooden floor studio with roughly 24 seats for an audience to gather. Where I Live was an expression of himself as an artist, a dancer, and a human being. Strickler thoroughly enjoyed the small gatherings. It brought a deeper connection for the viewers.
Tap Dance Career
Strickler has long considered himself to be a “modern dancer in tap shoes.” He and his cohorts sought a certain depth in tap dance that had never been explored before to this degree. Many of his performance works maintained vaudevillian aesthetics, but with concert-style structure. He was always looking to pursue new ideas in this arena.
Lynn Dally and Dancers and the Eyes Wide Open Theatre merged into Pacific Motion Dance Studios in Los Angeles, California. Both companies were just eager for rehearsal space, but they ended up producing thirty concerts in two years in their studio space as well. Pacific Motion Dance Studios consisted of two rooms, one specifically for tap.
Camden Richman, a jazz-tap percussionist, visited the studio and introduced Strickler to this fusion of the jazz and tap genres. He was enamored with the idea. During Richman's stay, she, Strickler, and fellow dancers attended the “Evolution of the Blues” show at the David Geffen Playhouse where they experienced the great art of rhythmic language from tap dancer, Foster Johnson. 
Johnson taught jazz-tap to Strickler for the first time. Despite his struggles to keep up due to Johsnon’s fast-paced teaching style and unfamiliarity with scatting, as opposed to counts, Strickler deeply enjoyed this new wave of tap.
Jazz Tap Ensemble
In 1979, Lynn Dally, daughter of Jimmy Rolands, Richman, and Strickler founded Jazz Tap Percussion Ensemble, which was later shortened to Jazz Tap Ensemble or JTE. In the era of Big Band, JTE crafted a unique set of dancers and musicians who played and danced to virtuosic jazz music.
Less than three months after their founding, JTE gained national attention. Bridget Terry, a publicist for filmmaker Robert Altaman, encouraged Altman to produce a documentary about tap in America featuring JTEtitled Tapdancin'. Strickler personally felt ill-equipped to convey informative and fulfilling content, but nonetheless, JTE was excited to receive recognition. 
In the summer of 1979, The JTE was invited to the Dance Theatre Workshop in New York. They were known for their experimental modern dance, which is aesthetically very different from jazz-tap. However, JTE pioneered the idea of evolutionizing tap dance with the depth and intentions of modern dance.
The various founders of the JTE contributed several styles to their performances. Strickler often created pieces that were intended to raise spirits and applause through a cadenza-like dance. Strickler undoubtedly created a name for himself via his breakthrough solo with the JTE, “Tone Poem,” in 1981.
Sally Sommers, tap historian, reviewed Jazz Tap Ensemble as one of the best new tap groups in America, spearheading tap dancing’s renaissance. Strickler cites that he was actively aware that he was a part of the revitalization of tap.
JTE overall helped Stricker solidify his artistic style via exploring the depth of jazz-tap, touring all over the world, and collaborating with other brilliant artists.
In 1984, the day after their last set of performances at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, Richman and three of their musicians left the ensemble unexplained. While venting to his best friend, Patrick Scott, Strickler called Lynn and convinced her to help turn the fate of the company around. They eventually re-enrolled all of the performers for the entire upcoming season.
In 1986, Strickler eventually left the company in a huff because he felt that Lynn was overtaking the leadership role. At the same time, he was also ready to advance his career in other areas. The JTE sparked a revival in his dance career and prolonged his performance career well beyond other professional dancers at the time.
"Tap Dance Concerto"
In 1983, The Conductors Guild, a subset of The American Symphony Orchestra League, asked Jazz Tap Ensemble to perform the "Tap Dance Concerto" by Morton Gould. Strickler was intrigued, but Dally and Richman were uninterested. Strickler listened to Gould’s work through the New York Public Library and was eager to take on the choreographer role. Crafting a four-part solo in his studio apartment, Strickler struggled to properly define rhythms and create a piece that was pleasing to the ear and the eyes. The process was disastrous and showed little promise until the moment he stepped onto the stage. Conductor, Maurice Peress, encouraged him to improvise the last section, the most musically complex section. To everyone’s surprise, Strickler received a standing ovation, but more importantly, impressed Gould.
Strickler continued to perform "Tap Dance Concerto" for 25 years with 45 different orchestras. Later on, other professional tappers, Sam Weber and Lane Alexander, took on the piece themselves.
In 1992, Strickler joined Linda Sohl-Ellisons dance company, Rhapsody and Taps, as an ensemble member, soloist, and an occasional choreographer. He always felt a kinship with Sohl-Ellisons work, as he had worked with her in the past. The company rarely toured because Sohl-Ellison was deeply involved in her career at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California. Strickler was among dancers significantly younger than him, as he was already well into his career. 
Growing up in a family where sexuality was hardly discussed and living in an era where gay relationships were taboo, Strickler remained closested throught his entire adolesence. Always intrigued by the male gender, he managed to secretly experiment, but not without an implicit shame. By the time he was 28, he came out to his parents.
Strickler eventually developed a relationship with his father during his early 20s, around the time he began teaching at UCR and when his parents remarried. He still held some resentment towards his father’s leaving of the family, but still made an effort to reconnect with him.
Originality was very important to Strickler as a professional artist and as a human. He never wanted to imitate anyone else’s style. The fear of being a fraud and not successful enough drove him to work harder. Insecurity was his greatest motivator in both his professional and personal life. As a dancer, unless he achieved perfection every performance, he considered it a failure. Digesting affirmations was greatly difficult for him. It took decades into his career until he could confidently brand himself as an artist, not just a dancer.
Dance Philosophy Strickler struggles to define a concrete dance philosophy of his own because his point of view is constantly evolving. However, he is certain that movement, to him, is not defined by any intrinsic meaning, but rather meaning develops from what the audience views the movement as. He’s always had a great trust in his audience. Unlike other dance philosophies, he doesn’t define specific meanings to movement. Movement is simply about the orientation in space.
Strickler is called by the physicality of dancing, not the meaning. He admires the body in motion because to him, it signifies that life is happening, and that is a beautiful message alone.
Strickler brands himself as a dance advocate, as he’s made great efforts to fight for the existence and opportunities for the diverse style in Southern California. He created the Dance History Project of Southern California, an organization that highlights the various happenings of sub-industries of the general dance community.
As he progresses into his late career, Fred Strickler looks forward to seeing tap progress in other cultures, since it is still considered to have primarily American positioning.
- Digital Collections, The New York Public Library. "(sound recording) Interview with Fred Strickler, 2019, (2019 - 2019)". The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
- Strickler, Fred. "Fred Strickler". Fred Strickler Facebook. Facebook. Retrieved 28 September 2020.
- "The Work is Never Done". Judson Dance Theater. MoMA. Retrieved 28 September 2020.
- Sohl-Ellison, Linda. "Linda Sohl-Ellison". Orange Coast College. Retrieved 28 September 2020.
- "Camden Richman". SFGATE. Retrieved 28 September 2020.
- "Notes on the Tap Renaissance". Dance History Project of Southern California. Retrieved 28 September 2020.
- Sohl-Ellison, Linda. "Linda Sohl-Ellison". Orange Coast College. Retrieved 28 September 2020.
- "A Starting Point for Future Research". Dance History Project of Southern California. Retrieved 28 September 2020.
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