Caleb Teicher is tapping his way to the top of the dance world

In the seven years since Caleb Teicher decided to pursue dance professionally, the jazz, tap, and swing wunderkind’s career trajectory has moved as fast as his footwork.

Graduating after his junior year of high school, Teicher left his tiny hometown of Mahopac, New York for the emotionally, physically, and financially daunting dream of making it, in whatever way possible, as a dancer in New York City.

“The first year was rough, I was lonely,” says Teicher, now 24. “All of my friends either went to college or they were still in high school.”

But the rough patch quickly smoothed out: Teicher connected with MacArthur grant-winning tap guru Michelle Dorrance, who was starting her company, Dorrance Dance, at the time. Barely a month later, master instructor Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards invited Teicher to dance in a concert evening she was creating with Dorrance. By the end of that first year in NYC, Teicher had his first of many subsequent New York Times call outs and a Bessie Award nomination (which he later won) for his outstanding individual performance in that concert.

It’s easy to see why Teicher’s star rose early. Watching Teicher tap means falling into a trance-like state, hypnotized by his charm and lightning quick steps. The obvious joy with which he glides through a swingy jazz routine makes it impossible not to smile. There’s a confidence to his onstage demeanor that carries over into his off-stage interactions, in the way he moves through space to pick a chai latté up from the table of a coffee shop while talking to a reporter—a seemingly mundane gesture turned expressive at the hands of a jazz dancer.

“There were moments in 2013, two years later, when I remember calling my mom and saying I just want to apply to college and check out for bit because anyone who is a freelancer understands how exhausting it is to be cobbling a life together,” says Teicher.

That was what almost happened. Teicher applied, and was accepted, to performing arts university Juilliard, but was offered a swing part in the international tour of West Side Story that same week. He chose to join the tour, flying to Germany where he continued to rack up dance and choreography credits. One opportunity snowballed into the next until, in 2015, a 10 minute presentation of his work through the American Tap Dance Foundation led to the creation of Caleb Teicher & Company, the bannerhead under which Teicher now presents his own choreography and collaborates with other artists.

Quite different from the inaccessible quality of ballet—currently the preferred campaign medium for high-fashion brands and traditionally proliferated by the wealthy in terms of practice, sponsorship, and audience demographic—Teicher’s styles of dance are meant to reflect how Americans have danced for the last hundred years, and how Americans use their bodies now.

“I’m happy to be involved in tap and jazz and swing because they’re dance forms that level the playing field and are more accessible,” he explains, echoing the belief of choreographic legend Alvin Ailey, that dance is for everybody. “They’re dance forms that ask you to just jump in and use your mind and your body and do your best and express yourself. They’re for the 99 percent.”

Teicher feels that young people will continue to pick up on these styles, despite their being less Instagram-able … less obviously sexy. “How do you connect and communicate with other human bodies in a way that is consensual, kind, considerate and has a skill involved, a skill that makes you a better body relating to other bodies?” he asks. “I often say, swing dance is the answer.”

Judging by the demand for his company’s work, it seems the people might agree. In 2016, CT&Co performed at two dance festivals; in 2017, they performed at seven. In less than a week’s time, CT&Co will have their first show at the Joyce Theater in NYC—their biggest show to date—before touring along the eastern United States. He’s also working on a piece with piano prodigy Conrad Tao, to be presented in the next couple of years.

That’s a lot to experience by the age of 24. Is he worried about burning out? “I’ll swing dance forever. I’ll tap dance forever. Maybe people won’t pay money to see it, but I’ll do it because it is the way in which I process the world,” he says. “Through dance.”