Chicago tap dancer Bril Barrett honored as National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow

ByMarsha Jordan and Hosea Sanders WLS logo
Thursday, May 16, 2024
Chicago tap dancer honored as NEA Heritage Fellow
Chicago tap dancer and MADD Rhythms instructor Bril Barrett has been honored as a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Bril Barrett has been transforming lives through tap dancing in Chicago for decades, giving students a creative escape from the inner city.

The National Endowment for the Arts has honored him as a Heritage Fellow, one of just ten in the country.

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The dancer spoke to ABC7's Hosea Sanders about his mission with all the right moves.

"From the first time I put on tap shoes, I knew I wanted to do it for the rest of my life," Barrett said. "I didn't know what that meant, or how it would unfold, but I knew I would be doing it for a long time."

Barrett has been tapping since he was four years old, growing up on the West Side His first stage was a CTA platform.

"On the train stop downtown, you're on Monroe, rush hour, you got two minutes between trains," Barrett said. "So in two minutes, you gotta put on a show and connect with folks, so they want to go in their pockets and give you money."

Barrett has now performed around the world, but his true calling is sharing his art with all generations at a studio in Bronzeville.

"It started off with a thing for me to expose young Black boys to tap," Barrett said. "I know that because tap was introduced to my life, it gave me a way out, a life line."

Barrett formed MADD Rhythms. It stands for "Making A Difference Dancing." It's been going strong for over two decades. It's one of the reasons he got the National Heritage award.

"All the work that I've done in the community with tap, and the way I've helped to change and shape lives, was why I was getting recognition, so I received it wholeheartedly," Barrett said. "Tap was born out of oppression, tap was born out of struggle."

He shared why he thinks its important to know the history of tap.

"I think if people knew what Black people went through to make this art form possible, they would all have much more respect for the art form," Barrett said. "I feel like I'm closest to God when I'm tap dancing, it's how I navigate emotional trauma. I used to think tap was my gift, and now I think tap is a tool from the Creator in order to make a difference in my community, but I think changing lives through tap is the gift."

The National Endowment for the Arts honor comes with a cash award, and recipients are urged to use it to improve their own lives, as being an artist can be tough.

Barrett said he'll pay some bills, but he wants to spend the rest for MADD Rhythms and to better serve his students.