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Tapping their creativity

(left) Kat Richter shares a laugh with Jaye Allison during the tap dance rehearsal at Gwendolyn Bye Studio, Wednesday, August 3, 2011, Philadelphia, Pa. Kat directs the show “Too Darn Hot!”, which will start on Thursday, September 8 at Society Hill. (Maria Pouchnikova)

Weirdness isn’t requisite for participation in the Philly Fringe, the annual more-radical spin-off of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, but it certainly seems to help.

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This year’s lineup of 200 performances — at various venues throughout the city (except in the Northeast) from Sept. 2 to 17 — will feature satirical magicians, circus acrobats and a guy who says that The Knack — a middling 1970s rock band that sang My Sharona — changed his life.

At the other end of the spectrum, Pam Hetherington and Kat Richter will be in the Fringe too, with their original tap-dance show Too Darn Hot!

And don’t laugh.

Hetherington, a Fox Chase native, and Richter, a transplanted central New Jerseyan, are as seriously artistic and innovative about tap as any of the abstract-dance ensembles appearing throughout the fortnight are about their chosen genres.

Too Darn Hot! — showing on Thursday, Sept. 8, at 5:30 and 8 p.m. at The 120 Room in Bistro Romano, 120 Lombard St. — is no grade-school recital or Shirley Temple revival.

Rather, it’s a modern feminine spin on an ages-old art form long slighted by the contemporary dance community and largely ignored by young, aspiring female performers.

“In the dance world, tap is a very marginalized art form. And within the tap world, females are even more marginalized,” said Richter.

The show is the first product of the Hetherington and Richter partnership. They are its choreographers, directors and co-leads. They’re also the leggy models in fishnet stockings on the show’s promotional palm cards, too.

Hetherington, 31, is a Gwynedd-Mercy High School and University of Pennsylvania graduate with a master’s in English from the University of Virginia. As for dance, she honed her skills at several private schools in the Northeast and during her days at Penn, and she has performed with the Tap Team 2 company for about 15 years.

Richter, 25, was a principal dancer as a child with the New Jersey Tap Ensemble and holds a master’s degree in dance anthropology from Roehampton University in London. Now based in South Philly, she works as a freelance writer and a teaching artist at dance schools.

The two met through a mutual friend and connected via Facebook.

“I sent her an e-mail and said, ‘I want to do a show,’ and Pam was crazy enough to say yes,” Richter said.

“The shows I’ve done in the past were on a lesser scale,” Hetherington said. “I knew I wanted to do something on this scale, but I didn’t want to do it alone. This takes so much more in terms of publicity, planning and producing.”

The chosen venue is modest in size by design, seating about 90 in a café-style setting with appetizers and a full bar. Audiences are encouraged to arrive early (doors open 30 minutes before each performance), order a drink and have a bite to eat, just like folks would have done 50, 60, even 80 years ago.

With a live jazz trio as accompaniment, Hetherington and Richter want to transport audiences back to the golden age of tap, when you might’ve seen someone like a young Sammy Davis Jr. hoofing to a live rendition of Sing Sing Sing by Benny Goodman.

In fact, the partners named their new dance company The Lady Hoofers Society.

In tap parlance, “hoofing” refers to an emphasis on the sound of the steps more than a prescribed appearance or visual presentation. That is, it’s more juke joint or street corner than Broadway.

“The difference with hoofing is you’re making music (with your steps),” Hetherington said.

“A lot of people refer to tap as it’s like you’re having a conversation. That’s the artistic metaphor,” Richter said.

Philadelphia pianist John Stenger will join New Yorkers Paul Carlon on tenor sax and Paul Gehman on standup bass for Too Darn Hot! The music will include classic jazz selections and a few newer tunes by artists like the late Grammy-winner Amy Winehouse.

Hetherington and Richter will dance solos, duets and ensemble numbers with some of Richter’s most-accomplished teenage students.

Some of the routines will be choreographed and others improvised, making for a structured yet organic evening of entertainment.

If nothing else, and in keeping with the Fringe, it will be different.

“I don’t think you’d see a large-scale production with a lot of female tap dancers. We’re not the only ones doing it, but we’re certainly the only ones doing it in Philadelphia,” Richter said.

“The Fringe is more esoteric, and we’re definitely bringing something different.” ••

For information about “Too Darn Hot!” visit www.tapintothefringe.wordpress.com. For general information about Philly Fringe, visit www.livearts-fringe.org or call 215–413–1318.

Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or bkenny@bsmphilly.com

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