Math teacher Leah Ulloa (left) and her dance troupe, The Tapitalists, performed at the Echo Park Rising Festival in September and are currently anticipating a series of their own shows this month at the Fremont Centre Theatre. “It’s getting to be a little stressful as we’re rehearsing for the show,” Ulloa said, “but I’m looking forward to it.”

Tap dancing: Ulloa’s rejuvenating outlet

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Rhythmic taps echo around the room as math teacher Leah Ulloa moves to the beat of the music. With every tap, her burdens lessen and a smile begins to appear on her face. After a long day in the classroom, it is exactly what she needs.

Throughout her life, Ulloa has practiced tap among other dance variations as a child, joined her high school cheer team, and even attended Zumba classes as an adult. 

“[When you tap dance] as a child, there’s just something about your feet and making noises that brings happiness,” Ulloa said. “I think [that feeling] had a connection to me, [and] I felt like maybe something was missing. When [I came] back to it, it fulfilled something in me.”

Partially motivated by her experiences dancing as a child, Ulloa signed up for tap dancing classes in the summer of 2017. Ever since then, she has been attending classes twice a week while also performing at various gigs with her dance troupe, The Tapitalists.

“I went to New York a couple of years ago [and] was listening to a jazz performance,” Ulloa said. “They had a tap dancer in the group and after watching, I [felt] like I really needed to get back into tap dancing again because it made me feel so happy.”

Ulloa finds immense relief and pleasure in dancing, being thrilled to have found a community and hobby that allow her to remain expressive. 

“It’s a good balance between work and [my] personal life,” Ulloa said. “If you have frustrations, you can literally stomp them out of your body. On days that I’m really tired, I find that the tapping is even more fulfilling because you can leave all the tiredness and get everything out of your system.”

While she danced, overthinking posed a prominent challenge to Ulloa, as her head would often “get in the way” of what her feet want to do. However, she has learned to confront and manage these troubles.

“Sometimes I get stuck in my head too much [while practicing] and I’ll doubt myself,” Ulloa said, “[but] I had an opportunity to meet Savion Glover, one of the most iconic tap dancers and a [huge] inspiration of mine. He gave me advice to get out of my head and let my feet do what they want to do. After hearing that, it moved a road block out of the way, and [I realized] not to force things.”

Aside from the comfort and valuable lessons dancing brings to her, Ulloa has also made meaningful connections with other dancers. They created traditions of eating dinner every Wednesday before their classes.

“I really like going for the dancing but [definitely] also for the friendships,” Ulloa said. “I’ve made some really strong friendships with the other women I dance with—they’re my best friends. The community and space just feels very special and safe.”

With the myriad of appeals tap dancing has to offer, Ulloa has no intentions of stopping anytime soon, especially as she prepares for several upcoming shows with her group.

“Tap dancing is a part of me now,” Ulloa said. “What I love about it is that you can continue to do it your whole life. In order to stay happy, healthy, sane, and balanced, you’ve got to have a hobby—an outlet, something that you really enjoy. It’s never too late to find that thing [and] start learning something new.”

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