Leonardo Sandoval was born in Piracicaba, São Paolo, Brazil. A tap dancer and percussive dancer, Sandoval receives the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Dance for his dynamic choreography that expands the boundaries of tap as a genre. His practice engages elements of Afro Brazilian dance traditions including samba, forró, maracatu, and passinho.
The language of dance
Sandoval’s earliest memories include hearing music in his home. His father was a musician, and Sandoval recalls that even as a toddler, “me and my brothers were always bouncing to music… feeling that pulse and the sound in our bodies.”
At the age of 6, Sandoval’s parents enrolled him in ballet classes. His ballet teacher recognized Sandoval’s natural affinity for rhythm and encouraged his parents to enroll him in a tap dance class. Through tap, Sandoval was able to connect his passion for rhythm and movement, using his body as an instrument to create his own music.
Sandoval continued practicing tap, traveling to cities in Brazil to study with teachers from around the globe. “The first time I [worked] with an American tap dancer from the United States, I didn’t speak any English and they didn’t speak any Portuguese,” he says. “Even so, we found a way to communicate. Dance is definitely a language. You can communicate and have conversations through dance and through rhythm.”
Bustling cities and busking
In 2013, Sandoval made the decision to move to New York. The city that never sleeps provides a constant source of inspiration for Sandoval. “I love a community of people living together very densely… there’s no place like New York for that,” he says. Sandoval finds rhythms in the city’s soundscape: from the clatter and crush of the subway to the wails of sirens and horns.
Sandoval’s plan on arriving in New York was to busk, take classes, and connect with other tap dancers in the city. Sandoval loves the instant response and gratification of busking; seeing and connecting with an audience directly, and contributing to the city’s artistic environment in a raw and accessible way. “It has the ability to change somebody’s day,” he says. “It’s an instant mood shift. You can change the environment.”
In 2013, shortly after arriving in New York, Sandoval connected with Michelle Dorrance, with whom he previously had studied and taught. Dorrance invited Sandoval to join her company, Dorrance Dance; he quickly became a core member, and has danced and toured with the company since.
Roots and reach
As Sandoval grows in his career, he connects more deeply with the roots of tap as an art form that developed among African American people, and with his own roots and heritage as a Black man from Brazil. “I feel deeply connected to tap dance because it’s an African American art form that is born through a history of a lot of painful experiences,” he says. “Even though I am not American, I can deeply relate with the African American diaspora.”
In 2015, Sandoval founded his own company, Music from the Sole, with composer and bassist Gregory Richardson. Music from the Sole is a tap dance and live music company that blurs the line between concert dance and music performance, and celebrates tap’s roots in the African diaspora.