How Chloé Arnold Is Shaping the Future of Underserved Youth Through Tap
February 21, 2024

Emmy-nominated choreographer Chloé Arnold’s career has been (and continues to be) groundbreaking. But it’s her outreach work that’s really turning heads these days.In November 2023 she was named one of the Black Future Makers through AT&T’s “Dream in Black” program which honors creators who are, “making a significant impact and advancing culture at large.” The $25,000 grant she received from AT&T supports the launch of her fifth after-school program, Tap into Life, which brings free tap dance lessons to Black children across the U.S. who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them.

Arnold began training in ballet, tap, and jazz when she was 6 years old. At 9, she auditioned for The National Tap Ensemble’s junior company. “I made it into the company on probation,” Arnold says. “I had three months to get better if I wanted to stay. That ended up being great for me because I worked really hard on my technique.” While there, she trained simultaneously in master classes with legends like Eddie Brown, Buster Brown, Harriet Browne, and LaVaughn Robinson. Two years later, DC tap educator Toni Lombre approached Arnold about joining her program, Taps & Company. “Toni was a transformative teacher for me,” she says. “She took my tap skills and honed my ability to perform. She’d been on Broadway herself, and required that we take jazz, modern, and ballet.” The best part? The group just happened to be an all-female tap company.

In an effort to help Arnold reach her full potential, Lombre encouraged her to audition for Debbie Allen’s production Brothers of the Knight, a children’s musical presented at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. “You cannot quantify the degree to which I was inspired by Debbie Allen,” Arnold says. “I was around this renaissance woman who could show us how to be excellent and tap into greatness without any limits. She has been with me as a force ever since. Whether it’s the voice in my head or I have a privilege of actually collaborating with her, she is always there.” 

Chloé and Maud Arnold with Debbie Allen. Photo courtesy Chloé Arnold.

After graduating high school, Arnold studied film at Columbia University. In the afternoons and evenings after class, she would continue her dance training at studios like Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway, and attend jam sessions at jazz clubs around New York City. She had her heart set on Broadway but quickly discovered that there were very few shows that were casting tap dancers of her caliber, and even fewer that were casting women of color. “There were really no shows for people who looked like me and had the skills I had,” she says. In response to these concerns, Allen encouraged Arnold to chart her own path. Arnold recalls Allen saying, “Child, you don’t need to get into that space. Make your own space.” So, she moved to Los Angeles, where she became the managing producer for Debbie Allen Dance Academy and founded her own company, Syncopated Ladies, which is an all-female tap ensemble reminiscent of her days in Lombre’s Taps & Company. “Life is very beautiful and ironic,” she says of the foreshadowing. Allen also gave Arnold’s sister Maud a full scholarship to train at her school, which eventually led to Maud joining Arnold in bringing tap to the world through film, television, the stage, and more.

Since then, the sisters have gone on to create The Chloé and Maud Foundation, under which they produce the largest tap festival in the world, DC Tap Fest, which brings tap to children in underserved communities. “I grew up in an inner city, and the only reason we had a great education was because all the programming we did provided scholarships. So when Maud and I started to earn income as dancers, the first thing we wanted to do was create opportunities for kids like us.” So far, the foundation offers programming in Los Angeles, New York, Brazil, and Cameroon. “It’s not about whether [the kids] become tap dancers or not,” she says. “It’s about tapping into their life source, loving themselves, and knowing they have allies.”

Here Arnold shares her thoughts on her auspicious award, the impact of tap dance globally, her advice for aspiring tap dancers, and more. 

On being named a 2023 Black Future Maker through AT&T’s Dream in Black program: “It means a lot to me. Maud and I initially built our whole business (bringing tap to the world through TV films, live stage concerts, and music) by going into debt and praying we could get out of it. This capital award is so helpful after doing things on our own for such a long time. We are thankful to AT&T for investing in our work. It feels amazing to be seen and for someone to say our work is creating a positive impact on the future.”

On the impact of tap dance: “Tap is rhythm, and rhythm is the essence of humanity. We have a heartbeat, and that heartbeat is rhythm. There is rhythm in everything. I went to Africa this summer, and it was amazing to see the roots of tap. We have a language that unifies people around the world. It can create peace, love, family, and community in an instant. In one week dancing in Cameroon, I added a family of over 100 people to my life.”

Chloé and Maud Arnold. Photo by Lee Gumbs Photography, Courtesy SILLAR Management.

On the importance of face-to-face outreach: “The first time I danced with Gregory Hines he said, ‘Chloé , you inspire me.’ Those words have carried me through a lifetime. They are part of my foundation as I face challenges, and I wouldn’t have heard them if I didn’t get to work with him face to face. My hope, as I tour with Syncopated Ladies, is that I can say something that will carry someone to where they need to go in this life too.”

Her advice for aspiring professional dancers: “Identify your purpose and know your ‘why’ so when you get the ‘no’s or the trolls, nothing is able to take you off course. Believe in yourself, be a great human being, prioritize character over talent, and never give up. What you want will not arrive the moment you want it, but if you continue to press forward, it will come right on time. For many years Maud and I have been hoping to get the support AT&T has just now given us. It came right on time and I am thankful for that.”

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