By Deborah Bostock-Kelley
Ashlyn Bolton fell in love at two and half years old. She was instantly enamored with the hypnotic clicks of shiny metal taps. She wanted to be like Shirley Temple and tap down the grand ballroom staircase with the legendary Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Dance became a passion, and she attended Patel Conservatory and grew up in the dance, music, and theatre program.
As a toddler, she became fixated on dance and started dancing with Jayne Spradlin, then added to ballet at Patel Conservatory to her repertoire. While dancing with both Jayne and taking ballet at Patel, she began tap dance and show team with Marcey Rodriguez and then transitioned to taking tap dance under the direction of Beth Caprio at Rhythm & Sole.
At the tender age of twenty, she was given the company’s reins, providing a place for tap dancers to hone and display their skills.
“I feel that there is a great need for tap dance in our area, for youth to see tap dance up on big stages, productions, and shows.”
Fast forward five years, and the 25-year-old is celebrating the fifth anniversary of her family-oriented tap dance company.
Enrollment is by audition, and selected students learn choreography from classical jazz to hip-hop, funk, and musical theatre to preserve this American art form of tap dance. The tap dance ensemble has performed at such places as Walt Disney World, Florida State Fair, Florida Strawberry Festival, Universal Studios, The Hard Rock Hotel, The Big Apple Tap Festival at the Alvin Ailey Theater, and Tap City in NYC.
On December 12 at 2 PM, she and fifteen tap dancers, ages 9 to 25, will enchant the audience performing in LIGHTS, CAMERA, CHRISTMAS! at the Palladium Theatre, 253 5th Ave N in St. Petersburg.
Since September, rehearsing the show, working with many different schedules, Ashlyn has brought together young people from throughout Tampa Bay who have one thing in common: this shared love of tap dance.
Under her expert direction, Amber Marino, Carianna Repp, Carissa Curry, Emma Bolton, Gianna Silvest, Jackson Babanats, Jaylee Grassel, Jennifer Mehlig, Keeley Seymour, Liam Jacobs, Lindsey Boissy, Mary Pope, and Skylar Staczek will join Ashlyn on stage to showcase favorite holiday movies through tap dance.
Ashlyn describes her and her ensemble’s performance as energetic, exciting, and joyful.
“We’re highlighting The Grinch, Polar Express, and Elf the Movie,” Ashlyn said. “There’s definitely a lot of Christmas joy with showstopping numbers, kicklines, big wheels, and big tap dance numbers with musicians and singers. It’s a big production of holiday magic. This is my passion, and I feel very strongly that it’s vital for the area and our community, and my love of tap dance as well.”
Through the many scenes and choreographed tap dance numbers, Ashlyn’s favorite appears in Polar Express. The dancers perform a routine with suitcases and a kickline.
“It’s just a big, fun production number with singing and dancing and all the pizzazz. We get to perform like nobody’s watching and lay it all on the stage.”
Ashlyn said the theme of her show actually comes from a quote from The Grinch, that Christmas is about so much more than giving and getting gifts, but togetherness and community, and giving back to those in need.
“I feel our show is a message of community and hope,” she said. “Everyone should come to see the Lights, Camera, Christmas! – kids, adults, elderly – everyone should come to see us.”
Her blog reads, “Be a Voice, Not an Echo.”
Like her big sister, younger sister Emma Bolton is not your typical teen. Whereas many teens are more interested in how many likes they get on TikTok, Emma’s life’s mission has been about how she can make the world a better place, whether fixing our planet and giving back to those less fortunate.
In September, for World Water Monitoring Day, she went to her local elementary school and gave a presentation on water, showing how she monitored water monthly by demonstrating, using a model to show pollution runoff. She and the students made chicken wire sea creatures filled with trash to show the impact on sea life. The “Not Just Top Soil” art project is on display at the Uptown Gallery in Brooksville City Hall, along with her presentation information.
When she’s not testing water, dancing in her sister’s company, dancing six days a week at Patel Conservatory’s ballet program, or dancing in Aaron Tolson’s Speaking in Taps, you’ll find her doing something special for kids. Emma is about creating those small positive ripples that make a long-term impact.
At eight years old, she was volunteering with her family at Metropolitan Ministries. She was so impacted that she donated her tenth birthday, the presents, and the party itself to celebrate with underprivileged children at the nonprofit. Two years later, she collected funds for her birthday for Water for South Sudan.
Now sixteen, Emma founded Emma’s Seeds of Kindness on Facebook on World Kindness Day in 2018 to coordinate her kindness activities and events. Currently, she is collecting toys and nonperishables for Metropolitan Ministries at her sister’s show. She partnered with Straz and had a collection box at Patel’s The Little Match Girl on December 2-4. Emma and her mom will also pick up local donations if someone is unable to go to those locations. They just need to reach out to her on her Facebook.
“I do monthly giveaways and donation collections on Emma’s Seeds of Kindness on Facebook. My goal is to encourage and inspire people of all ages to come together through acts of kindness and education, to make the world a better place,” she said and offered her favorite quote. “No small act of kindness is ever wasted.”
LIGHTS, CAMERA, CHRISTMAS! is 2 PM on December 12 at Palladium Theatre, 253 5th Ave N in St. Petersburg. Doors open at 1:30 PM. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10. Masks are required. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit tampabaytapdance.com. Additional upcoming shows include Wiregrass Mall and Christmas Lane in December. Check their social media for the latest updates.
To see how you can help or donate toys or nonperishable food items to Emma’s Seeds of Kindness, visit facebook.com/EmmasSeedsOfKindness or email firstname.lastname@example.org.