Sterling Harris accepts The Lorna Strassler Award for Student Excellence at Jacob's Pillow. He smiles and speaks into a microphone while holding a check and certificate.

Sterling Harris is the artistic associate with the Chicago Tap Theatre and a company member with M.A.D.D. Rhythms (Making a Difference Dancing Rhythms). Harris, originally from Chicago, Illinois, was a dancer in The School at Jacob’s Pillow 2021 Tap Performance Ensemble. Read our conversation with Harris below.

Could you tell us a little bit about your personal dance history?

I started tap when I was around seven. I started a lot of things at the same time: I played an instrument, I danced, and I sang at the same time, but tap has been the one thing that always stuck around. I went to a small studio called Studio One in Chicago, and then when I went to Northwestern for undergrad I joined a group there called Tonik Tap. So there’s always just been this continuation. I like to say tap followed me and I entertained it until eventually it got to a point where I don’t think that I could live without doing this thing.”

What did it mean to you to attend Jacob’s Pillow?

“Having the opportunity to attend The Pillow meant everything, even in a way I didn’t fully understand yet when I applied. You understand that it’s this hub for all things dance in this beautiful community and this support system, but when you get here you get to actually experience it and become a part of it, and so then it becomes a part of you and you take that on with you as you go on. I think being a part of The School here at Jacob’s Pillow gave me a lot of confidence, and it gave me a lot of tools that I felt I needed to continue on this journey as an artist.”

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at The School?

Sterling Harris, wearing tap shoes, balances on his toes and raises his arms above his head. 10 dancers look on.
In class with Derick Grant

“It’s probably a full day we had, just a great day of classes. I believe we had Improv in the morning led by Derick Grant who was one of our faculty here, and it was just a very emotional type of a class, just in that we really got to share what the dance meant to us. It also was a terrible rainstorm in the middle of the day, and our cohort was split in two and we were rehearsing in two separate spaces. Independently of each other, when the rain happened, we took the rehearsals outside and so we had these beautiful jams outside, drenched in the rain and then one of the other cohorts ran over to us and it turned out we were doing the same thing, so we had this really big outside, drenched, tired, but beautiful releasing of energy.”

Many School alumni share that the friends they made at the Pillow are the people they keep in contact with for the rest of their careers. Do you still keep in contact with your fellow Tap dancers? 

“Absolutely. From the very first day that I came to the Pillow, we all got in Sommers [Studio] and we just had a little informal jam and that was our introduction to each other. From that moment on, it felt like we had known each other forever. It’s only been a year since my time here, but it feels like the bonds that we have date way back. So yes, I do still keep in contact with everyone from my cohort and I love them dearly.”

What are the lessons and experiences from Jacob’s Pillow that you have taken with you?

“A major thing that I got here from my time at the Pillow is the support that you receive. It builds your confidence to know that ‘oh, this thing that I love to do, I can actually do this. People are actually supporting me to do that.’ And so, taking that confidence from this experience has meant a lot to me moving forward, just to know that I am on the right path. I am doing something that is worthwhile and valuable and I should continue to do it.”

Sterling Harris and 2 other dancers smile while tap dancing.
Performing in the Perles Family Studio

What have you been up to since leaving The School at Jacob’s Pillow?

“A lot of tapping! Since my time here at the Pillow I’ve dug even deeper somehow into the dance and finding ways to express my own artistic voice. Another major concept that I got was how do I get back to the artform of tap dance and how do I build it up to continue to bring it in front of new audiences to show folks that we’re still here, we’re still jamming, and it’s something that everyone can participate in. More specifically, since my time here at the Pillow I have been performing in Chicago. I most recently understudied with Music From The Sole, which is Leonard Sandoval’s company, so hopefully I get to do more work with them soon. I just got promoted to the role of Artistic Associate with the Chicago Tap Theatre and so I am planning a show that I will be directing in June of next year.”

You come from a scientific background, as well as a dance background. How do you see dance and science connecting?

“I graduated with a B.A. in neuroscience. Right about that time I was in this headspace of I can’t leave dance right now. So I didn’t end up going straight to med school and I dug deeper into the dance route for right now and hopefully they’ll meet a little bit down the line. Going through this process and being in different rehearsal processes and dancing with different folks, I feel like there’s some sort of special connection that’s formed when you’re constantly sharing the space with someone, sharing yourself with someone, and sharing ideas and bouncing them back and forth. I feel like it builds a certain bond and different connections there. I don’t know exactly how those two connect but it’s something I feel in my heart is a thing and I’m just trying to figure that out.

Coming back a year later, what does it mean to you to win this award?

“It’s been an amazing experience to be back here at the Pillow. Although it was only a year ago, it’s nice to see that things have changed and certain things have stayed the same. Finding out about this award, it’s hard to even describe the honor that it is. As soon as you leave the Pillow, my brain was like “Ok, how do I get back? In what way can I get back to this experience?”

Created by Emma Garber. Published August 2022.