The Pursuit of Tappiness

In honor of Danceworks’ 20th Anniversary, we are sharing 20 stories of individuals who have made an impact on—or who have been impacted by—Danceworks and our programs. This is the first in our series, “20 Years, 20 Stories.”

Amy and Gabi - the early years.
Amy with her daughter Gabi, and a set of dance-themed flash cards.

Many of you know Amy Brinkman-Sustache as the woman who “uses her feet to tap out the rhythms of life,” as Crocker Stephenson said in a Journal Sentinel article on her in 2005. She shares that rhythm with students of all ages and abilities at Danceworks and throughout the city.

What you may not know is that when Danceworks opened its doors in 1992, co-founders Polly Morris and Mary Newton asked Amy to be the Studio Director.

Amy came with experience. She started teaching dance lessons to students in her family kitchen at the age of 10. This prepared her well for what would lie ahead; with Danceworks’ focus on taking the work beyond the studio and theatre and into the community, you never know where you might end up having to teach or perform. In addition to tap, Amy has taught jazz, modern and ballet. She also choreographs.

In the early days, Danceworks produced many independent artists’ concerts, Amy’s work among them. For one of her concerts, Amy hired Sarah Wilbur and other UWM dancers. In 1997 Danceworks Performance Company (DPC) was launched—the new company named by Amy. (Sarah Wilbur became DPC’s first Artistic Director, by the way.)

Amy is responsible for much of what makes Danceworks unique, approachable and successful:

  • When her 3-year-old daughter Gabi started placing tickets for post dinner dance performances beside her parents’ dinner plates, Amy decided it was time for some formal training.  Classes for 3-year-olds were added to the schedule and then eventually our extremely popular Hip Hop classes.
  • When Amy needed something for Gabi to do on days off from school, Danceworks’ School Day Off Workshops entered the scene.
  • When Polly received funding from the NEA for a 50+ Initiative, which brought dance and visual arts to Milwaukee County senior sites, it was Amy who said, “Let’s add 50+ classes to the schedule!”
  • When the idea of the Mad Hot Ballroom program came up, it was Amy who added the very popular Tap component to make Danceworks Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap (MHBT). As our lead Tap teacher, she choreographs all the tap dances, trains the tap teachers and teaches in the program herself.
Amy and Gabi dancing together with DOT.

“As an MHBT faculty member, it’s amazing to see a child who normally feels invisible at school put himself out there, learn something new and gain the confidence to be a leader among his peers,” Amy told me.

It’s perseverance like Amy’s that has made Danceworks what it is today.

“From the beginning, Danceworks’ focus has been on using the arts to strengthen the community and make a difference in someone’s life. Creating, connecting and building have been on our ‘to do list’ every day for 20 years.”

I’m proud to work alongside Amy.

There are many wonderful 20th Anniversary stories to share, and I will be doing that over the coming months. As the only ‘Danceworker’ who was here when the doors opened in 1992 and is still here today, Amy deserves our recognition and applause. Here’s to you, Amy—and here’s to another 20 years of Tappiness!