Arts & Entertainment

Behind the scenes of ‘STOMP’ with cast member Declan Hayden

Hayden discusses the ins and outs of performing the famous show on a national tour and the significance of body percussion.

The world-renowned show “STOMP” is currently performing a national tour around the U.S., with a stop in Olympia Feb 20 and 21. Perhaps you’ve heard of their famous tap dancing, broom sweeping moves? The dance and percussion event has been performed for 29 years and is now continuing their journey for another leg.  

Declan Hayden has been performing in the show for three years. Originally from Cincinnati, OH, he wanted to pursue a career in music and performance. After graduating in 2020 from University of Cincinnati with a BM in Percussion Performance and Music Education, he decided to audition for a show he had never seen before, “STOMP.” 

I sat down with Hayden for an interview ahead of the Olympia shows. 

Q. So Declan, how did you become a part of STOMP? Was it something that you always dreamed of being a part of? 

A. No, actually. I had never seen it and decided to audition for it. I went to a MasterClass seminar where the cast was teaching to a group of people. I had never heard of STOMP and thought the class was really interesting. Three years later I heard that they were holding auditions for the cast. Even though I had never seen the show I remembered the class and decided to give it a shot. It really worked out for me, and I got the role. It was the first and only professional audition I’ve ever done in my life. 

Q. It seems like there is something so unique and universal about drumming. If you look at almost any culture, there is a version of drumming there in some form. Japanese Taiko, Native American drumming for ceremonies. Would you agree that’s why it’s so popular and is easy for people to connect to? 

A. Absolutely. I do agree. I think that drumming and singing are in tandem. Specifically, body percussion is something really intertwined in our show. Hitting our knees, clapping or tap dancing. I think what’s cool about our show is that we don’t use any real musical instruments. We play on garbage cans and broom sticks and cleaning supplies. The idea that you can play music on anything around you is a very universal concept. It does harken back to something ancient. We aren’t building things; we’re using our environment and playing with it. 

Q. How has touring affected your perception of life? You guys have toured around the country so I imagine you must meet really cool interesting people. 

A. I’ve done 33 states, and it is pretty eye-opening for sure. I’ve lived in Cincinnati my whole life before this and only left the country maybe twice. This was a very life-changing experience. I’m very thankful and blessed to have been able to see these parts of the United States. Everyone is super polite in the Midwest. The Pacific Northwest is absolutely beautiful. Florida is a great place to go to. My perception has shifted and made me very thankful for everything I’ve gotten to do and be a part of. 

Declan Hayden performing in “STOMP.” Photo courtesy of Catherine Major.

Q. What are some struggles that you’ve faced as a cast member of ‘STOMP’ that people wouldn’t know about? 

A. It can be very grueling on you mentally and psychically. Generally, we have the summers off, but our tours are about 9-10 months long. When we travel, we don’t typically get to stay and explore the city that we’re in. We are lucky that we get more breaks than other events because we’ve been on the road for so long. But it’s very draining physically. My body can’t process meat anymore with all of the cardio that we do so I’ve had to cut that out. Some cast members are on much more strict and rigorous diets. You have to be in good shape to be able to stay on top and do your job. It requires a lot of you and if you’re not fully committed it can take a toll on you. 

Q. What would you call this form of music? It incorporates a lot from dancing, special movements and sound. 

A. I usually call it body percussion. But since I am a musician, I don’t feel as though I can teach others how to dance. There are professional dancers here who have had a very thorough specific type of training that is different than the one I have had. The language that their body feels and interprets things is different than how musicians interpret things. For example, time is really important to musicians, whereas space is important to dancers. Before I was a part of “STOMP” I was a private teacher for music in college. The way I see it, I called it “body percussion” because of everything that it encompasses. I really enjoyed it and found the high school students I was teaching very receptive of it. 

Q. Do you see this artform dying or expanding? What challenges does it face? 

A. It’s such a big umbrella term. I think a lot of people would say that “STOMP” is the end all be all, so to speak, for body percussion because it’s semi-full-time work in the arts. It’s easier to get part-time work than full-time work so it’s really hard to say. In my line of work, it’s much easier to get teaching work than performing work. So I can’t really speak to the longevity of the show. It could close tomorrow for all I know, but in terms of body percussion, I see it in a lot of forms. There are a lot of tap dancers that I’ve worked with who have taken body percussion classes when they were growing up. I’ve never really studied it and am not really able to say where it will be in 20 years. I just show up and talk to other drummers, how they might do this thing that isn’t exactly drumming but relates to drumming in some way. 

Q. What would you say to UWT students and college-age people can take away from “STOMP”? 

A. It’s really funny. I don’t think that came across in this interview because I am an artist and there are a lot of things that I care about musically and theatrically. But “STOMP” is hilarious, and it’s mostly a comedy. We play really intricate and fun music that anyone can listen to. Our performers are so talented and move their bodies in all kinds of creative ways you can imagine. It’s a unique show that doesn’t compare to other live events. There’s lots of improvise that people don’t know about so it’s worth seeing every time. 

“STOMP” is playing at the Washington Center in Olympia Feb 20 and 21. Tickets can be purchased here: