Brenda Bufalino, Barbara Duffy and Tony Waag at the 2013 Tap City Awards

The love in the room was palpable on Tuesday night at The American Tap Dance Foundation’s Thirteenth Annual Tap City Awards, held at Bruno Walter Auditorium at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Michela Marino Lerman nearly broke down, as she talked about what the late Buster Brown had meant to her and accepted the Tap Dance Hall of Fame Award on his behalf. It was all about the music for him, she said, and how a dancer relates to it. And it was all about the love. If anyone in the audience had never known Brown, she said she could share some of that with them. But she wished he was there himself to accept the award, to hold her hand and to dance.

With Carson Murphy, Nicholas Young, Andre Imanishi, Warren Craft and Kazu Kumagai, Lerman hoofed to her Suite Buster, choreographed to the jazz standards that Brown loved. She later reflected on eating with him late one night after the tap jam at Swing 46, only to see him fall asleep, one foot still tapping out the rhythms in his dreams on the diner floor.

Dean Diggins accepted the Tap Dance Hall of Fame Award for the late Paul Draper, and after Drika Overton and Gay Nardone performed Draper’s precise, genteel choreography in Tea for Two, Diggins said, “The thing about that is it looks easy, but it’s really hard.”

He’d studied with Draper in the ’50s and was amazed by his ability to combine tap with classical works by composers like Debussy, and incorporate ballet technique into class.

Overton and Nardone later performed Diggins’ piece, Goldberg Variations, and presented him with the Hoofer Award. He visited their Portsmouth, NH, studio after the end of his 40-year performance career and changed their lives forever—they had no idea who he was at the time. An archival clip showed him performing a speedy precision tap number on “The Ed Sullivan Show” with the Mattison Trio. The other trio members, Guy Tanno and Dorothy Matthews, stood up from their seats for a standing ovation.

Dance historian Sally Sommer accepted a Tap Preservation Award for the late jazz dance film historian Ernie Smith and was given one, herself, by Constance Valis Hill, who was grateful to Sommer for raising Hill’s own writing to another level. ATDF director Tony Waag also gave Courtney Runft the Toe Knee Award, which goes to “those who have selflessly supported the ATDF and Tap City through thick and thin.”

To close out the night, Barbara Duffy accepted the second Hoofer Award from Brenda Bufalino, who said Duffy could take Bufalino’s choreography out of the air and make it so clear that Bufalino would have to try hard to mess it up again. Duffy’s company (plus Craft, a super-sped Kumagai and a fiercely hitting Michelle Dorrance) jammed to Duffy’s In The Groove to bring it all home, while tap luminaries Dianne Walker and Savion Glover shouted their approval from the audience.

Photo by Amanda Gentile, courtesy ATDF

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