Marshall Davis Jr.'s introduction to tap dance began at 10 years old at African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, where his father is director, in Miami, Florida. Training began in sneakers and dress shoes that Davis Jr. did his best to get sound out of. "My father was reluctant to invest in tap shoes, because he thought it was likely I would change my mind about dancing," he says. But it didn't take long before Davis Jr.'s passion for tap became undeniable, and his father bought him his first pair of tap shoes. Just one year later, Davis Jr. became the 1989 Florida winner for the Tri-Star Pictures Tap Day contest, a promotion for the movie Tap, starring Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr. Through that experience, a new tap-dancing future was opened.
Savion Glover is one of the biggest names in the dance world, and perhaps the biggest in the tap world. The trailblazing hoofer's hard-hitting, rhythmically intricate style has fundamentally altered the tap landscape.
Glover is also a master teacher. But during his many years on the scene, he's never appeared regularly at a major dance convention. That is, until this season: Glover is now teaching at JUMP Dance Convention, scheduled to appear at approximately 15 more cities on its 2019–2020 tour.
We talked with JUMP director Mike Minery, himself a gifted hoofer, about working with a living legend—and how Glover is already changing the convention class game.
How did Savion come on board at JUMP?<p><strong></strong>Tap is my forte, and Gil Stroming, the convention's owner, is a tapper, too. Both of us just idolized Savion growing up, because he completely revolutionized tap dancing. The style we do today, you can trace a lot of it back to Savion's Broadway show from the '90s, <em><a href="https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-production/bring-in-da-noise-bring-in-da-funk-4789" target="_blank">Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk</a>. </em> I used to drive<em> anywhere</em> to take his class. For ages, Gil and I had talked about how amazing it'd be to have him on the faculty. We pursued him for a few years, and finally the scheduling worked out. </p>
What classes is he teaching?<p>He's doing a three-hour "Savion experience" on Friday nights, made up of three classes: one for the teachers, one for the younger dancers, and then an advanced class for the 15-and-up group. He doesn't approach teaching, especially at convention, like anyone else I've seen. Which in a way I expected, because, you know, he's Savion! But also, he's not really immersed in today's convention culture. So it's refreshing to watch him work without any predetermined ideas of what that class should look like. </p>
How are his classes different from your average convention class?<p> Most convention tap classes are very content- and step-driven, with the students learning a combination to a specific piece of music. The end goal is to train the dancers in tap vocabulary. Savion's approach is, <em>Oh, you guys know the steps already</em>. He doesn't want to show you a combo the way he'd do it; he wants you to do what <em>you</em> do. It's a more intellectual experience, one that encourages you to think on your own, instead of him telling you what he wants. There's a lot of dance history involved, too. In one class, he was telling the kids, "Repeat after me: In Slyde We Trust," referring to Jimmy Slyde. </p>
How have the students been responding to him?<p> It's funny, because I've looked up to Savion for 25 years, so I feel like one of the parents on the sideline—I don't want my kids to disappoint him!<em> </em>But they've been great. He has such an aura about him, and the dancers have really responded to that. He wants everyone to fully understand what he's saying, so he won't let anyone off the hook, and all the students have risen to the challenge. I think they understand that when he's singling out someone who's struggling, he's actually using them as a tool to help teach the lesson. </p>
How does Savion's work fit into your larger mission for the convention?<p>I mean, if you can get Savion, you get Savion! He has so much to offer. We want the best teachers in the world in each genre, and Savion is exactly that.</p>
The celebration of tap dance legend Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's birthday comes each year May 25, and the dance world goes wild for it! Since 1989 the day has been celebrated by tap lovers everywhere through music, movement and festivals.
Interested in joining the party this year? Here's one special way to celebrate NTDD in 2019.
Do you know how to teach this classic tap rhythm?
Susan Hebach and Margaret Morrison believe it's important to get your beginning tappers moving through space with their flaps. An easy way to do this is with a traveling flap-heel. Remember to lift the knee and bring the leg with you as you travel forward.
The next phase? Take away the heel and replace it with a clap—this helps students develop enough foot strength and control to balance on the ball of the foot.
The double time-step is a foundational tap step that Denise Caston says often pops up in Broadway auditions. In fact, auditionees are frequently asked to demonstrate the time-step one by one. "Choreographers want to know: Can you learn it quickly? Can you keep time? Can you stylize it while doing both of those things? And can you sell it?'" she says. Caston constantly reminds her students to keep their weight slightly forward throughout the step, having them check their posture in the mirror.
Broadway choreographer Danny Daniels passed away on July 7 in Santa Monica, California, at age 92. Daniels was known for his choreography in musicals, such as Walking Happy, Annie Get Your Gun and The Tap Dance Kid, for which he won the 1984 Tony Award for best choreography.
Tomorrow night, L.A.'s fiercest lady hoofers are lighting up the stage at the Ford Amphitheater in Hollywood. Chloé's Arnold's Syncopated Ladies present Syncopated Ladies: Live Concert—a one-night-only tap-dance extravaganza.