Nearly 40 years ago, Dianne Walker walked away from her job as a staff child psychologist at Boston University Hospital to become a tap dancer. This month, "Lady Di" will be honored by her peers and tap family at The Big Apple Tap Festival in New York City. "I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment," Walker says. "Deep down inside I want to scream with joy because I feel so excited about what I—and we as a community—have been able to accomplish over these years. I feel really good about where we are as a tap-dance community."
The choice to honor Walker was natural. "Dianne has touched so many people from all over the world with her graceful personality, wonderful technique and ability to teach," Avi Miller, Israeli-born co-director of the festival, says. "She was with us on our board from day one. She helped us when we came to this country and no one knew about us. She reached out and gave us so much support and help and advice."
Walker's accomplishments are many, and, as Miller says, "she's linked directly to the roots of tap. She studied with the greats. She was there when they were alive, so she is a direct link for the younger generations to what the elders of the artform gave to the world." Walker has performed with tap masters Gregory Hines, Jimmy Slyde and her mentor Leon Collins. She was in the Tony Award–winning Black and Blue on Broadway and in Paris, and has won numerous awards, including a 2012 Dance Magazine Award, The Living Treasure Award from Oklahoma City University and The Humanitarian Award from Debbie Allen Dance Academy.
For Walker, this award is particularly sentimental. "It's such an honor to receive an award from people you have worked alongside for years. When they turn to you and say that they want to make an acknowledgement of the contribution you've made to the field, that's a very special award," she says.
The festival includes seven programs for dancers of all ages (preteen, younger teen, older teen and adult) taught by a 30-member star-studded faculty, including Brenda Bufalino, Jason Samuels Smith, Sarah Reich and Andrew Nemr. The classes reach every style and genre of tap. The annual weekend-long festival, produced by Miller and Ofer Ben, draws more than 500 tappers from around the world.
The award ceremony takes place during the participants showcase on Saturday, November 11, at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, emceed by Ray Hesselink with a few surprise guests. Earlier in the day there will a Tap History Talk hosted by Debbi Dee, where faculty, teachers and students will share their stories about Lady Di.
For more: thebigappletapfestival.com