In America, we've got a holiday for everyone and everything. And in case you didn't know, May 25 is, by governmental decree, National Tap Dance Day. It has been so since a joint resolution was passed in Congress back in 1989. And what better day to celebrate tap dance, anyway, than on the birth date of rubber-legged Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, one of the genre's most glorious greats?
Colorado's own tap community has, in the past, kept its observance more or less to itself, though it is home to the Boulder-based International Tap Association, originally formed in 1987 in conjunction with the Colorado Dance Festival. This year the organization is stepping up efforts to encourage public awareness of tap dance by hosting Tap Jamboree 2001, a daylong tap showcase at FlatIron Crossing mall.
"We're mainly just doing it to provide a forum in which tap dancers can celebrate the day," says ITA president Ron Terrell, who's also the event's primary organizer. "We want to promote the understanding, presentation and development of tap dance as an art form, like ballet. We don't want that to die." His teacher at Boulder's Pearl Street Studio, professional tapper Ellie Sciarra, concurs: Like jazz, she notes, tap is "indigenous to America. It's an artform that grew up here," and therefore, deserves a place in history.
Terrell himself is a latecomer to tap (he didn't start learning until 1995, when he retired at the age of 62), though he acknowledges that he always wanted to do it, from the time he was a kid whose family couldn't afford the lessons. His original inspiration? "Fred Astaire," he announces simply. "I thought he was so-o-ocool." Not a bad place to start.
Once into it, Terrell was surprised to see how many adults shared his love of the dance style. "I thought I'd be in class with a bunch of little kids," he says of his first lessons. But he quickly found out that wasn't the case. In fact, Sciarra says she doesn't even work with kids at all, and she's a busy lady.
Asked if he's Sciarra's prize student, Terrell is straightforwardly modest. "No. But I'm her oldest student; I'll be seventy next year." Which is all the more reason to limber up, he adds: "One thing nice about it is you never say to yourself that you're not as good as you used to be. You just keep getting better."
To prove that point, ITA will trot out 54 different tap acts from dance studios throughout the region for Friday's showcase, featuring dancers ranging in age from eleven to eighty. It begins at 11 a.m. with a demonstration by Terrell's senior students and ends with a Shim Sham workshop and an exuberant Tap Jam -- "like a jazz session where musicians go up on stage and get three or four bars," Terrell explains -- between 7 and 8 p.m. "We'll invite shoppers out on the floor and introduce them to the art form, with whatever they've got on," he says. "It doesn't make any difference." Sciarra, whose second-, third- and fourth-level students perform in the finale, says it'll be worth the wait: "It really takes tap out of its usual context. There's nothing soft-shoe about it."
Aside from that opportunity to venture onto the cutting edge, why should the non-tap-dancing public come? Well, first of all, you can shop in between numbers, a favorite pastime over the long Memorial Day weekend. And second, as Sciarra points out, "In tap, it's rare to see live anything." But mainly, Terrell intimates, it could give you a new lease on life: "You don't live to tap," he says, quoting a friend. "You tap to live."