Friday, April 3, 2015

Guest blog: Tap dance is alive and well

Ashlyn Bolton with Savion Glover and
younger sister Emma (left).
Guest blog by Ashlyn Bolton, Patel Conservatory dance student

I was recently fortunate to have the opportunity to witness one of today's tap dance masters, Savion Glover, in performance.

Mr. Glover came to the Straz Center with the touring tap dance production, StePz, which also features fellow tap dancers Marshall Davis, Jr., Robyn Watson, Lisa La Touche, and Sara Savelli.

While in Tampa for the day, the cast of STePz spent time at one of the Patel Conservatory's partners in education, Blake High School, where they hosted an educational talk-back session. Glover spoke about how he first entered the world of dance.

By the age of 7, Glover started dancing at Broadway Dance Center, which was known as Hines-Hatchet Dance Academy at the time. Through his younger years, he was surrounded by tap dance greats such as;  Jimmy Slyde, Gregory Hines, Chuck Green, Lon Chaney, and Lady Dianne Walker to name a few. They were his mentors the, “Balanchine's of the tap world.”

During the talk, Glover was very thoughtful with every word he spoke. Each word was thought out with care and intelligence as he made it clear that the reason he dances is to honor the tap greats throughout history.

Glover gives students a preview demonstration at Blake High School, a Patel
Conservatory community partner.
The cast tap danced in an improv circle, showing musicality, creativity, and a pure love for what they do. Over the past several years, I have had the opportunity to work with one of the cast members, Lisa LaTouche,  at different tap workshops. Seeing one of my mentors/teachers perform that night was very inspiring.

As showtime approached, the audience's excitement grew. The show was magical. Fluidity, style, and spunk graced the stage. There were a few pieces done with miniature staircases, to pay homage to the famous tap staircase dances done throughout history. I automatically think of Shirley Temple and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, singing and dancing together up and down a staircase in the movie The Little Colonel. This famous dance, and duo, is what made me want to start dancing when I was younger. I'm sure that somewhere in the audience there were young kids, in awe, much like I was at their age.

Tap dancers in the audience caught onto one of the “shave-and-a-haircut” rhythm sequences, which Glover executed by gliding down the stairs backwards while scraping the edge of each step with his taps. This phenomenal display of brilliance elicited much excitement from the audience.

Each piece had a certain unique feeling, in music, style, and execution. One of my favorite moments of the night was Glover's solo, performed to the song, "Mr. Bojangles." It gave me chills, as I'm sure it did others. He made it look so effortless, even when his feet moved so fast you couldn't see them moving! No joke!

After the show, I attended a Q&A with the cast. One of the questions asked was, "what is one thing you want the entire world to know about tap dance?" The entire cast agreed that the world needs to “know the history of the dancers [for what they're worth], in their respected level.” As Sarah Savelli put it, "we can't move on into the future without knowing our past." It's sad to say that I've witnessed the majority of my generation having no clue who people like Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr. are. After watching Savion Glover perform in the show and at the school, I truly believe our tap dance legends who have passed on live today through him.

A question asked during the course of the night "what's your favorite tap step?"

Glover  replied, “it's all about the sound, not the step.”

Personally, from a tap dancer's point of view, I feel that that is one of the hardest questions to answer. You get to a point where you've done all the so called "steps" and turn to more of the music you're making.

“Tap dance is music - not just dance,” Glover said. It's an art form, one which shouldn't be overlooked.

Perhaps the most poignant quote from the night, which has stuck with me, was Glover's advice to aspiring dancers to “be an individual, look to the greats for inspiration, and never stop self discovering.”

After hearing that, I definitely felt inspired to get back in the studio to learn more about myself, through the music coming from my feet, because, as Glover put it, “[you], your heartbeat, makes the music.”

For more info on tap classes at the Patel Conservatory, call 813.222.1002 or visit

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