Homage to Tap
Martha Graham wrote that a dancer dies two deaths, the first when she stops dancing. Martha stopped in 1965 after The Witch of Endor. She was 75. Merce Cunningham did not stop. I saw a dance in which he came onstage, hung onto a barre and kind of gestured. Sad, but it was Merce, and no one complained.
I lack such a deep drive although Heaven knows I loved dancing. Why else do it, when I know I could have made more money at just about anything else? The only thing that compares to dancing is flying. In basic flight training, U.S. Army Air Corps, 1944, I hated Sundays because we didn’t fly.
When I took my first dance lesson, Martha Graham Studio, September, 1945, I realized that dancing was like flying, only deeper in your bones, so quit college, spurned a job offer to be a TV cameraman (a new field, they figured if you could fly a bomber you could run a camera) and became a dancer. That’s when my mother told me she’d considered sending me to ballet classes, but decided I wouldn’t like it, so gave me violin lessons. I wish she’d thought of tap dancing.
If I’d been a tapper when I joined the Graham troupe, I know Martha would have found a way to slip tap into one of her dances, like she put Nina Fonarov en pointe as the Fairy Queen in Letter to the World. If I’d been a tapper, modern dance might have more tap in it to this day! Ahh, well.
After I started dancing I took tap with Paul Draper, Jerry Ames, Jack Stanley, and Carlos, but never became the tapper I wanted to be. Elizabeth [photo above] began in ballet but studied tap with Bob Audy and got pretty good. I was good enough at faking to be her partner in Dancing on Air with Fred Astaire. We took our routines off the screen and toured all over the U.S.A. We danced one number, Don’t Monkey With Broadway, for Dancers Over 40. Afterward, Gemze de Lapp said, “I didn’t know you could tap dance!” Her remark made my decade! Ahh, well.
Tap is the only stage form you can do well in old age. Performing with Steve Koplowitz in the Lincoln Center courtyard, we followed the Harlem Senior Tappers, ladies in their 50s, 60s and older. The stage was a six-foot high platform.
“Don’t jes stand there child, help me up the stairs!” cried one. I jumped to, then watched amazed while she shredded the stage. Ahh, well.