“Excuse me, we have a spangamangaleser here,” yelled Ted Levy. This was one among many memorable commands I heard at the completely sold out Skip Cunningham Tap Experience. Instead of venturing to the beach on Memorial Day weekend, I, and several other tap enthusiasts gathered at Nola studios in NYC to honor Mr. Cunningham and celebrate National Tap Dance Day with an exciting series of events.
I arrived to the Tradition in Tap workshop early Saturday morning, tap shoes and towel in hand. No better way to start than with Avi Miller’s unrelenting puns and super up-beat 20 minute warm-up. If that didn’t wake me up, then Shea Sullivan’s shiny heels and forward shuffles sure did! By 10:45 I was trying to keep up with Ayodele Casel’s ridiculously fast feet.
After a quick break for lunch, I was ready to take a lesson from Ted Levy. So what’s a spangamanganeser? It’s someone who verbally fakes the steps. That’s right: One who makes the wrong sounds in her mouth. Ted Levy does a step. “Now say it.” We all start in, “Hit hop step brush brush step.” We passed this time. “Now clap it.” Phew. Now we’re ready to dance. So why is Ted Levy such a stickler for talking and clapping? It turns out that it’s because your face tells your feet what to do and if you fake the words, then your feet will fake it, too!
That night, Germaine Salsberg hosted a superb Participants Showcase at the Manhattan Movement Arts Center. It began with Salsberg’s graceful Les Femmes dancers performing Taking the A Train. You might want to keep your eyes out for Jiah Knowll, who stunned the audience with his rhythm, clarity, and speed. The Detroit Tap Repertory also had some serious talent. And an impromptu performance by Jason Samuels-Smith and two friends brought the house down with their mad improvisation skills.
Lainie Munro’s awesome musical theatre style class Sunday morning had me shimmying and snapping to showtunes. By 11:30 am I was double scuffling faster than I thought possible as Dr. Spencer and Logan Miller taught us a piece from the Four Step Brothers’ old repertoire. In addition to the fast feet, I finally learned how to slide. Yes! After lunch I learned a lot about Skip Cunningham’s career during the Tap History Talk, including the fact that his teacher back in Chicago was actually the rival of Ted Levy’s first teacher! This almost led to a heated hoofin’ match, but Jason Samuels- Smith held Ted Levy back. After my history lesson, Robert Reed, in a fabulous blue suit and matching taps broke it down so everyone could master his fierce combination.
That night I went to the FIT auditorium for the annual Tap Extravaganza to see Andrew Nemr’s tribute to Bill Robinson and Mable Lee’s silver stilettos. Harold Cromer brushed us up on our musical theatre history as he and a group of very talented dancers grooved to tunes from West Side Story and other classics. Dr. Prince Spencer and Ms. Mercedes Ellington were honored with the Flo-Bert Award. Yvette Glover stunned the audience with her deep angelic voice, a tribute to Ellington. The show closed with none other than the tiny and talented Ebony and Jeremiah Edwards; yes Edwards, as in related to the amazing Omar and Dormeshia!
Germaine Salsberg’s class on Monday morning was the perfect way to start the day. Salsberg knows how to teach, starting slow and sneakily pumping up the speed. Afterward I made my way into a class taught by the dynamic duo, Avi Miller and Ofer Ben, which after flapping, clapping, jumping, and turning at light speed, left me feeling like I had just run a marathon and was without toes. An awesome video presentation led by Professor Hank Smith had everyone in awe when he showed us a clip from when Skip Cunningham made an appearance on the Merv Griffin show. I had to race home after the video presentation to get ready for the Jimmy Slyde Memorial Service on 141st street. This tribute marked the one-year of his passing, and after a beautiful service, the tap community had a rockin’ jam session—a perfect way to end this weekend’s festivities. To participate in an upcoming Tradition in Tap Experience, visit: http://www.traditionintap.org/