It was a hot, Atlanta afternoon in May. I followed behind my forever friend, Ellen, in her Prius with the “Eat My Voltage” bumper sticker, to her new digs. Both of our cars were jam-packed with the miscellaneous belongings that one acquires over time and that easily tuck into the odd nooks and crannies that are left between boxes when loading up for a not-so-faraway-move.
Little did I know that my offer to help that day would result in my now possessing a bounty of vintage treasures. This marvelous collection of artwork, photos, books, videos, LP’s and newspaper & magazine clippings pertaining to the world of dance, was assembled with love by Ellen’s Darling and my amazing tap dancing partner, Bobby Berkeley. Since his passing in 1994, she has carefully stored and protected these items and now I have the honor of merging this collection with my own. Thanks, Ellen!
Some of my new Tap Dancing Memorabilia!
The month of May and dancing go together like Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire.
Dance teachers all over the U.S.A. are putting the finishing touches on their recital routines, glitzing up costumes with a few more feathers & sequins and picking that perfect shade of glossy red lipstick that turns a girl into a “Showgirl.”
May 1, always conjures up the vision of happy children prancing around the Maypole weaving a pastel dream.
And as of 1989, May 25th took on a very special meaning as it officially became National Tap Dance Day commemorating the (agreed upon) birthday of tap dancer extraordinaire, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
My earliest dancing memory is from a sunny Saturday in May, 1957, in my childhood hometown of Elmont, on Long Island, New York. I was a wisp of a 3-year-old with most of my weight coming from my headful of long blonde hair. On that particular day, Mom dressed me in something new and different. It was a short sleeved, scoop neck, black Danskin leotard. It fit my little shape like a hug and it immediately became my favorite item of clothing.
We strolled down Dutch Broadway to the local elementary school. When we arrived, we made our way over to the gymnasium and then into its cavernous space. Sitting on the bleachers, mom pulled out the Capezio box and helped me put on my first pair of pink ballet slippers!
Can you imagine the din as dozens of ’50′s mothers prepared their little girls for their very first ballet lesson?
And then she appeared. A tall and slim, beautiful woman with a smooth and sleek, blonde pageboy hairdo. Her attire was a black leotard adorned with a flowing chiffon skirt. Her back was perfectly straight and she walked with her feet slightly turned out in her pink slippers. Miss Ann would become my teacher, my coach and my Terpsichore for the next 5 years.
Miss Ann ran a small dance studio from the basement in her home just a few blocks from my own house. She had been a professional dancer, during the latter part of Vaudeville I presume. Each year in May, she would offer a complimentary class at the local school for rising 3-year-olds and from this group she would select her very newest students for the next dance season starting in the fall.
So, it was my first audition, in a way. The only ballet step she taught that day was a bourree – a series of tiny and quick steps executed in a line with the arms lifted above in the classic 5th position. Bourree and bourree and bourree we went all the way across the entire shiny shellacked gymnasium floor, not from side to side, but on “la diagonale.” I loved it!! Next came jumping and leaping and skipping and twirling and splits all done to the prettiest music coming from the victrola. I didn’t know then that they were all ballet steps too, with very lovely French names!!
Mom signed me up that day to begin dancing lessons in the fall. Sometime during that summer of ’57, Dad drove us in our Nash over to the Green Acres Shopping Center in Valley Stream, where Mom and I waltzed into Thom McCan and bought my very first pair of shiny black tap shoes…
“At the Barre”
From my Edwin M. Knowles, A Swan Is Born, Collector’s Plate Series which creates a visual narrative of the personal experience of one child’s artistic growth.