By Peter Barell
Arts and Entertainment Editor
Dance and Musical Theater majors were given the opportunity on Friday, Oct. 25, to take part in a master class taught by prestigious tap dancer and choreographer Savion Glover. Representatives from the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts and LIU Post’s Theater department coordinated this invaluable event for students, which began at noon in the Theater Building, before Glover’s show at the Tilles Center that night. The Pioneer had the unique opportunity to sit in and ask Glover questions intermittently throughout the class before attending his show.
Tap dancing since the age of seven, Glover, 39, has established himself as a leading force in not only tap, but also the dancing community as a whole. “I feel like he has a sound and quality to his movement that a lot of other choreographers and dancers do not,” said senior Dance major Angelique Cruz before Glover’s arrival. “He is very unique, [as is] his approach to what he takes as his art of dance. That’s why he’s so relevant in our dance world today, because he’s still an innovator, he’s still bringing back what he feels is important, and he’s also evolving as a choreographer. . . Tap doesn’t have to be so pretty or classical; it can be funky or down-to-earth and grounded.”
Glover studied with greats such as Gregory Hines and Lon Chaney, working together live and on film. His career has launched itself from one event to the next. His resume includes work in the play “The Tap Dance Kid” in 1985, appearances and interviews with people such as Charlie Rose, and providing choreography and motion capture for the “Happy Feet” film franchise. His shows range from solo improv to more choreographed fare, such as his show on Oct. 25 at the Tilles Center, featuring a group effort by fellow dancers Robyn Watson, Ayodele Casel, Sarah Savelli and Marshall Davis Jr.
Glover stressed to Post’s students that there is always more to learn and hone in one’s craft. He asked students to judge what their skill levels were and to display their talents. In doing so it was easier
to pick apart what could be improved and what was working in their steps. “Let’s all commit to being beginners today,” announced Glover. “I guarantee you that there are some here who call themselves advanced. There’s always one or two things that they can learn, that maybe they should have learned, but just didn’t go to the right institution or just [were] not in the right setting.”
Back in his native Newark, New Jersey, Glover runs The HooFeRz CLuB School for Tap, an institution dedicated to a more holistic and natural approach to dance, where terms and testing are bunk over personal growth and feeling out particular steps.
“For about eight or nine years, I stopped teaching,” said Glover. “During that time, as I was making my way back to the classroom setting, my approach to teaching changed. And that had a lot to do with the men and women responsible for who I am as a tap dancer. People like Jimmy Slyde, Dianne Walker, Lon Chaney and Gregory Hines.
I realized that there’s more to teach for me than just a combination.
Everyone knows how to do a combination. But what we need to realize is that there are many more tools that we should have, or at least be aware of, as tap dancers. This is what I have been sharing now, going on maybe the past five years.”
It is clear that Glover’s relationship with fellow tap dancers has greatly influenced his dance. His Tilles show featured an eclectic yet palatable mix of jazz, hip-hop, and classical music. Before Glover began dancing in his youth, he played the drums, and it was evident in his percussive style that he treats the dance just like any other instrument.
“Whether its percussive, melodic, woodwind – whatever the instrument is – I have grown to understand that the same application works for tap dancing,” said Glover, “which has broadened my tap dance vocabulary. As I continue to search and learn about these similarities,
I see exactly how similar the dance is to one’s playing the drums, or another instrument. It is about establishing or allowing your sound to mean something to the listener.”
Glover was stern and clear about a common stigma associated with tap: Americans might assume it is not a serious dance style. Even when television shows feature tap dancers, they often “miseducate,” in Glover’s words, and fail to represent the style for sustainability. “It’s good that the dance is being seen,” he said, “but when you’re out there, you have to represent it right. You can’t speak to one thousand people without a microphone: You’re not going to be heard. It’s good, but it’s raggedy.”
“It’s like certain stereotypes that have been established in this great America,” Glover continued. “So how do we erase those, or sort of eradicate all of that? It’s hard. It is a hard journey. But I’m in it. I’m in it for the long run. And that’s only because I knew a man, I knew some men, I know some women, who have died, gone, last thing they did was tap dance, walked off the stage, went downstairs and died.”
Glover is referring to the 1990 death of revered tap dancer
Steve Condos, who at 71 suffered a heart attack fresh off a show in Lyon, France. Glover often attended shows in the wings of the venue, following his mentors down to the dressing room. “I was a second behind him,” said Glover. “Steve went downstairs to the dressing room and died, on the spot. I was traumatized, as you can imagine. So, when I know of people who have literally died trying to advance people’s knowledge about this dance, that’s when I say I have work to do. The only thing we can do is continue to do the work. I will continue to not allow tap dance to be comedic. . . not allow it to be a joke.”
Glover left the Theater and Dance students with a flourish, asserting the importance of expression in the art world. “Before I go,” he said, “ I want to thank you for your time. I hope you take something away from this session.” That night, when he walked on stage with his entourage, paying homage to his own mentors, the messages of the class were clear: tap dancing will have a future, if only those who are inspired put in their work.
Categories: Arts and Entertainment