Savion Glover is to tap dancing what Bobby McFerrin is to singing. Both have taken a craft and turned it into a high art. Bobby McFerrin can make his voice sound like any instrument in the orchestra or like an angel or laughter. Savion Glover can make his feet sound like thunder, a whisper, or fireworks.
Glover is a kid from Newark, now in his thirties, who has danced in Europe, all across the United States, on Broadway, at the White House, on Sesame Street, and in Antarctica with the penguins of Happy Feet. He looks back to the greats of tap dancing like Jimmy Slyde and Gregory Hines and at the same time looks forward to hip-hop, world music, and new jazz. He taps with equal joy to Thelonious Monk, Vivaldi, and Michael Jackson—and always to his own drum.
But what does he have that other tappers don’t? To be a good tap dancer you’ve got to have discipline, patience, musicality, and of course rhythm. To be a great tapper you have to have something to say, a reason to create. You have to want to share that joy that you get when you can make the sounds you hear audible to an audience. Glover’s obviously got discipline, patience, musicality, and rhythm, but what makes him great is that for him, it seems, tap is not just dancing, not just making music, it is communicating—communicating joy, love, anger, thoughtfulness. When an audience witnesses his performances, they can’t help but feel the beat in their guts. They connect with the dancer, the musician, the human being. They hear what he is saying because he is so intent, so focused on making them understand, that they can’t help but be taken in.
No one knows exactly who the first tap dancer was, but we know that tap came from Ireland, Africa, and America. The steps that children learn in tap dance studios all around the world were created and refined by the tappers of vaudeville and Broadway and Hollywood and passed on year after year. With each new generation, new steps were born and old steps modified. Tap steps were blended with jazz dance in some cities, step dancing in others. The rhythms of tap were influenced by bebop, fusion, rock ‘n’ roll. Tap dancers have always improvised with what was around them at any given moment. It is an aural tradition, and Glover is one of its pioneers and most distinguished ambassadors. He brings his message to the Power Center for the Ann Arbor Summer Festival on Sunday, June 21. You won’t want to miss it.