Sunday, April 6, 2008

Dancing Queen

Key West -- On Friday mornings I take a tap dancing class. My teacher, Bruce Moore, is the best! I come home singing and dancing every week. And Bobby Nesbitt is in my class! Bruce and Bobby are a talented duo who perform in Key West, sometimes together. Bobby is a piano man with a great voice. Bruce was a Broadway baby, who sings and dances. The rest of my class is a varied group -- everyone from grandmas, to brave guys who've always wanted to tap, to anyone who loves to dance and can get out of work from 11-noon.

Some learned to tap as kids and their feet have never forgotten. Some started last year when Bruce announced his class. I started when I moved from New Mexico to New York in the mid '80s and discovered a tap class over the local bagel shop. I was 45 at the time. Little did I know that Bob Audy was one of the best tap teachers in the city. I stood in the last row of the basic beginner class for the longest time, learning from those in front of me. For a couple of years I was obsessed. Forget about writing. Tap was all I wanted to do.

(Back in the day - 25 years ago!)

Many of the students were Broadway hopefuls. Some were preparing for auditions. I've never been in such good shape as I was then. I was determined to do double pull-backs for my 50th birthday, but I didn't make it. Oh well.
Growing up in Elizabeth, NJ, I took ballet lessons, starting in the baby class with Elsa Heilich. Miss Heilich (as we called her) wore beautiful outfits to teach. I remember her all in red with red ballet slippers. Her hair was pitch black (now that I think of it, probably dyed). There was piano music. We wore dotted swiss ballet dresses.

In 3rd and 4th grades, when I lived in Miami Beach, my mother found a dance/acrobatic studio. But it was nothing like Miss Heilich's. I was enrolled in a Saturday morning class. The star of our class wore a tutu and could do perfect cartwheels and backbends. She had toe slippers! I hated her. Okay, I didn't really hate her, I envied her. No matter how many times I practiced my cartwheels up and down the beach I never got both legs up straight.
That year we all saw Margaret O'Brien and Cyd Charise in The Unfinished Dance. The local shoe store claimed they had the actual slippers that Margaret wore in the movie. They held a contest -- I've written about this in Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. The winner would get a free trip to Hollywood and maybe a screen test (my memory is vague here, confused between reality and what I wrote in the book). But of this I'm sure -- my fantasy was winning that contest. Alas, my feet were too narrow to fill out Margaret' s slippers. Big disappointment.

Back in New Jersey I wanted to take tap class but my mother considered tap vulgar. Jewish girls took ballet, others took tap. So I never learned.
Cut forward -- I stopped going to Bob Audy's tap classes after 5 years when he moved his studio to midtown and I realized my writing was suffering because my focus was on tapping. Soon George and I were coming to Key West for the winter. I always packed my tap shoes just in case. Once or twice I wore them to parties where I threatened to dance but never did.

And then, magically, Bruce Moore announced that he'd be giving tap classes! His classes remind me of Bob Audy's. Okay, there's no piano. And we're in a small room at the back of a gym (Body Zone South) in a strip mall . And sometimes there's a guy grunting on a mat on the floor. But none of that matters. Because we're dancing!

There's nothing like tapping to take you out of whatever else is going on in your life. For one hour you're thinking only of your feet, the beat, and the thrill of learning a new routine. Better yet, you're not thinking at all. It's just happening! Thanks, Bruce, for bringing tap to Key West!

Twenty-five years have past since my first tap class. But here I am with Bruce, doing a triple time step.