Jerry Ames, tap dancer known for his airy style, 80

Jerry Ames in the 1970s. Jerry Ames in the 1970s. (New York Times)
By Margalit Fox
New York Times / February 19, 2011

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NEW YORK — Jerry Ames — a tap dancer and choreographer known for his airy, balletic style and eclectic approach — died after a long illness Feb. 7 in Woodbury, N.Y. He was 80 and lived in Manhattan.

For decades, Mr. Ames performed on stages in New York and around the world. From 1976 to the early 1980s he directed the Jerry Ames Tap Dance Company, one of the first troupes devoted exclusively to tap.

As a solo dancer Mr. Ames was praised by critics for his silvery lightness of foot and dazzling leaps and turns.

His company was known for its ecumenical approach to tap, melding it with waltzes, Irish jigs, and Spanish music, among other things.

“Jerry had that classical Irish-jig-and-tap tradition,’’ Constance Valis Hill, a professor of dance at Hampshire College and the author of “Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History,’’ said in an interview. “There were two parallel strands of tap that came through the century. One is the so-called Irish jig/clog tradition that comes through George M. Cohan. It was a Broadway style of tap, but it wasn’t a swinging, rhythmic tap tradition. That’s more in the black vernacular stream.’’

But Mr. Ames was sufficiently immersed — and sufficiently esteemed by his black colleagues — that he was the only white dancer on the bill for the Tap Happenings, a series of jam sessions in New York in 1969.

The happenings are credited with having started the widespread revival of interest in tap, which had languished for decades, partly a casualty of popular ballet-infused musicals like “On Your Toes’’ and “Oklahoma!’’