First Person

Stepping up

Dianne Walker, 59, directs the first-ever professional tap program at Jacob’s Pillow Dance in Becket beginning next week.

By Giannella M. Garrett
June 20, 2010

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You’re a pioneer in the resurgence of tap. Why is tap important? Tap is an American dance form, yet it’s still so little understood by the general public. It kills me that I get more work and am treated with greater respect abroad than here in the US. Education has been my lifelong passion.

When did tap enter your life? I contracted polio at 2, and the doctors recommended physical activity, so my mother enrolled me in tap classes at Mildred Kennedy-Bradic’s Dancing School in Roxbury. When I turned 13, my family moved to Japan, and I stopped studying dance.

What led you back to tap? Leon Collins. He ran a studio in the Piano Guild on Tremont Street. It was around 1978, and I was working as a social worker in Roxbury. Leon’s studio was nearby. I soon realized social work and dance are related. People dance to feel good, much in the same way they seek counseling.

How did you develop your unique style? Around 1985, I was invited to perform in Rome. It was my first real gig as a soloist. It was bittersweet, because Leon had been sick and died just before I left. I was now dancing without my mentor who had been the most important driving element of my dancing. It became my mission to bring tap to the same level as other esteemed dance forms.

Who are some of the dancers you’ve trained? I consider Savion Glover “my baby.” We performed with Honi Coles 25 years ago in the “America on Tap” tour, three generations dancing together. Jason Samuels Smith is very special, and there’s Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. I’m so proud of raising a generation of tap-dancers.

Describe the program at Jacob’s Pillow. It’s a two-week program, with 25 students and a well-rounded faculty representing the many styles of tap.

What are your goals for your students? At every level, I remind students to articulate and dramatize their steps across the floor. You must look as if you’re going somewhere. Be definite and clear. Listen to yourself. Steps are really a gimmick to teach larger lessons about life.

(Photograph by Hayward Photography)
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