after rehearsal thursday night we went out for a drink at showmans, on w.125th in harlem. there was a hammond organ on stage, which alone caused me enough excitement to overlook the 2 $9 drink minimum; the band started playing some perfectly capable standards, and the waitress brought us our drinks, double jamesons all around (i just learned that ones choice of irish whiskey is a political statement. though my choice honestly has less to do with politics than with a mother-inflicted soft spot for a good rebel song), and free hot dogs, made on a foreman grill in the corner.
so were chatting along finely, when im startled by a new crystalline sound; and i look up at the stage to see that there is now a tap dancer, an old old black man in white pants and a loose bowling shirt, with a knowing gleam smile on his face, and his legs and arms unstrung puppet loose. its really, really wonderful tap dancing, cause hes dancing with his face too, all the tiny expressions of joy and surprise, like a balinese dancer. and his taps are a good three octaves higher than any taps ive ever heard, giving the whole thing a decidedly fantasy oz feel. weve all stopped talking and are mesmerized by this man with id guess 50 years of experience at his art, and im marveling about that; the new unknown to me realm of synthesis and confidence that comes with age. artistic wisdom, unwavering.
he heads towards the edge of the stage, and im disappointed that the tapping is about to end, but instead, as soon as he leaves the stage a young japanese guy in a long black shirt takes his place. his taps are at the usual octave, and his dancing is quite different; a little stylish and aloof, but still quite good. he does most of his dance with his back to the audience though, which annoys me and sends my attention drifting...so im surveying the audience and hear two guys talking, the one saying "im not going after you"...and then i look down at their feet, and see shiny shiny shoes. and in fact i look all round us and see that theres over a dozen people sitting near the stage in suspicious shoes; and it dawns on me that somehow weve stumbled into a tap dance open mic night. holy shit.
what was amazing to me was how varied each dancers style was. heres a pretty limited palette, basically just rhythm and dynamics, but each of the 14 or so dancers we saw (all, by the way, taking two choruses of an unending "its always you"; one can only imagine what the organist was thinking after a half hour of this) was quite distinct; some swung threes and some shuffled fours, some reveled in the silences, some pyroed their way through each beat. it was so much more then just "this guy was fast and loud, this guy slow and soft"; instead these amazing personalities on their faces were somehow translated directly into strings of sixteenth notes. one young guy in dreads and patent leather boots (boots!) teetered on the edge of losing the beat the whole time, acrobatic polyrhythms never acknowledging the one but nevertheless staying convincingly grooved. there were two women, one a silent film star pinwheeling but always abbreviating, the other fiesty firecracking in a too short skirt. the other japanese guy was strangely effeminate but for his charlie chaplin moustache, and his tapping was from another time and place, like a termite picnic. one super old guy milking the silences absurd. two out of place and slightly apologetic white indie kids nevertheless shuffling just right. an old old cowboy, white hair and a studded shirt, messy but firm. then the wizard got back up, his shoes again jingling high above reality, took a interim chorus, and then they traded fours. then like five of them got up and tapped all at once, tap tap tap! to take it out.
the wizard said thank you, thank you, and come on back and bring your shoes, we do this every thursday.
personalitys a wonderful thing to see in someones feet.