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Tapping across the stage

BY DEE FABBRICATORE | JANUARY 21, 2010 7:30 AM

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To properly thank Gregory Hines, it’s helpful to know what he’s done in the first place.

There are a few key words that pop up when Googling Hines: dancer, actor, choreographer, and “ambassador of tap” — the last a nickname nodding to his efforts to redefine the art of tap in his 50-year-long career. But to see what he’s truly given, his legacy may be best conveyed where his lifework began: onstage.

Thank You Gregory, a Hancher production coming to City High’s Opstad Auditorium, 1900 Morningside Drive, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday expresses his accomplishments in a live performance. Admission ranges from $10-$40.

Actor, dancer, and singer Joseph Webb believes Hines is a legend that deserves much more than a quick biography rundown. Webb plays the MC of the show and serves to thread Hines’ energy throughout the evening.

“Gregory is known for keeping the dance funky and fresh and innovative,” Webb said. “He was a bridge between the elders and the generation that came after him.”

Maud Arnold is one of the nine contemporary dancers who will represent today’s generation of hoofers in Saturday’s performance.

“The thing about tap that’s unique is that we look to the past and to our ancestors, and we grow and learn from them,” Arnold said.

Thank You, Gregory pays homage to Hines and other tap-dance legends, such as Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Fred Astaire, and John Bubbles. Instead of following a linear story line, the production explores the evolution of tap with glimpses into its past and present. The performance covers everything from a traditional vaudeville-style duet to cutting-edge choreography.

Rob Cline, the Hancher director of marketing and communications, said the venue has upheld a long-standing appreciation for tap by playing host to Classical Savion, Tap Dogs, and Urban Tap in years past.

“We’re always on the look out for high-quality tap dance performances because it’s such a great American art form and people really enjoy it,” Cline said.

Though tap dancers think their style often falls by the wayside, the dance form recently resurfaced on today’s pop-culture stage with attention from such shows as Fox’s dance competition “So You Think You Can Dance,” which featured three young tappers last season.

“When people talk about tap, they think of old black-and-white movies,” Webb said. “They don’t think of it as a current art form.”

Thank You, Gregory continues the spirit of its re-emergence with a number choreographed to a hit Beyoncé song.

“I think that tap dance isn’t as popular as something like hip-hop because it’s not mainstream,” Arnold said. “What would really take tap to the pop level is once artists start employing tap dancers.”

Webb thinks the craft deserves attention in today’s dance world because it’s more than just physical movement.

“You have a lot of things going on, and it’s a very intricate and rhythmical visual art form,” he said. “It will be what you want it to be.”

Arnold agrees that what sets tapping apart from other dances is its limitless facets.

“You’re not only a dancer, you’re also a musician,” she said. “You’re making sound and movement and can entertain someone that’s either blind or deaf. Our bodies are literally our instruments.”


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