Monday, August 22, 2011

Tap legend Ardie Bryant. An American treasure you never knew about..

Tap students Savannah, Kelsey, and Molly with Ardie Bryant

Sometimes you attend an event and it disappoints because the hype and marketing made it out to be much more than it ended up being. And then sometimes you attend an event and it just blows you away and you immediately start thinking about the next one and who else you're going to bring along so they don't miss it.

The latter describes The Masters of Tap show at the Max M. Fisher Music Center yesterday. Denise Caston, the producer of the show assembled an incredible mix of young and old masters of the American art form of tap dance. To accompany the dancers with live jazz music Denise brought in the Scott Gwinnell Trio. They were perfect for the show. I really had no idea how great this show was going to be.

Performing along with Denise were Motor City Tapfest instructors Bril Barret, Gregg Russell, Ardie Bryant, Robert L. Reed, Karen Callaway Williams, Starinah Dixon, Rod Ferrone, Sarah Reich, Jenefer Miller, and Claudia Rahardjanoto. Denise also mixed in numbers featuring dancers from around Detroit and beyond who participated in Tapfest classes at Wayne State University and dancers with Detroit roots who came home to join in the fun.

The acts were incredible. One after another amazing performance. Men and women, short and tall, old and young. There is no perfect tap body like there is for jazz or ballet. Each one of the dancers brought a different kind of energy and style, each one passionate and expert. No one is born a tapper. Anyone who rises to that level has put in countless hours practicing and performing.

And that's why the picture above is so cool.  That is Mr. Ardie Bryant posing with three of the young dancers who performed in the show.  Ardie is a living legend in the tap world, known as the Father of modern jazz tap. His mentor and teacher in the 1940's was none other than Mr. Bill Bojangles Robinson. Back in the day, Ardie performed with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Sammy Davis Jr., and just about every other dancer and musician from Hollywood's golden era and he appeared in a number of movies, stage shows, and productions as well.  The few minutes he spent speaking to the crowd about his experiences to convey a bit of the wisdom he picked up along the way was captivating.  And then the 82 year young man went and tapped a piece, Unreal. Of course he got a wild standing ovation.

Molly is a student of tap dance history and the published biography of Bill Bojangles. So for her to meet and hear stories from a tap dance legend who learned directly from Mr. Bojangles himself was a once in a lifetime experience.

Ardie brought in a pair of antique wooden heel taps that were given to him by Bill Bojangles years ago to show to the class. The wooden taps gave Bojangles his unique tap sounds. The dancers were all impressed to see and hold the historical artifacts, but I think they were really in awe of Ardie more than anything else.

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