Originally created 06/02/04

Hoofers celebrate National Tap Dance Day



NEW YORK -- Arthur Duncan and Jimmy Slyde still have the moves.

The veteran tap dancers took to the stage as the tap world honored its elders and celebrated younger stars such as Savion Glover and Ayodele Casel with the 16th annual Tap Extravaganza.

The four-hour event, a sprawling, sometimes exasperating affair, is not for the faint of heart. Held this year at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the jam-packed performance and awards ceremony marked National Tap Dance Day - May 25, the birthday of tap legend Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.

Hosted by Jason Samuels, a rising force in tap, the evening included local youth group Fulton Feet Express, the all-female troupe Barbara Duffy and Company and the German duo Tap and Tray, practitioners of an old-school style involving spinning and tapping on silver trays.

The variety-style show Sunday evening belied the silly notion that specialized art forms such as tap or ballet are inaccessible to the general public.

While Glover always causes a stir, the night's most exciting moments came courtesy of Duncan and Slyde. Not as explosive as the current generation, the consummate performers endow every slide and step with an elegance that many of the youngsters have yet to master.

A regular on "The Lawrence Welk Show" from 1964-1982 and one of the evening's lifetime honorees, Duncan ignited the audience with a song-and-dance rendition of "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)."

"Bet you thought I was gonna be lousy," he told the cheering audience with a sly grin, after finessing his way across the stage.

Slyde also electrified, living up to his name. A Guggenheim fellow whose six-decade career includes a Tony-nominated role in "Black and Blue" and appearances in the films "The Cotton Club" and "'Round Midnight," Slyde was weightless, gliding across the stage to the smooth accompaniment of the Frank Owens Trio.

Less elastic but just as charming was 87-year-old Jeni LeGon, who laughed her way through modified versions of steps she used to perform on Broadway and in movies.

Besides Duncan, honorees included lindy hop virtuoso Frankie Manning, still spry four days after his 90th birthday; the late tapper and manager of the Copasetics, Leroy Myers; and singer-dancer Mable Lee, who at 80 years old or so performed in an orange mini-dress with black feather trim.

"Ain't no stopping me now," she sang. Indeed.

On the Net:

NY Committee to Celebrate National Tap Dance Day: www.nytap.org