I learned to tap dance when I was a little girl; I was really little, not even in school yet. My sister Deanna and my neighbor-across-the-street, Nancy, and my friend Betty were in the same class as me; my sister Bonita and Nancy’s brother Doug were in a different class, acrobatics. I don’t remember the teacher’s name, or when exactly we went to class, or who’s idea it was to learn; what I do remember the dance steps, the costume, and of course the recital.
Sometimes I watched Shirley Temple movies on TV on Saturday afternoon. Mom said she and Shirley were the same age; that was just silly: Shirley was a little girl, and Mom was old. She said she watched the Little Rascals at the movie theatre, too, but those guys were just kids, so I thought Mom was probably just trying to see if I was paying attention, and was feeding me a story, and she meant to make me laugh, the way Dad was always doing. Mom’s eyes were brown and deep; they didn’t twinkle all the time like Dad’s did when he was trying to trick me, so it was harder to tell when Mom was pulling my leg. Shirley Temple could dance up a storm, and Mom liked her, so maybe it was Mom’s idea that we learn how to dance. I already loved dancing, I couldn’t help myself from dancing, so I was happy to learn tap dancing.
At first it was pretty boring: Shuffle-step, shuffle-step, over and over and over again. That wasn’t dancing, no music, just shuffle-step, shuffle-step, first the left foot, then the right foot. When was I going to stop all those drills and dance?
Next was step-ball-change. The taps started to click on the floor, and even though Teacher still didn’t play any music, I was making my own music with my shoes.
Finally, I got to really dance: step-ball-heel, step-ball-heel, all the way across the room and back. And Music. Now that was dancing. It must have taken four weeks to work up to that. At last! I practiced all the time at home, on the little sidewalk that led out to the clothesline, or on the linoleum. I could only wear my tap-shoes in the house, not out on the sidewalk, but my school shoes worked almost as well on the sidewalk. Sometimes, I wore my skort, that bounced up while I did the shuffle-step and step-ball-change; then I even looked like a dancer. I could tell by watching my shadow.
Teacher taught Nancy and me and Betty and Deanna how to put the steps together to make the dance she wanted us to do for the recital. March, march, march, ’til we got to the center of the stage; shuffle-step, shuffle-step, shuffle-step, shuffle-step, then finally step-ball-heel, step-ball-heel, pivot, step-ball-heel, step-ball-heel, and more dancing until “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” was almost over, then march, march, march, until we were off the stage. Wheee! That was so much fun, I just had to put my hands in the air and get my hips swinging right along with my feet clicking away below me.
Bonita and Doug were in acrobatics. They learned to do summer-salts forward and backward, and other tricks. They must be called summer-salts because the lawn is the best place to practice, and of course summer is the best time to be on the lawn rolling around. I guessrf Bonita and Doug never got very good because when it got time for the recital, all they got to do is dress up like Uncle Sam, march out on stage, and hold a flag at each side of the stage until the whole darned thing was over. I would hate that standing around like that. Besides, it was a good thing that wasn’t me, ’cause I probably would start dancing right along with all the dancers; I just couldn’t stop myself. I guess Doug had about the same problem, ’cause he finally got fed up and ducked behind the curtain; he stuck his hand up under the curtain, and started waving his little flag back and forth in surrender. Of course everyone started laughing and the poor dancers on stage thought the audience was laughing at them. I’m glad Doug saved that for somebody other than me, ’cause I probably would have to punch Doug, or at least wrestle him down and sit on him.
Mom made our costumes, of course. She could make anything. Bonita and Doug had long pants and top hats, all made of red and white satin material, so they looked like Uncle Sam. Deanna, and Nancy, and Betty, and me all had costumes made of satin material too: a full red skirt, way shorter than I could wear to school, up top were red strips on one side, and the other side of the bodice, blue, like the night sky. Mom glued silver stars all over the blue satin, so we looked just like the American flags. Later on, when I got to school, I recognized those stars: they were the kind my teacher put at the top of my paper, when I did a good job, and she was proud of me. I danced perfect, no mistakes; everybody clapped and clapped. I loved dancing.
I still love to dance. Sometimes it’s just great to just get your feet going, until your arms and hips just have to join in, even now, when nobody is watching, even when nobody is there to applaud. Just try it, you’ll see. I promise.