Thursday, May 24, 2012

National Tap Dance Day


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By Diane Forrest

I knew a man Bojangles and he'd dance for you in worn out shoes
Silver hair, ragged shirt and baggy pants, that old soft shoe
He'd jump so high, he'd jump so high, then he lightly touched down
Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles, dance.

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Even before the shows, "So you think you can Dance" and "Dancing with the Stars", I think nearly every little girl grew up wanting to dance.  The town I grew up in didn't have any dance classes, that's why I got stuck with piano lessons.  But, I did have old Shirley Temple movies to watch, and I would love to see her dancing with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.  They were wonderful together in the several movies they did.  For a clip of one of their movies, click here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjCFYpWDmfM

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In 1878 on this day, Mr. Bojangles was born in Richmond Virginia.  His parents both died by the time he was 7 years old, and he and his brother were raised by their grandparents. . Details of Robinson's early life are known only through legend, much of it perpetuated by Robinson himself. He claimed he was christened "Luther"—a name he did not like. He suggested to his younger brother Bill that they should exchange names. When Bill objected, Luther applied his fists, and the exchange was made.  He began dancing when he was 5 years old.  He soon dropped out of school and began a career in dancing by the age of 12.  It was not until he reached the age of 50 that he danced before a white audience.  He became the toast of the town, and in 1929 he was in his first movie.  Following that he made 17 more movies before retiring in 1943.  He died in 1949 at the age of 71.  Even though he earned over 2 million dollars, he died penniless.  His friend, Ed Sullivan arranged a funeral for him, and over 35,000 were in attendance.

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A favorite Robinson anecdote is that he seated himself in a restaurant and a customer objected to his presence. When the manager suggested that it might be better if Robinson leave, he smiled and asked, "Have you got a ten dollar bill?" Politely asking to borrow the manager's note for a moment, Robinson added six $10 bills from his own wallet and mixed them up, then extended the seven bills together, adding, "Here, let's see you pick out the colored one." The restaurant manager served Robinson without further delay.

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Bill Robinson spent his lifetime entertaining the country.  That is why in 1989, a joint U.S. Senate/House resolution declared "National Tap Dance Day" to be May 25, the anniversary of Bill Robinson's birth.

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Tap dance day can be celebrated with an event which may be organized by a studio or tap dance interest group. Some may also celebrate it individually due to geographical dispersion or lack of access to the wider tap community. National Tap Dance Day is celebrated in many different ways. For example, a studio may send people out onto the streets to teach the "Shim Sham Shimmy" to passers-by. However, there are several cities (particularly in America) that have their own performances and events to coincide with Tap Dance Day.

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