Michela Marino Lerman on the Timelessness of Tap Dance.
To be quite honest, I don’t really know when I began. Dance and music and creation have always been a part of my being. Once there was music playing, I had to move. My first memories of life are dancing around the house and putting on performances in the living room. I remember dancing in the arms of my mother and standing on my father’s feet as we moved across the floor. I remember the first time I got hard-soled shoes, and I couldn’t stop my feet from hitting the wood floor of our New York City apartment. And I remember the moment I saw my mentor and main inspiration, Gregory Hines, dance for the first time. It was like a feeling in the center of my chest. I can still feel it as I’m writing this—it was like I could feel my life force. I just knew this was my path. It was the first time I could feel dance, in a place deep within me. There was no turning back at that point. I was hooked.
What is better than being able to “hear” dance? To listen to sounds as they travel from the spirit, to the mind, to the body, to the earth. To express emotions and experiences through sound and movement. That’s what transfixed me when I saw Gregory. I understood right away, through seeing him, that tap dance is a language, a tool for communication, and of deep soul and feeling. It’s not just dance, its music…and he became the music. Tap dance is everything in one. It’s something that is ancient and of the future. It’s timeless.
I would never be able to imagine my life without tap dance in it. The experiences and memories of spending time with and learning from people like Peg Leg Bates, Buster Brown, Jimmy Slyde, Marion Coles, Mable Lee, Jeni LeGon, LeRoy Myers, Ernest “Brownie” Brown and so many other magnificent innovators of the art form formed me as a human being. They live within my heart and are the “souls” of my feet. And so many of the lessons weren’t in the studio or on the wood…they were a conversation in a car, at a restaurant or backstage in a dressing room. They were things I learned as I observed their kindness towards people. Their joy, excitement and enthusiasm for life and their extreme generosity of sharing it with others was contagious. They had an unwavering dedication to being ambassadors for the art form. They taught me timesteps and breaks, but what really transformed me were the lessons in humility, grace, excellence, strength and perseverance. It was out of this world.
I often say I didn’t choose tap dance, but, rather, it chose me. As soon as I had my first pair of shoes, it was like I had met an old friend. I’ve often wondered if it had something to do with a past life, but I guess that’s a story for another day.