Tap Dancing: A Love Story Reprised "Shoot Me While I'm Happy" is an account of falling in love with tap dancing written by Jane Goldberg, who studied and performed alongside some of the greatest tap dancers of the past 50 years.
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Tap Dancing: A Love Story Reprised

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Tap Dancing: A Love Story Reprised

Tap Dancing: A Love Story Reprised

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It's been reported that Malia, President-elect Obama's older daughter, is interested in tap dancing. So, what better time for me to revisit the art I love so well with someone who is known as the Tap Goddess of the Lower East Side. Jane Goldberg has hoofed with the greats: Honi Coles, Gregory Hines, Savion Glover. She's publishing a memoir this coming week. It's called "Shoot Me While I'm Happy," and she's brought her shoes to NPR's Studio 4A. Welcome back, Jane. It's great to see you again.

Ms. JANE GOLDBERG (Tap Dancer; Author, "Shoot Me While I'm Happy"): Thanks, Liane. It's really great to see you.

HANSEN: Man, we first danced together some 17 years ago. And I've got my shoes on so I can learn from you, and perhaps our listeners can pick up a routine. But I'd like to reprise just a little bit of history. I understand your book is not a history of tap. It's more your history with tap. When did you first put on a pair of tap shoes?

Ms. GOLDBERG: I first had them on in Washington, D.C., in 1952 when my mother put me in Miss Maxine's tap studio. But then she got very hip to the fact that modern dance was a hipper thing to do, so I switched quickly to modern and didn't even think about tap until I was about twenty-five or six and saw some Fred and Ginger movies.

HANSEN: I understand that you did get into tap because you wanted to meet your Fred Astaire.

Ms. GOLDBERG: Yes, definitely. My mother told me it was important to marry a good dancer.

HANSEN: Where did you get the title the Tap Goddess of the Lower East Side?

Ms. GOLDBERG: That was actually given to me by a radio announcer on BAI Radio.

HANSEN: Oh, sure. Pacifica in New York.

Ms. GOLDBERG: Bill Farrar was a jazz DJ. And after I finished tapping to some Monk and was doing something...

HANSEN: This is Thelonious Monk you were tapping to?

Ms. GOLDBERG: Yes, Thelonious Monk. Yeah. He put on a record, and I tapped to Monk, and that was a lot of fun. And then he said, oh, you must be the empress of the Lower East Side. And I thought empress sounded a little old at the time, so I took - I kind of self-described into the Tap Goddess.

HANSEN: But you are the Tap Goddess, and you've been around for a really long time.

Ms. GOLDBERG: I am. I reign over my kingdom.

HANSEN: Yeah. And it's a kingdom that goes back - has a very long lineage. You've interviewed, you performed with some of the legends of tap dancing. What was the first step you learned?

Ms. GOLDBERG: I do remember my first tap step from Stanley Brown. It's beautiful. It's a phrase. You know, Stanley Brown, up in Boston, taught in phrases. He didn't teach, like, time steps until Tommy Tune actually blew through town, And Stanley reminded the four of us in the class in '73 that there was such a thing as Broadway, and tap dancing was done on it. But all of us had different, you know, goals and what we wanted to do with tap.

HANSEN: That's just it. Tap can really be - it has different venues. I mean, you've got the Rockettes and their kind of synchronized tap; the Broadway tap that we associate with 42nd Street, Busby Berkeley; and then there's the kind of tap that came from the masters who improvised much in the same way that jazz music is improvised.

Ms. GOLDBERG: Right. They teach it like yop bop badoobadee doobadee, yop badoobadee doobadee yop, and they don't call it by names, although a lot of them did. You know, it's all merging now. That's what's really interesting. Because when Gregory Hines and Savion Glover, for example, got into Broadway shows like "Sophisticated Ladies" and "Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk," they were then Broadway tap. But there was a time when we were all considered the splintered left and, oh, I don't do that kind of tap. I do this kind of tap.

HANSEN: But it is beginning to merge.

Ms. GOLDBERG: It is, yes.

HANSEN: Savion Glover actually diagramed - he had a book, and he showed the sole of a tap shoe. And he outlined what parts give what kind of percussive sound, so that the tap shoe is in effect a drum kit. You're a percussion instrument.

Ms. GOLDBERG: Yes. A lot of the guys did feel like they were playing their feet. And that's why they were often called hoofers because - and that's what Savion considers himself part of that tradition, because it wasn't really about the open style of moving everywhere across the floor. It was really about how you sounded.

HANSEN: I'll remind people that in your book, particularly if you go to your Web site, JaneGoldberg.org, there is a DVD in the back of the book, and it's Jane with some of the old tappers in a documentary called "By Word of Foot."

Ms. GOLDBERG: "By Word of Foot," right.

HANSEN: And it's included. Have you invented any tap steps or combinations?

Ms. GOLDBERG: I have made up steps, but I would say that I'm more of a rememberer of great steps. And, you know, I often think of these older masters that are mostly dead now. They had a lot of time on their hands to go into the - on their feet - to go into these rehearsal halls, they called them, and stitch together these gorgeous steps because it was during the Depression.

HANSEN: How do you stay in business as a tap dancer?

Ms. GOLDBERG: A lot of people are teaching. There are gigs. I think we're kind of in a swing right now where so many young people are tapping, you wouldn't believe it. But there aren't really a lot of venues. Back in my day, you know, there was NEA money, and we just created our own shows, and we did them every year. And then there were gigs. And I think, you know, the loss of Gregory was a huge loss.

HANSEN: Gregory Hines, who passed away a few years ago.

Ms. GOLDBERG: Yeah, because he was just such a visual and moral force of the whole field. And he always carried his shoes everywhere and was a purist.

HANSEN: Do you consider it a vibrant art form still?

Ms. GOLDBERG: I do. I feel like it's really - if you really think about it, there's probably thousands of pockets of people all over the world. It's gone global for sure. I don't know if you're aware of that, but it's definitely being performed and done in different countries, especially Germany and Japan. And South America, Brazil, they have a whole gorgeous thing happening down there.

HANSEN: So, say someone is listening to us and they're inspired to maybe give tap dancing a try, what's the best piece of advice you could give to a novice?

Ms. GOLDBERG: Oh, I just think there are just thousands of closet hoofers out there that want to do it. And I would just say just get a really good comfortable pair of shoes and just fool around and listen to music that you love.

HANSEN: Jane Goldberg's new book is called "Shoot Me While I'm Happy: Memories from the Tap Goddess of the Lower East Side." And you're going to teach us something, and maybe you'll tap us out, a capella. So, I'll say my first thank you to you now. Thanks.

Ms. GOLDBERG: Oh, yeah. I love talking to you because you know about tap.

HANSEN: Let's go show them what we know.


(Soundbite of tap dancing)

Ms. GOLDBERG: Should we walk in rhythm?

HANSEN: Yeah, we can walk in rhythm. Show me the move that you learned. It was the first one that you learned. Stanley Brown.

Ms. GOLDBERG: Right.

HANSEN: Show me Stanley Brown.

Ms. GOLDBERG: Well, first he taught flap...

(Soundbite of tap dancing step)


(Soundbite of tap dancing step)

HANSEN: Now, if you're trying to follow along at home, here's how to do a flap. Put your weight on your left foot, lift up your right, kick it forward touching the ball of your foot to the floor, then step on it. Put your weight on it, and then repeat with your left foot - flap, flap.

(Soundbite of tap dancing)

Ms. GOLDBERG: Ready and shuffle heel, shuffle ball, flap, flap. Shuffle heel, shuffle ball, flap, flap. Riff heel, brush back, flap, flap. Shuffle heel, shuffle ball, heel, heel, brush back...

(Soundbite of tap dancing)

Ms. GOLDBERG: Shuffle ball, flap, heel down, la la. Isn't that pretty?

HANSEN: It is. All right, let's teach the audience how to shuffle.

Ms. GOLDBERG: So it's...

HANSEN: One, two.

(Soundbite of tap dancing step)

HANSEN: Shuffle.

Ms. GOLDBERG: Shuffle.

HANSEN: A shuffle is very much like a flap, only you push your right foot forward, again touching the ball of the foot to the floor. But pull the same foot back, again touching the floor. Now you just have to do it fast. Shuffle, shuffle.

(Soundbite of tap dancing)

Ms. GOLDBERG: Ba ba-dop ba-dop ba-dop ba-dop ba-dop ba-dop ba-dop ba-dop ba-dop.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GOLDBERG: How about the "Moondance"?

HANSEN: "Moondance"?

Ms. GOLDBERG: (Singing) It's a wonderful night for a moondance, dabop. So let's do that with shuffles.

HANSEN: OK. So everybody grab your Van Morrison. One, two, three, four…

(Soundbite of tap dancing)

Ms. GOLDBERG: (Singing) Da da da, da da da, da da, da da. Da da da, da da da, da da-bop. Yop bop ba-da, ba-dop, hey bop. Ba da ya, da da da, da da da.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GOLDBERG: Oh, that was good.

HANSEN: I can only stand on one foot though.

Ms. GOLDBERG: That was good.

HANSEN: Oh, I liked that.

Ms. GOLDBERG: That was good. You had a break there.

HANSEN: Jane Goldberg, why don't you take us out with your theme song?

Ms. GOLDBERG: OK. This is to the tune of "I Wanna Be Happy."

(Soundbite of tap dancing)

Ms. GOLDBERG: (Singing) Dop bopa dopa dop, hee pada, bee bopa dee bodop, bee boda, bop bopa dee bodop, bee bop bop bop bop. I wanna be happy. Instead, I feel sappy. Friends think I sing crappy, too. But I don't think so. I thought I found the answer. I became a tap dancer. And I still sing crappy, too. Not true.

HANSEN: You can see a video of me tap dancing with Jane Goldberg on our blog npr.org/soapbox. This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Ms. GOLDBERG: (Singing) Hope you'll be tap happy, too. Bap bap bap.

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