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Savion Glover...The Forward Thinking Griot!

Michael Sainte | 3/22/2012, 3:39 p.m.

Honors Tap Dancers of the 20th Century at the Warner

There is just no singular way to describe the wonder that is Savion Glover. Even before I spoke with him recently, when he called me at precisely 2:30 p.m., I was avalanched with multiple images and thoughts of him and was excited about the opportunity that was soon to unfold.

Talking with him on the telephone seemingly created some kind of crackling, vibrant energy that pulled me into a rhythm I had no control of--very much like the effect his dancing has on you, drawing you into his universe of art, performance and expression. It was my first time experiencing "dancing" on the telephone!

I was immediately surprised by the softness of his voice and how gently he communicated his thoughts, but was still assailed by his undeniable passion and sense of purpose (his quietness probably made it even more palpable) about what he does. I briefly shared with him that I aspired to be a dancer as a young boy but that my family's negative perception of tap dance as stereotypical "shufflin' and jivin," prevented that from happening. This launched him into a discussion about his understanding of whom he is and why he knows he was destined to do what he does.

He grew up in Newark, NJ with his single mother and two older brothers and began drum lessons at about 4 years old and tap at age 7. Early on, he was drawn to not just studying the dance but learning the history and developing a genuine sense of understanding about the rich legacy and tradition and presenting tap as the world-class art form that it really is. He says, "Tap did come from a negative place and that's how that stigma came about. Around the plantations, slaves didn't have much to do for amusement or entertainment and so shuffling and jiving evolved, but then, very much like the spirituals and the drums, it took on a whole new meaning and purpose."

He has taken classes in some of the more traditionally acknowledged dance forms: ballet, modern and jazz, etc., but that has been primarily a way of more broadly informing his own style and enhancing his choreographic and expressive vocabulary; a way of more generally connecting, if you will. Savion has had the blessing (his reference) of learning from the best at the very beginning of his training. His influences read like a Who's Who of the tap world: Henry Le Tang, the Hines brothers (particularly Gregory), Jimmy Slyde, Chuck Green, Lon Chaney, Honi Coles, Sammy Davis, Jr., Buster Brown, Howard "Sandman" Sims, Arthur Duncan, George Tillman and Dianne Walker, among an astonishing list of others. Le Tang calls him "the Sponge," "...because he learns very quickly with everything that is thrown at him." Glover is interested in restoring African roots to tap and putting it back into the contemporary black context and is on a mission to reclaim the rhythm that was lost when tap dancing was recycled after many generations. It started with Noble Sissle's and Eubie Blake's 1921 Broadway musical, "Shuffle Along," and then in Hollywood where it lost its meaning. He wants to keep the tap real and honor that authentic African-rooted sound.