Tapping at Tapology
This is a story about 2 men…
One young – the other - young at heart…and the love they share for the art of Tap Dancing.
Meet Chester Whitmore…a magnetic dynamo who does it all -- dancer, choreographer, composer, band leader, comedian, historian and film maker. He’s in Flint as a tapologist for the tenth annual festival celebrating the art of the hoofer. A TAPOLOGIST is a master of tap who’s kind of a historian on its evolving culture...
Whitmore says his start with tap came as a teenager when he helped a stranger fix a flat tire…the stranger happened to notice the tap shoes draped over the handle bars of Whitmore’s bicycle.
Whitmore remembers the stranger said “I really want to thank you. If you really want to know how to dance, why don’t you come by my place. I’ll show you…”
“So”, he says “then my mind was like ‘oh yea sure. Ok this is like this guy saying this’ you know.”]
So he accepted the invitation and began training.
A short while later, he says he was watching a late night movie and he’d never seen black people tap dancing like this. Whitmore says at that moment he realized this was how he wanted to dance too.
So he described these amazing dances to his instructor and asked if he knew anything about them.
Whitmore says he was shocked at what happened then. “He said hey check this out…and he pulled the drawers out and he had all these 8 by 10s. ‘Hey were these the guys you saw?’ And I said yea that’s the guy that goes “hi dee hi dee ho” and that’s the guy that dances on the river boat and that…and I looked…Hey that’s you! And he said ‘yea’ and that was Fayard Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers.”
Whitmore’s career brought him into contact with a variety of amazing dancers. “I had the pleasure of working with a lot of the legends”, he remembers. “John Bubbles, Fayard Nicholas, The Chocolatiers…the gentle man who created the shim sham which was Leonard Reed – I worked with him…”
And like almost all tap dancers, he says he’s doing whatever he can to pay it forward by sharing what he’s learned to keep the art alive…
Which brings us to P.J. Pinket. He’s a teenager who’s already been tapping for 11 years.
Pinket says tap wasn’t so much a calling --as a loud clatter for both he and his older brother. “I was maybe 3 or 4”, he says. “My mom took me to a local theatre in Delaware – Dupont Theatre to see STOMP. We were both shouting at our mom “mommy – I wanna dance like those guys, I wanna dance like those guys.” And the only thing rhythmic that she could think of, to put me in, was tap. It can be that one moment that inspires you.”
Pinket came all the way from Philadelphia because he and his mother decided Tapology offered world class training that he just couldn’t pass up. “I’m missing school for this” he commented. “I love school and I mean I really think this education is worth that, you know is worth that sacrifice.”
And like Whitmore, PJ is already thinking about how he can pay it forward -- to keep the art of Tap Dancing alive. “I wanna go to the University of Richmond, for film, so I can show the world that Tap isn’t a dying artform. Tap is not dead. We are very much alive – you just have to look for us. So when you find us –tell your friends.”
- Chris Zollars.
Here’s some additional links on TAPOLOGY and TAP Dancing Movies mentioned in this story: