Savion Glover Has Rhythm in His Soul (and His Feet)

Article excerpt

AT a sold-out matinee of the critically acclaimed "Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring In 'Da Funk" at New York's Ambassador Theatre, the stage went dark and the audience fell silent.

Suddenly, from above, a single spotlight illuminated the stage, revealing a 22-year-old African-American man, standing in front of a three-way mirror, his back to the audience.

His attire was casual - long, baggy Bermuda shorts, oversized T-shirt and white crew socks. He sported dreadlocks and a goatee, looking more like a grunge-rock musician than a Broadway star. But every eye was on him and, more specifically, his size 12 1/2 EE tap shoes.

Because when Savion Glover taps, people listen.

Unexpectedly, the silence was broken by a recording of Glover's own voice discussing the tap styles of Chuck Green, Lon Chaney, Buster Brown and Jimmy Slyde, tap masters of the past who were his teachers.

Then Glover, described by his mentor Gregory Hines as "possibly the best tap dancer that ever lived," slipped into motion, demonstrating each man's unique style and then fusing them into his own distinctive idiom.

With each slick move and furious tap, the energy in the room intensified. Finally, Glover closed with a paroxysm of hyper-athletic tapping that brought the audience to its feet, whooping, clapping and whistling its approval.

For Glover, who recently left the show, it was just another day at the office, thunderous ovation notwithstanding. But then again, Glover has been preparing for his current success since he was 12 years old. It's taken a decade to shape his unique combination of classic tap and what he calls a "rough, funky, underground" style with a remarkable athleticism.

"Nobody has told Savion a human being can't dance as fast as that," Hines has said.

That fast, yes, and that loud. Glover's custom-made Capezio tap shoes reinforce the usual layer of cardboard fiber underneath the taps with a layer of metal, which makes them even louder.

The dancer has "brought in the noise" ever since he was a child. Glove r, whose name is a variation on the word "savior," was born on Nov. 19, 1974, and raised in Newark, N.J. He is the youngest of three boys born to Yvette Glover, a professional singer and actress who raised her sons as a single mother after divorcing the boys' father.

Glover was only 4 when his fascination with rhythm first emerged - in his mother's kitchen. He used to use knives and forks to play on walls and pots and pans, she recalls - the bigger and noisier, the better.

Classes in drumming led to a scholarship at the Newark Community School for the Arts. But his life changed at age 7, when his mother enrolled him in tap classes at the Broadway Dance Center in Manhattan.

On his first day, Glover recalls, "My mom couldn't afford dance shoes, so she put me in these old cowboy boots with a hard bottom so I could get some sound out."

Glover wore those boots for seven months. When he finally got real tap shoes, he says, his reaction was, "Oh, so this is how it's supposed to sound."

The next year, he saw Green and Chaney perform rhythm tap, a form of tapping that uses the whole foot, not merely the heel and toe, to make sound. Glover had found his style.

The young dancer eventually incorporated what he learned in drum class into his dancing. He attempts to derive tones from all the parts of his foot - baby toe, heel, back and sides - rather than the traditional toe-and-heel-alone technique.

His roots in drumming aren't unusual. In fact, many hoofers, including Harold Nicholas, Hines, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and even Fred Astaire, have also played the drums.

"Drummers carry around their sticks - we carry around our tap shoes," Glover says.

Glover's grand debut was in the 1986 Broadway show "The Tap Dance Kid," when he was 12 years old. …