Tap Festival Brings Folks to Their Feet Masters Strut Stuff in Concert Finale

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When Robert L. Reed tap dances, you can almost see the sparks fly.

The taps on his shoes clatter like the keys on a high-speed typewriter, and his "shuffles," "wings," "over the tops," and "slides" are thrilling to watch.

Reed is also an acrobat and springs to land lightly on his hands, then walks across the stage, and down the steps, still on his hands, amid cheers from the audience.

Reed, 36, of St. Louis, is a professional dancer. He demonstrated his tapping abilities at the second annual Saint Louis Tap Festival Sunday at Rickman Auditorium in Arnold. He also produced and directed the festival.

The Sunday concert, called "All That Tap," also featured performances of other tap dancing greats such as Josh Hilberman, Van Porter, Sarah Petronio and Savion Glover, as well as dancing by students from several local dance academies. The concert was the culmination of the festival that included two days of tap-dance master classes at the Center of Contemporary Arts in University City.

Reed, who also taught one of the master classes, has been dancing for just 10 years. But when you learn Reed's background, his abilities come as no surprise. In fact, it would be more surprising if he weren't a superb dancer.

Reed comes from a dancing family: His grandfather, Maceo Anderson, who taught him to tap, was a founding member of a quartet called the Four Step Brothers. The group made more than 40 movies with big-name entertainers such as Abbott and Costello ("It Ain't Hay"), Bob Hope ("Here Come the Girls"), Ann Sheridan ("Shine on Harvest Moon") and Jerry Lewis ("The Patsy"). The Four Step Brothers even have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Reed said.

"My mother tried early on to get me involved in dancing, but in the (St. Louis) neighborhood where I grew up, you just didn't dance ballet or tap," said Reed. But at age 26, he decided it was time to learn.

"I had some distinct advantages - a grandfather who knew all the inside people to help me get started in the career and who handed down a God-given talent to his grandson," he said. "Most people start tap dancing doing the shuffle - I went right into `wings' and `over the tops.' "

"Wings" are a flash-tap step in which the dancer kicks out with both feet at once and makes five or six sounds per step, he said. "Over the tops" involve putting one leg over the other and looking like you're falling. "That one always gets big applause," Reed said.

"There are literally dozens of different steps and a million combinations you can use, according to your knowledge and ability," he said. "But a good tap dancer doesn't just do steps. He decides what his purpose is in dancing, and what style he wants to pursue - flash, flying tap, acrobatic, funk, rhythm, or `legomania,' a particularly intricate style of tap. …