Fred Astaire, May 10th, 1899
May 10th is a significant date to me. Fred Astaire, born this day in 1899, was the first tap dancer I had seen outside of my dance studio in Albany, NY. I was dancing a tap solo to Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails and my mother decided it was important for me to see the man that inspired this dance. As a six year old boy I sat transfixed to the television as I watched the VHS tape of the film Top Hat. Astaire magically glided from the screen into the ether of my imagination. This viewing of Astaire at six years old started my mother on purchasing every film that had tap dancing in it, to which I would watch and write in a notebook as many of the steps as I could figure out to go and practice. The first dance I choreographed when I was nine years old was comprised almost totally of steps by Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and the Nicholas Brothers. To say that I idolized these dancers and loved the films that they produced is a vast understatement. I don’t think there is a word that embodies the feeling that I had as a child watching them, it is something that I still to this day try to incapsulate when I put on my tap shoes. These men introduced me to new vocabulary. They introduced me to musicality and it’s power. They introduced me to style and story telling through movement. They introduced me to a standard that I still view today as excellence. They introduced me to dreaming of the prospect of being a professional dancer. While I could look at Fred Astaire and say that I wanted to be like that, there was nothing in 1995 that looked like Astaire. To me he represented my future, to everyone else he represented an era past.
Top Hat, Fred Astaire Solo
This brings me back to May 10th. Mike Minery, our beloved OPTAP Director, was born this day in 1977. I first met Mike Minery when I was 8 years old at a Showbiz Regional Competition at the Notre Dame High School in New Jersey. Coming to the competition with my tuxedo and my top hat I met a 17 year old Minery who was tap dancing in jeans, a t shirt, and was improvising his dances. While Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly were my idols, they were untouchable and accessed through my mother’s VCR. Watching Mike dance gave me a tangible hero that I could reach out, touch, walk up and talk to. A few years later I began to study with Mike at Broadway Dance Center as my mom would take me once a month to take classes. A few years later Mike asked me to be in his tap company. A few years later I asked Mike to be a guest in my dance company. A few years later we started Operation: Tap with Ayodele Casel. And here we are today and I can proudly say that he not only was my teacher and mentor but he is also one of my best friends. Mike introduced me to rhythm tap. He introduced me to properly counting. He introduced me to improvisation. He introduced me to….well he introduced me to a few things that probably don’t bear mentioning in a nice article like this! I am so grateful to Mike for how much he taught me about tap dancing and how to TEACH tap dancing, because this is one of his greatest gifts.
Mike Minery tap solo from Tapaholics 2006
This brings us back one more time to May 10th. Aaron Parkhurst, one of my first students, was born this day in 1988. Even though Aaron is only a few years younger than I am, I started teaching him when he was 14 years old. I think back to those days and the only thing I had as a teacher was raw enthusiasm. I really shouldn’t have been teaching at that age and I learned so much about how to teach by teaching Aaron and all of my students of that time. To see Aaron and so many other students today carving their path out and making their way in the world as tap dancers and artists gives me enormous pride and satisfaction. I wanted to include Aaron as part of this article to say thank you to all of the students I have ever had the opportunity to teach. Being on stage and having the opportunity to dance has been a dream come true, however seeing the dreams and potential of my students come to fruition is the greatest gift I have been given in tap dancing.
Anthony and Aaron at NJPAC in 2008
As I sit and reflect on what May 10th has given me, I realize that it has given me all the facets and components of my career. Fred Astaire gave me the permission to dream of being a dancer and still continues to be a standard of excellence to aspire to attain. Mike Minery gave me the tools and support to execute on those dreams and still continues to be a mentor in dance and in life. Aaron Pankhurst and my students gave me the opportunity to share my love with the next generation of dancers and to realize that being backstage can be as powerful as being on it. So yeah like I said, May 10th is a significant date to me!