Today is National Tap Dance Day. In fact, itís the 23rd National Tap Dance Day, having been signed into law by President George W. Bush back in 1989 to celebrate tap dancing as an American art form.
May 25th was picked as the date because it happens to be the birthday of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, one of the greatest tappers of all time. Just go to YouTube and watch his staircase routine with Shirley Temple and you’ll see what I mean. My other tap dancing favorites in the movies are Gene Kelly, Ruby Keeler, Eleanor Powell, Donald O’Connor, the Nicholas Brothers, Fred Astaire, Ann Miller and Gregory Hines.
I’ve also been a tapper during many years of my life, so imagine my joy at actually meeting one of the greats during the 100-Year Birthday Celebration of the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego a few years ago. At one point in the evening festivities I noticed a lonely little woman sitting in a corner and went over to keep her company. As I came closer, I thought she looked familiar. When I sat down beside her, I realized she was the legendary Ruby Keeler. “What a coincidence,” I said. “I’m taking a tap dancing class, and the instructor showed us 42ND STREET last week. She wanted us to see the best!”
Keeler, who was suffering from crippling arthritis, smiled and replied “That’s good news! I didn’t know people watched my films anymore.” After assuring her that she was wrong about that, I enjoyed an intimate conversation with one of filmdom’s greatest hoofers -- and that’s one of my most cherished memories!