MOST people think of tap dancing as a dying art, but the...

salmagundi

July 21, 1994

MOST people think of tap dancing as a dying art, but the form still has its devotees. Recently we heard from Etta Monroe of Baltimore, whose son, Jeremiah, hopes to make a career clicking his heels.

Jeremiah, a handsome young man who will enter eighth grade in September, has already studied dance for many years with some of the area's top teachers. He has performed in Baltimore, Washington and New York, where he reminded many in the audience of the young Gregory Hines.

Thus we were intrigued by a notice recently that a local women's group, Stepping Out Productions, planned to sponsor a hand dancing contest between Baltimore- and Washington-area couples. Hand dancing, which reached its peak popularity in the 1960s and early 1970s, is basically a variation on the old jitterbug, "swing dance" or Lindy hop.

The contest will be held in the McKeldin Auditorium on the campus of Morgan State University Aug. 19.

Yvonne Stewart, who is helping organize the event, says hand dancing is making a comeback. Her group is dedicated to spreading interest in the form among both Baby Boomers who grew up with the music and Generation Xers who recall the era as a sort of golden age before today's seemingly intractable problems overwhelmed many urban communities.

But behind the Generation Xers there's a whole cohort of kids like Jeremiah who are drawing fresh inspiration from the dance forms of the past. In the old days, hand dancing contests were held all over Baltimore, and lots of the best dancers in the city were barely into their teens.

We'd love to see some young people like Jeremiah enter the contest at Morgan next month. While most of the couples already have been chosen -- during preliminary competitions in Baltimore and Washington -- entries will be considered up until 9 p.m. on the night of the event. There is no entry fee.

For more information, or to order tickets, call Yvonne Stewart, the contest organizer, at (410) 298-2812.

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