Youth learns theater by doing Dancer: Months after graduating from high school, an Annapolis teen-ager is performing on stage.

November 06, 1997|By Melinda Rice | Melinda Rice,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

David Covington thought he'd be deep into his first semester at American University by now, maybe studying for a midterm in the acting class he had signed up for.

Instead, the 17-year-old Annapolis native is learning about theater first-hand as part of the national touring company Tap Dogs, an award-winning dance troupe that bills itself as "an irreverent industrial revolution of tap."

He will dance tonight at the Morris A. Mechanic Theater in Baltimore on the opening of the troupe's four-night stand. David will be the one who pounds out a rhythm with his feet on a steel plate while suspended upside down about eight feet in the air.

It will be David's fourth appearance with the troupe. His first was before a sold-out house in Orlando, Fla. He couldn't get to sleep after that one.

"You couldn't shut me up," said David. "I just couldn't believe it. I didn't think I'd be doing this at this point in my life."

When David graduated in May from St. Mary's High School -- a year early, with a 3.98 grade-point average -- he planned to use several scholarships to attend American University with a double major in musical theater and broadcast journalism.

About that time, his dance teacher, Bobbi Smith, suggested he answer a casting call for Tap Dogs in New York.

"I just wanted to experience the whole audition and take that experience back to college with me," he said.

But three months and three call-backs later, David was hired as one of two backup dancers -- called swings -- for the six-man troupe.

"I didn't think he'd get a call-back," said Smith, Talent Machine founder and director. "My thing was, 'Go take a free lesson.' "

Now David is a hero to the young dancers in Smith's classes -- some of the same classes he used to teach in barter for his own lessons.

"Besides being talented, he's just so focused. And that's what it takes to make it," Smith said. "I tell my students David got to where he is by being focused and dedicated and prepared."

For his job with Tap Dogs, David has to learn the routines of all six principal dancers so he can substitute for any of them. So far, he's learned two characters.

"He's got really good, fast feet," said Nathan Sheens, dance director for the company. "He picks stuff up very fast."

The company, one of two Tap Dogs troupes touring North America, is in the sixth week of a 36-week tour. It will be in Baltimore through Sunday, with David performing tonight, Friday night and during Saturday's matinee.

As the youngest member of the troupe -- and the only one whose mother travels with the company -- David is more of a tap puppy than a Tap Dog, but he's learning.

"He's still a bit stiff in the upper part of his body and he needs to work on getting comfortable in front of an audience," said Sheens, who believes David will improve with practice. "It's all about getting out there and doing it."

That's what David wants to do. He practices at least twice a week and is preparing to learn a third character.

Life on the road is "a lot of hard work," David said. "But it's so much fun."

For him, the hardest part isn't learning new steps, it's missing his family. He surprised his sisters after school at St. Mary's Monday, the first time he'd seen them since August.

"If he hadn't had his feet planted on the ground, they probably would have knocked him over," said their mother, Gloria Covington. "It was sheer delight."

The girls, Jennifer, 13, and Melissa, 12, gave up dance lessons this year to make it easier for Mrs. Covington's parents, who are caring for them while their mother and David are on the road.

A brother, Michael, is working on a doctoral degree in computer science at Georgia Tech University.

David credits family, God and friends in Annapolis for his dancing feats, but Chesapeake Music Hall owner Sherry Kay said David is too modest. He was performing in "A Chorus Line" for her when he was cast in Tap Dogs.

At an impromptu party, she said, "He and a couple of the other guys had a tap off, and he was doing some of the things he'd learned during his audition," said Kay. "We were all just mesmerized by the talent that was just bursting out of him."

Tap Dogs perform at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore tonight through Sunday with matinees Saturday and Sunday in addition to the evening performances. Tickets are $15.50 to $34.50 and available through TicketMaster at 410-752-1200 or at the Mechanic Theatre box office.

Pub Date: 11/06/97

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