Shuffling off to the harbor for National Tap Dance Day

May 24, 2004|By Alexandra Fenwick | Alexandra Fenwick,SUN STAFF

Talking to David Vain can be a bit like learning another language. Words and phrases like shim-sham and shuffle off to Buffalo slip into his conversation with regularity.

The terms, more quaint than cutting-edge, are used to describe the kinds of moves Vain uses in a dance form that is both quaint and cutting-edge itself: tap.

Tomorrow, the 30-year-old native of the Lansdowne-Arbutus area, graduate of Baltimore School for the Arts and tap-dance teacher and performer will be joining other area tap enthusiasts in a celebration of National Tap Dance Day.

The day is being marked in Baltimore for the first time, with an event organized by a local arts-advocacy group, Dance Baltimore! It will include tap dancing and tributes to famous Baltimore hoofer Buster Brown and his contemporary, the late Gregory Hines. The event runs from noon to 2 p.m. at the Harborplace Amphitheatre, Pratt and Light streets.

As he prepared for the big day, Vain took time to chat.

You've been tap dancing since you were 5 years old. What got you into it?

My brothers and sisters started to dance a long time ago. I remember seeing one of their recitals and telling my mom I wanted to try it. So I took a boys' tap class with my brother, but then he went to middle school and high school and dropped out of dance. I stayed. I liked it too much.

You just got back from Korea, where you played Cassie, the pink dragon, in Dragon Tales Live. Where else has dance taken you?

I've worked in that show for 2 1/2 years, but that's the first international trip I've made. I've toured all over the U.S.A. and been to so many states I never would have seen unless I was on tour.

Do you do any other kinds of dance?

Ballet, jazz, lyrical and hip-hop from time to time.

Why do you love tap the most?

I like tap because I'm not a 6-foot-tall person with a ballet body, and I like moving and I like noise. When I was in school, I would tap my shoes under the table and get in trouble.

Who is your tap-dance hero?

I like Gene Kelly, and James Cagney in the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy. When I was little I would stand in front of the screen and try to do moves along with the dancers. Now I just study their feet, but I've probably watched [Yankee Doodle Dandy] over 100 times.

What will you be dancing at National Tap Dance Day?

A tap solo to "Willamania" from The Will Rogers Follies. It's a solo I choreographed myself ... It kills me sometimes because it's so fast, but I like it. It's got a lot of energy.

What's your favorite kind of music to tap to?

I like music with words so I can make the tap work with what the singer is saying. It has to have a really cool downbeat, a good steady rhythm. A lot of 'N Sync music is good to tap to. I also like swing music a lot.

How many pairs of shoes do you go through in a year?

When dancing consistently, I only go through two. I have wide feet so, unfortunately, I have to wear a size bigger than my regular size, so I can't do toe stands, but I try. But after awhile, tap shoes get broken in too much and the screws start falling out.

What's the No. 1 piece of advice you give your tap students?

That [tap dancing is] not hard, that the more you think about it, the harder it is. Don't think, just do it. When you're learning about it, you are allowed to think about it, but when you have it, you have it.

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