The new-look John Anson Ford Amphitheatre got it right for its kickoff ceremony. Celebrated tap dancer Savion Glover and his friends were invited to invade the historic Los Angeles landmark. The Savion Glover in Concert is the official baptism of the IGNITE@ the FORD series.
Glover, the internationally known stage performer, has a high volume of hoofers that he collaborates with that keeps the art form of tap dance alive. One of those tap dancers is Marshall Davis Jr. Davis, who got his start in tap dancing at 10, is one of the more dynamic talents in this genre of art. The once Star Search Teen Dance Champion, connected with Glover when he joined the cast of Bring in Da’ Noise Bring in Da’ Funk.
Davis has since earned his keep as an outstanding tap dancer, generating kudos as recipient of the Isaac Hayes’ “Breaking the Barrier” award. In a phone interview with News4usonline Editor Dennis J. Freeman, Davis talks about the state of tap dancing, how he got started and his biggest influence in the business.
Dennis J. Freeman: What’s it like performing with Savion Glover? What can audiences expect from you and Savion on stage?
Marshall Davis Jr: “Savion is great. He always sets the bar very high, an incredible artist, an incredible human being. I would like to share that experience, and share his passion from the art form of tap dancing with different people from different walks of life. So we’re looking forward to coming out there and rocking the show in usual fashion.”
DF: You made a statement about tap dancing being the truth. Could you elaborate on that?
MD: “For me, the way I was brought up, I’m speaking in the art form, and tap being truth, I believe that you have truth and you have falsehoods. And for me, it being the truth, represents mean being true to what it is. I believe that it’s what I’m living to do and because of that I’m fortunate to make a living at it. Tap dancing has provided so much for me…It’s almost like God to me. If you’re in tune with that divine imagery, that higher power, then things will kind of work themselves out. You just kind of stay true to that. That’s what tap dancing has been for me. That’s why I revert to it as the truth.”
DF: Is tap dancing a lost art? Are young people still embracing this art form?
MD: “Very much so. A lot of young people are embracing it. I just did a career day for a school here in Brooklyn, and they’re very interested in it. There’s a quote by a great tap master by the name of Bunny Briggs. He said tap dancing was never lost, people just lost tapping. When you allow them, especially younger generations, to experience it and witness it, all the great things that create this art form, they’re very open and receptive to it and willing to try it and do it in the future. But if they’ve never had that exposure, then that’s the difference. From the beginning of time to the creation of tap dancing, expressions going all the way back to the roots of African dance, expressions and communications through rhythm, this art form has never been lost. People have lost their connection to it and those who have been carrying it on.”
DF: Has there ever been a time when you’ve performed and you zone out because you’re so in tuned with the music and the performance itself?
MD: “I try to go to another level of consciousness that I try to share and express through the art form. You go off to another place.”
DF: What are you expressing when you go there?
MD: “It depends on how I’m feeling. Right now, I’m in a state of trying to share the love of the art form. When I was a little bit younger, some of my dancing used to be a little more out of wanting to…like feeling people didn’t appreciated it. I was going to dance with a different type of energy. But now it’s now for love for my teachers, love for the men and women who have come before me, love for my friend Savion, just sharing that stage, the rapport and the reciprocity that we share when we’re dancing. That’s the state I’m in now.”
DF: Who has been your biggest influences in tap dancing?
MD: “With tap dancing, my biggest influences, when I first saw Gregory and Maurice Hines on Sesame Street, when I was younger, that was my initial introduction to them at the time, watching them tap dance on Sesame Street. My father works at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center (Miami, Florida), and he’s the director there. Every summer, my brother, my sister and I…we would go there and take classes in drama, dance, visual arts and music. So they officially added tap (dancing) to the curriculum. Later on, I met a man name Steve Condos (Condos Brothers) who was in the movie Tap, and he took me under his wing and he’s been my biggest influence through this art form. From there, he introduced me to people like (James) Buster Brown, Jimmy Slyde.”
DF: What’s your impression of the great Nicholas Brothers (Fayard and Harold) and their influence on tap dancing?
MD: “Their contributions, you can’t measure it. You have to look at when they were younger, when they were younger in what they accomplished, how their style evolved and their musicality, and a lot of their performances in film, getting standing ovations in the middle of a movie premiere, it’s unheard of. That type of stuff you have yet to see duplicated today. Honestly, you won’t see it duplicated. They’re just that great. They were originals and they were true to themselves.”
DF: Talk about the marketability of the art form tap dance today in the era of social media?
MD: “Times have changed with social media and YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. So you have to be more creative in utilizing those avenues. For us, it was film and TV. But most of these younger kids-they’re not really into TV that much. They’re watching these Instagram posts or Twitter, all these different things, and YouTube. So I think there’s a way to market it through there.”
DF: Did you ever think you’d be in the position you are in today?
MD: “I honestly took it up as a hobby. It was just something that I was always interested in. I never expressed it to my parents. Once they added it to the curriculum at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, I took to it. Initially, my father didn’t want to buy me shoes because I was going through a phase where I playing keyboards…I was so many different things I was being exposed to. I initially got started playing the drums in the African dance class, playing the congas and the bongos, and he was pending his money on these different things. Eventually, it got to the point where he said, ‘I’m not sure that he’s going to stick to this.’ I would take tap class in my sneakers and then I would bring another sole dress shoes. They finally told my father, “look you really need to buy in a pair of tap shoes. Later on, he bought me my first pair and I’ve been dancing ever since.”