Written by CORC assistant and recent graduate, Summer Hirtzel F08
Bobbie Stuart is Director of Central Records; you may have seen her signature gracing your fabulous 20+page college transcript. She has been working at Central Records since 1980 and has been tap dancing for almost as long.
Twenty-five years ago, one of her friends was asked to teach a tap dancing class and decided she wanted to brush up her skills before doing so. She asked Bobbie, who had tap danced as a child but hadn’t stepped inside a studio in years, if she would take a class at a studio in Northampton with her. What started as a favor to a friend became a brand new obsession which continues to this day. She laughs, “You have to do these kinds of things,” describing her various extra-curricular activities. Tap dancing keeps her happy. She likes making a commitment to the classes – it motivates her to practice and introduces her to some fantastic people. It is also a good workout and a wonderful way to unwind after a long day at work.
She occasionally performs in recitals, which she does purely for fun. “With tap, I have lost the fear of making a fool of myself,” she says lightheartedly. She grins as she paraphrases a favorite quote by a fellow tap dancer, “When I’m on stage, I don’t care about what others think. If anyone doesn’t like what I’m doing I can just say to myself, ‘Hey! I’m up here. I’m tap dancing. If you can tap dance, you should come up here and join me. If you can’t, you should just sit back and enjoy.’”
She tap dances for fun and for the exercise – the dance can be very aerobic. She also loves that there are always ways that you can adjust the dance so that you can keep dancing. As long as you can walk, you can tap dance. She no longer takes lessons with the Broadway-style dancers, and she has found ways to work around her knee problems.
Bobbie has noticed a recent tap revival, at least in the Valley, as she has been able to find classes in the Five Colleges and at Greenfield Community College to satisfy her cravings. New York and New England are actually wonderful places to be for keeping up with the tap dancing community. Bobbie described in particular a regular Tuesday night Jazz Session in Northampton run by Paul Arslanian, who specializes in playing for tap dancers. They occasionally feature tap artists at their jam sessions.
The focus of many of the Five College tap dancing classes is the rhythm and history of tap dancing. Bobbie appreciates the lack of emphasis on “Broadway showiness” and the importance to many of the dance professors of keeping the genre and the historical dances of its pioneers alive.
Bobbie recommends students interested in tap dancing at all to talk to Constance Hill, Five College professor of dance and author of Tap Dancing America, A Cultural History. Other local resources are www.fivecolleges.edu where you can find tap dancing classes and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Beckett, MA (www.jacobspillow.org), which features classes and performances.