The Happy Hoofer

Tap dancer extraordinaire Steve Zee will make you care about tap dancing with a passion, a love, a fabulousness that hurtles through the phone lines and slaps you upside the head like a Capezio to the cranium. He's a tap alchemist, converting your pronounced disinterest and possible scorn into genuine concern and consideration. When he says tap is regarded as “the ugly stepsister of the dance world,” you will feel a trifle sorry for the genre. When he talks about the problem with tap shoes and how no one's made a decent pair, you will agree that this is nothing short of fucked-up. And when he charges that tap dancers don't just dance to the music, but actually are the music, you'll be skeptical but come to understand what he means because taps are percussive and rhythmic. Like spoons. (You will keep this spoon bit to yourself.)

Your friend Anthony refers to tap-dancing as “The Headache Dance,” so you'll lob this allegation at Steve Zee, wondering what kind of reaction it's bound to provoke in the 36-year-old tap-happy man. Will it send him into some kind of tap tizzy? You secretly hope it will. You will wait with bated breath. Foiled!

Zee laughs heartily. “I would say that your friend Anthony has unfortunately seen the type of tap dancing that most people have seen. Most people's exposure to tap-dancing is exposure to low-quality tap-dancing. In the hands of the right person, tap-dancing is a fabulous, gorgeous, very textual, jazz art form. In the hands of an amateur, it's a lot of noise and clomping around. My heart goes out to your friend because I've had to endure a lot of those performances.”

Zee is adamant that tap-dancing forked somewhere along the way and morphed into “low-quality, little-girl tap-dancing with shiny costumes and no value whatsoever” on one side and “pure musicality” on the other.

Zee would like to offer you a glimpse of the latter world in his one-man show All in Good Time, directed by Broadway legend Bob Scheerer. The hour-and-15-minute show comprises monologues and dancing. The monologues—about Eddie Brown, Harold Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers, and Gregory Hines, various “old-time hoofers” Zee has met and worked with along the way—introduce the tap pieces, each of which has something specific to do with the hoofer in question via either music or style.

“The audience is going to have every experience, from toe tapping and smiling to laughter and tears when I talk about the passing of some of these guys,” promises Zee. “The performance is geared toward transferring an experience. People are going to leave and feel like they met Gregory Hines. They're going to feel what it was like to be in the rehearsal studio or onstage with these guys.”

And then he says something quite compelling. Not that the other stuff isn't compelling, too, but you know.

“In our modern times, you click on the TV, and you learn a lot about certain worlds. Lawyers, doctors, criminals, gangsters. The world that we address in the show is a world that most people don't know a whole lot about.”

The man has a point. Did you know, for example, that good tap dancers talk about quarter notes, eighth notes, 16th notes and phrasing? Did you know that most theaters have stages unsuitable for tap-dancing? Did you know that tap-dancing was kind of the break-dancing of its day? Of course you didn't. Don't lie.

Also, in case you're wondering, Steve Zee doesn't wear any foofy shiny shit onstage. “I wear adult clothes,” he says. “I will be wearing a suit onstage with a sports shirt, and I will look like an adult male who dances like an adult male. I come from the tradition where you don't have a lot of smoke and mirrors getting in the way of the audience experiencing what is real.”

“All in Good Time” at the Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater, Cal State Long Beach, Atherton St. N Palo Verde Ave., Long Beach, (562) 284-8662. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. $16.

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