From The Top.
From the beginning, I struggled academically. From first grade through twelfth grade, I attended thirteen different schools—and my family never moved. I was slated to repeat first grade because I couldn’t read. What’s more, I never could catch, see, hit, kick, or dodge a ball. My failures on the court, on the track, in the gym, and in the classroom were nothing compared to what happened on the playground.
I was a goofball who spent most of recess playing on the swings alone or sitting inside a classroom to avoid getting beat up by the other kids.
Flap Ball Change
Summers not spent in school for failing grades, I went to the dance studio. The world gave me my share of stuff to manage. But fortunately, inside a dance studio my life made sense. I felt O.K. about myself and I discovered tap dancing.
I grew up dancing at my mother’s studio in New York, The Adele Johnson School of Performing Arts. I have eight siblings who all know how to execute a mean time step. One of my brothers, Kevin, will swear he taught me everything tap dance. However, one look at his flap ball change reveals the truth.
I traveled to Guinea, West Africa to study Djembe with Les Percussions de Guinea and Les Ballets Africains.
Later I toured with two of my sisters as part of a tapping and drumming trio called, Three Sister’s Tappin’.
Then my younger sister quit (family drama). My older sister and I carried on as Two Sister’s Tappin‘.
Then she quit.
Now I’m A Sister Tappin’.
I served as a Congressional Intern on Capitol Hill while earning my BA from the George Washington University. After college I worked at various Fortune 500 companies. Then in 1993 I moved from Washington, DC to Austin and earned an MBA from The University of Texas.
The Sara Lee Corporation in Winston-Salem recruited me after business school to brand managed a line of panty hose. I quit after five months because life without show tunes and show business was unbearable.
"Do Not Take a Tap Dance Class!"
For the first couple of months I told myself, “Do not take a tap class. Do not take a tap class.” I knew that if I showed up as a student, I’d be viewed as a student—and then I’d have to earn the right to teach.
I’d been teaching tap since I was a 12-year-old at my mother’s dance studio. I was a teacher.
I visited various dance studios and offered to sub any tap class. Within a week, Lynn Givens phoned asking me to do just that. I was beyond excited to finally lace up my kicks.
Toward the end of class, I spotted a tall, blue-eyed, debonair gentleman observing me hit the wood. He approached me, and this happened . . .
Hello. My name is Joe Tremaine.
Have you ever taught at a dance convention?
Sir, I’ve never even heard of a dance convention.
But I love to teach, and I’m very good at it.
I need a tap teacher this weekend.
Are you available to travel?
Good. Let’s schedule a meeting for tomorrow in my office to discuss the details.
I arrived home from that first convention experience in an idyllic state. A few days later, my bliss level skyrocketed when in the mail I received a 21-city contract from Joe Tremaine. What? They do this every weekend? I had no idea. Yes. Count me in.
Here’s the prayer I prayed when I traded pumps for tap shoes and moved to Los Angeles tap dance:
“I want to teach tap because that’s what I do best.
I want to teach different people as often as possible.
I want to teach few hours but make the kind of money I would make working 30 hours a week teaching from studio to studio.
Travel would be ideal.
And the ultimate icing on the cake would be the opportunity to perform. I’d prefer to perform with other tap dancers, but if I must go solo, I will.”
Up to this point in my life, I’d never heard of a dance convention. But, soon enough I was teaching tap dance on Tremaine Dance Conventions. TALK about going there in the mind first, eh?
Our minds are powerful.
Your Powerful Mind.
Can we please talk for a second about how magical a moment it was when Mr. Tremaine escorted me to my very first dance convention class?
I just about fell to my knees in gratitude when the ballroom door opened and I spotted hundreds of joyful dancers wearing tap shoes.
I’d never seen anything like it. There were no DRAWBACKS to the weekend, and I was OVER THE TOP happy.
No one put a CRAMP in my ROLL.