Peter's Comic Book Ramblings

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Today I attended the viewing service of one the many great Tap Dancers I've had the honor of learning from over the years.

LaVaughan Robinson passed last week just two weeks shy of his 81st birthday. Today was a mixture of sadness, pride, encouragement and many other emotions and I was reminded just how influential he was to me as a performer, a dancer and as a teacher.

The morning turned into a little University of the Arts reunion of sorts - which is where I met LaVaughan back in 1992. I was a Musical Theatre major but the Dance Dept. held classes in the old 313 building (now torn down). I'm fairly certain I was introduced to LaVaughan's class of hoofin' tap for dance majors from a classmate and I would attend even though I wasn't a dance major. It was a whole new world of tap for me - his style, his approach, his attitude - all of it. I was probably the only guy in the class at times and I could tell he was happy that I took the class. In fact, I can remember him asking me where I was when I would miss a class or two. It probably wasn't easy for him to teach ballerinas and modern dancers how to tap - without using vocabulary or even counts. He was about the sounds and listening and that's not always easy to pick up. But it certainly trained me to become a better dancer.

LaVaughan was one of two great tap teachers I had at UArts. The other being Michael Lanning. Michael , a silver haired Italian man, was more of a classic tap dancer, in the style of Astaire and Gene Kelly. LaVaughan grew up dancing on the streets of Philly and his style was rhythmic and down to the ground. There were many days when the two of them, opposites in so many ways, would argue about sports or politicians, usually with Lou the guard or Ralph the maintenance man. I have to assume they respected each other's talents though and each taught me so much.

At the service today, I saw classmates, teachers, an old roommate, castmates, people I knew but never took class with, people I knew from the lounge or the hallways. When LaVaughan's family came in, it hit me that I don't think I ever heard LaVaughan talk about his wife, kids, family - ever. And yet there they were. And they were so happy to see the crowd of people who attended because of LaVaughan's legacy. Savion Glover's mom was in attendance and before she sang a moving song of memory, she asked the Philadelphia Tap Community to stand. And I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment. Here were teachers and students. Students who are now teachers. And teachers who are now peers. People who will continue to pass on what we've learned. In fact, I did a gig about two weekends back where I had to dance two numbers. And sure enough, LaVaughan's steps were in the mix.

I would continue to see LaVaughan after college mostly at tap functions in Philly or when he was a special guest artist at a concert held by the Allentown tap company I was part of for years. I would always take his class, even if the routine was the same, because you never really learned it fully. Each time you picked up something new. And that was so worth it.

You know, in all those years, I'm not quite sure he remembered or knew my name. But he knew my feet. And in that, I hope I can pass on to others what I've learned from a true artist.



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