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the world's greatest tap dancer

As Savion Glover brings his new show to Britain, he tells Hilary Whitney how he reinvented tap and how he turned an animated penguin into a dance star

If tap dancing conjures up visions of Fred and Ginger or even, heaven forbid, Junior Showtime, then think again because Savion Glover's syncopated, hard hitting brand of tap has nothing in common with showbiz razzmatazz. To Glover, who is generally considered to be the greatest tap dancer of his generation, tap is far more than mere entertainment; it's a percussive art form with unlimited scope for expression.

"I suppose you would describe my style as more musical versus show tap," he says when we meet in New York, a couple of blocks from where he lives with his wife and son. "I deal with more complex rhythmical patterns than a regular tap dancer. I even think in rhythms."

Tap couldn't have a better emissary. A charismatic man with bouncing dreadlocks, Glover, 35, has a warm, beatific smile entirely befitting someone who would have been called Savior if his mother Yvette, a gospel and jazz singer, hadn't decided it might not go down too well in New Jersey and settled for changing the last letter.

Glover was banging out rhythms on pots cartier ring love knock off and pans as soon as he was big enough to drag them out of the kitchen cupboards. Yvette promptly whisked him off to Suzuki music lessons, where he learnt the drums, and by the age of seven he was in a band, performing at parties and weddings. It was when the band played at a benefit concert ring cartier knock off at the Broadway Dance Center that Glover first saw Lon Chaney the tap dancer, not the actor perform.

"I had no idea who he was," says Glover, "but I was very turned on by what he was doing. I'd seen Fred Astaire, of course, but I'd never seen anything like this. I mean, he had more rhythms going than I'd ever heard before and that was with his feet!

"So I followed him into the dressing room. He'd heard me playing the drums and he said, 'You ought to translate that to your feet and do dancing.' The strange thing is that I didn't know that my mom had already signed me and my two older brothers up for tap lessons."

Glover made copy diamond ring cartier his Broadway debut when he was 11 in The Tap Dance Kid and went on to perform in the musical revue Black and Blue with Chaney and other veteran hoofers. When dancer and choreographer Gregory Hines came to see the show he was so impressed by Glover he gave him a role in his 1989 film Tap, which also featured Sammy Davis Jnr. Hines became a father figure to Glover, who never really knew his biological father, and in 1992 they both appeared in Jelly's Last Jam, a Broadway musical about jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton.

By the time Jelly's Last Jam closed, Glover was beginning to feel restless; he realised that musically, tap was stuck in a time warp. "I was listening to hip hop, stuff with a funky bass line, but I wasn't dancing to it, and the generation before me, they weren't dancing to the music they partied to either, stuff from the Sixties and Seventies."

He took the opportunity to redress this in 1995 when he choreographed Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk, which told the history of African Americans from slavery to more recent indignities such as trying to hail a cab in New York. The dancing was loud and furious and blew away any preconceptions that tap had to revolve around spangles and smiley faces.

Glover, who also starred in the show, ring cartier imitation was immediately hailed as an extraordinary new talent and won a Tony Award for his choreography.

But, if Glover is credited for redefining the art form, he is always quick to acknowledge his debt to his predecessors and he refers to them constantly throughout our conversation. "I grew up watching Gregory Hines banging out rhythms like drum beats, and Jimmy Slyde dancing these melodies, you know, bop bah be do bap, not just tap tap tap. Everyone else was dancing in monotone, but I could hear the hoofers in stereo and they influenced me to have this musical approach towards tap.

"It's as if my left heel is my bass drum and my right heel is the floor tom tom. I can get snare out of my right toe by not putting it down on the floor hard, and, if I want cymbals, I land flat on both feet, full strength on the floor."

Glover is dedicated to raising the profile of tap and to that end has undertaken an eclectic range of projects, from the Spike Lee film Bamboozled, in which he played a homeless tap dancer, to pop videos with P Diddy, as well as a five year stint in Sesame Street. He also, thanks to the wonders of motion capture, provided the exuberant footwork for Mumble, the toe tapping penguin in the hit film Happy Feet.

"There's a whole new generation who know about tap dancing thanks to Happy Feet," he says. "Years ago, everybody knew about tap because of Shirley Temple. Now they know about it because of Mumble."

By contrast, his recent stage performances, although inventive he's danced to Bartk and Shostakovich and accompanied a gospel singer, for instance are becoming increasingly pared down. "There's not a lot of scenery or lights in my shows," he says. "It's all about focusing on the art form. I want people to pay attention to the tap."

When he made his British debut at Sadler's Wells last year, the show was perceived to be just as much a jazz concert as a dance performance, and he's taking this to its logical conclusion when he returns next week with his new production Bare Soundz. There'll be no band, just Glover and his three regular co performers, Marshall Davis Jnr, Maurice Chestnut and Cartier Williams, laying down jazz, Caribbean and contemporary beats.

Glover points out that this is nothing new. "Dancers like Steve Condos would rarely dance to music; I'm just trying to continue where the cats left off. I don't know where I'd be without them."
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