In about the second grade I saw my first tap dance performance. There was one guy dancing with all the girls, and I knew then that this was the art form for me. It was love at first sight. I started putting bottle caps on the bottom of my shoes, trying to imitate tap dancing on the sidewalk.
I grew up on the south side of Chicago in the Woodlawn and Englewood district. When I was 15 years old I dropped out of school and became a working, touring musician, playing bass guitar by the side of my brother who played lead guitar. Still, that feeling of "I got to dance" never went away.
I was introduced to my first tap dance teacher Jimmy Payne Sr. who gave me a solid foundation. I loved how tap dancing made me feel! I got ambitious and took to the streets; clacka, clacka, clacka, and a rat-a-tat-tat.
I began to dance in the Chicago subway stations, which is truly an underground world. Down there people would say anything, do almost anything, but that is where I developed a sincere connection with people. You learn about everyday people, pickpockets, police, bag-ladies, the homeless and others from all walks of life. I learned how to perform down there. I saw what worked and what didn't by how people reacted. For some my dancing was like medicine. You could see how it changed them and played a role in their day.
As time went on shows like 42nd Street, Sophisticated Lady, and Black and Blue helped make tap popular again. I got out the subway and took it to another level. Big department stores wanted me to dance for their grand openings and holiday promotions. Agents called who once turned me away at the door. I developed a school program, started teaching, began doing community service, produced shows and I traveled again – this time as the dancer I'd wanted to be.
I've always felt blessed, dance has been my guardian angel.