American Black Journal contributor Chastity Pratt Dawsey sits down for a one-on-one interview with world renown tap dancer Savion Glover. Check out the extended interview below:
Savion Glover: [00:00:00] That’s interesting but… it’s interesting. You remember what it was. Still same step. I can do it many different ways.
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:00:17] Savion Glover you are in Detroit. So I have to ask your Detroit story. Everybody has a Detroit story. What do you like about Detroit. What have you done while you’ve been here. Give us a little something.
Savion Glover: [00:00:32] Man. Well, I have family here. I immediately think about my family here.
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:00:36] Really?
Savion Glover: [00:00:37] And, uh… yeah, you know. Detroit… man, you know I’ve been here for a couple of festivals. I’ve had some life changing… changing experiences here through relationships. Detroit. Yeah it’s it’s… it’s monumental.
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:00:56] OK so let’s talk a little bit about what we’re doing here at the Detroit School of Arts. What are you teaching? Who you teaching it to?
Savion Glover: [00:01:04] I am right now, um… under the honorable service of a group from the local area and then surrounding. Tap dancers. All ages. I think it may be the young is possibly 10. And then the oldest being as old as I am. I was saying yesterday it is my proud privilege to be at a point in my life where I can say I’m here in support of the present movement. In support of the present energy. I’m here beyond, um… the entertainer. I’m here beyond the celebrity. Um, so I’m here for the Carr Center. And I’m here for everything that the Carr Center is about. This particular day hap… happens to be our sessions. Our tap sessions before the performance. And again I’m just..you know… the teaching is sharing. Tap dancing is my life. So at this point my teachings are that of ways to live. Life lessons that have been afforded the wonderful opportunity to learn and then act upon. So I’m just sharing those little… I guess tools and antidotes.
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:02:46] So I was in the hallway and my daughter is a dancer and I saw one of her friends who has the opportunity to be in this class and she said that there was… um, you know, a lot of talking and you were telling them to be themselves. The message. What is… you know, give us some of the messages that you shared with the kids. How do you… how do you be yourself as a dancer? How do you bring that into art?
Savion Glover: [00:03:12] Well it’s like I said. Again, I understand the climate of this world right now. I understand the, um… I understand what I know to be true. And again it’s just my proud privilege to take advantage of my time with people who are responsible for our tomorrow. And a lot of the young thinkers in here… thinkers in here are responsible. So tap dance becomes the vehicle, you know, but the message is not only be a great tap dancer, but be present today. Be yourself. Know how to express yourself today, in this climate, in this now. Be a voice. I don’t care if you five or seven or fifty. Exist. And if it takes a tap class for us to be reminded that… “Oh, it’s important that I say something. It’s important that I recognize that I got to move too. In the climate of this today. So I’m happy to do that through tap dancing. Express yourself. Not only as a tap dancer but as a human being.
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:04:55] So, I think there are a lot of people who, like me, obviously remember you as that little kid dancing way Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis, Jr. And now, you know, you’ve grown up in the art and you’re teaching. Talk about what it takes to become that seasoned veteran in… in tap. In dance. You know, what’s that key to longevity?
Savion Glover: [00:05:30] Well I don’t know. I don’t know. All I know is that tap dancing, as far as longevity… the longevity is life. I don’t… uh, you know, just live life as far as that part of the question. But, you know, it’s similar to some of the things I’m sharing with the students, you know. My life… this is my life, really.
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:05:53] But everybody can’t last as long in the game, right?
Savion Glover: [00:05:58] Well everybody can’t last here. [maybe? talking over each other here].
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:06:00] You won a Tony and you still do this every day.
Savion Glover: [00:06:03] Yeah, because I have to live like you… you… you and those of us who are… continue to do have a chance to enjoy my experience here. I am what you see. I’m not what you see. I am it. So as I am trapped in this now my voice is my job. And my job happens to be a celebrity. But really my life is in there which is tap dancing. And I have a relationship with tap dancing that has nothing to do with anything else. So it’s… it’s curious to figure out this now and this… and this presence. And then why, you know, the teaching, you know, why I feel that again it’s necessary for me to… as a tap dancer, of course you know, it’s all one. As I’m passing on this information through tap dancing I’m Also passing along the importance of information. You know, as I tell these children about Lon Cheney and Chuck Green and Jimmy Slyde and Gregory Hines and all these great contributors there’s also something else there. You know, I mean, I don’t know what it is. Sometimes I do. But I know that it’s not just simply because it’s going to allow them to be a better tap dancer.
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:07:57] Well tell me this. What do you see as the place for tap and American culture now? Because… I ask that because, you know, it appears to me as a dance mom that… you know, you have this show, oh, “So You Think You Can Dance.” and you have Tapology which is a big festival here in Michigan the kids all go to. You know you have these competitions kids… It seems to me that tap is more, um, part of pop culture. You tell me. Do you feel that? That tap is not so much, you know, the… you know, respectable art form and something that, you know, was more esoteric but now pop culture? What do you think?
Savion Glover: [00:08:42] Yeah. It’s, um… it’s an interesting topic. It’s interesting topic. And again the short version is it… it’s all about your relationship with whatever this thing is that we are doing. You know, the relationship brings politics and politics brings judgment and judgment brings… oh, right and wrong and rule and law and then… this guy. So, um…
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:09:09] But do you think it’s more pop culture-ish to tap dance now than it used to be?
Savion Glover: [00:09:16] Again, I… me being a tap dancer, you know, I can say I came up as a tap dancer in the early… like, late 70s and then early 80s on. So the climate was again different. There was, uh… in my surroundings, in my environment, my mother exposed us to the stuff that… the culture my mother…
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:09:54] The arts.
Savion Glover: [00:09:54] Yeah. The arts and whatever I need to be responsible for as a human being existed under her watch. She made us aware of that. So there was music in my home. My mother’s a singer. My grandmother ministered music. My great-grandfather played piano all around the world. My great… uh, my grandfather on my mother’s… my mother’s father played piano. So the music was always in my house so I was always aware of this thing that maybe had been a dying art form which was tapdancing. It was in the culture. It was a part of something we did. It was a part of something we knew about. Did I know about the cats? No, I didn’t know about Jimmy Slyde or Lon Cheney until later on. But, stick… sticking to your point, like, as far as the popularity of it… Well it was always popular in my life. But next door, they probably had no interest in it until probably 30 years later. And now a show like… one of these shows that you mentioned is on and they see, “Oh, tapdancing is alive again.” But meanwhile it’s been next door… it has been right next door, there hasn’t just been the interest. So it’s always about what’s… again, popular. It depends on who’s talking about it.
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:11:17] There you go. Well let’s talk about…
Savion Glover: [00:11:18] But I will say… I will say, and I’m I’m glad… not to cut you off…
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:11:24] No no no, you’re okay.
Savion Glover: [00:11:25] But I will say that I am with you. If I heard that you agree that this art form should be one of those that is more sacred in its preserve. Not everyone not everywhere not for any reason should it be available.
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:11:55] It’s not for everybody. Everybody can’t do right, right?
Savion Glover: [00:11:59] Yeah, you know but not only right. It’s not about right or wrong. But it’s just… you ain’t doing that. That ain’t in you.
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:12:09] So… but let’s talk about why you are here for those of us who weren’t able to see you at the Carr Center in a percussion conversation… that right there, a percussion conversation… with Dee Dee Bridgewater scatting and Terry Lane Carrington drumming and you tapping. What is that about? Just how just how do you put together a percussion conversation with a scatter, a drummer, and a tapper?
Savion Glover: [00:12:39] Well, first of all, Dee Dee Bridgewater is much more than a scatter.
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:12:44] Oh yeah, I get that.
Savion Glover: [00:12:45] But She’s… what she’s what she’s doing is…
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:12:47] She is doing it for that.
Savion Glover: [00:12:47] …much more than scatting. I mean, again, that’s a… that’s a convenient word to use…
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:12:55] Vocals.
Savion Glover: [00:12:55] to describe her… to describe her contribution to what it is we live in. Um, so… but let’s address that first. But secondly, it’s… man, again, it’s an ongoing conversation. It’s an ongoing display of communication. It’s a conversation on display.
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:13:20] It’s improvisation too, right?
Savion Glover: [00:13:22] Mostly so. Yes, yes. Mostly improvisational. And um, you know, again to be perfectly honest with you I don’t… I don’t like, you know, much rehearsal. Tonight I’m trying to avoid some rehearsals that she’s got us into. You know, because you can’t rehearse now. You can’t rehearse what’s going to happen now. You can think about it and do all this stuff but, the… It’s like what we create is a phrase like percussion discussion. It’s just a continuation of… hey you got an idea. I got an idea. My idea ain’t working right now. Oh, I know a route. Oh, you got some gas or we need to go over here to get gas. Well that one’s not gonna work. Well maybe we need to go back. I got a plan.
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:14:17] So the… the tap dancing and the vocals and the drum all playing off each other.
Savion Glover: [00:14:23] Yeah, everybody’s doing this. But we all know where we want to go. We know… we know what we want to achieve. But the journey is what you get to experience as a performance.
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:14:35] Well you know what? It’s truly it’s right to have Savion Glover in Detroit. Percussion Discussion.
Savion Glover: [00:14:43] Happy to be here.
Chastity Pratt Dawsey: [00:14:43] Thank you so much for being with us.
Savion Glover: [00:14:45] Please. Thank you.
Featured Image: Savion Glover at the Warner Theatre, Photo by Ser Amantio di Nicolao via wikimedia cc 3.0