“Tap is a soulful dance – a double entendre. It is a feeling that oozes from one’s soul. Everybody secretly wants to tap dance. I believe that” – Dianne Walker
Dianne Walker is considered “America‘s First Lady of Tap Dance”. I was immediately drawn to Dianne as my eminent person as I have always been very passionate about dance, with a extra love for tap dance. Dianne was born on March 8th, 1951, in Boston, MA. At the age of 2, she faced huge challenges when she contracted polio, leading her mother to enroll her in dance classes with Mildred Kennedy to strengthen her legs.￼ Little did they know that this would spark her love for dance, and that this would be the start of an amazing dance career. During her high school years, her father was in the military which meant had to she live in many different places outside of the United states, including California and Japan. When she returned to the United States, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in Education, followed by a Master’s degree in Psychology. During this time,
she stopped dancing for many years, as she was busy being the mother to her two children and finishing school. In 1978 she was preparing to enter law school, when her life took an unexpected turn. She met the great tap master Leon Collins and became inspired by his passion and enthusiasm for tap dance. With his encouragement she began tap dancing again and became his protégé, which unexpectedly launched her into a professional dance career. Since then, she has inspired countless young tap dancers from around the world, helping to pave the way for women and African Americans to rise to prominence in the tap dance world.
Dianne is a pioneer in the resurgence of tap dance as an art form. When most people think of tap dance, they think of Hollywood movies. However, there is much more to tap dance than this popular style. Tap dance started when the slave traders in America found out that their African slaves were using rhythms created on their drums to communicate with each other over long distances. The slave owners felt threatened and scared, so they took their drums away. Without their drums, the African slaves continued to keep their traditional rhythms by transferring their cu;ture communication to their feet. This was the birth of tap dance. Dianne was essential in helping to bring back this culture of expressing your soul through pure rhythm in tap. She is considered a transitional character from the forgotten mothers of tap dance to ￼the young women dancers of today. One of her most impressive accomplishments was becoming the first female dancer to be part of the all-male hoofers line which included some of the masters such as Jimmy Slyde, Chuck Green, and Buster Brown just to name a few. She became even more respected when she became the assistant choreographer and dance captain of the famous Broadway production “Black and Blue” which was considered “the quintessential black-rhythm tap musical of the century” (Dianne “Lady Di” Walker Biography)
Without a doubt, Dianne Walker is one of the most eminent people in her field. However it was not easy for her to reach this point. On her journey to eminence she faced many obstacles starting with contracting polio when was two years old. Being a woman made it difficult to find a place in the tap dance scene as gender inequality was prominent and there were far less opportunities for women. Not only that, but there were enormous challenges for African Americans to work in North America since racism was rampant. The fact that she overcame all of these challenges make her accomplishments even more impressive. She is one of the few living people who still have firsthand experience working with the legends of tap dance, and who can pass this knowledge down to the next generation. She realized how important this is, because tap dance is an art form that relies on oral traditions and sharing experiences and stories. Dianne is a gifted teacher and mentor and is very generous with her time teaching others. She does this because she believes the next generation needs to know the history and origin of tap dance in order to keep the art form alive.
I am so excited to study Dianne because she has been someone who has recently started to inspired me. I also feel that we have many similarities which helps me relate to her even though we have some differences. I haven’t had to struggle to follow my passion for dance as she did because of the sexism and racism that was so common when she was growing up. However I can still appreciate and relate to some of the stuggles she had to go through to get where she is today.
|Natasha Dawson||Dianne Walker|
|Passion for tap dance||Passion for tap dance|
|Love for teaching||Love for teaching|
|Half Chinese||African American|
|No University degree||University Degree – Masters|
|Upper Middle class||Middle class|
In pursuing my passion for tap dance, I have recently participated in several International tap dance Festivals (San Antonio, Los Angeles, Calgary and Dallas). A very exciting highlight for me was when I had the opportunity to meet and take class with Dianne! She was so kind and generous and was very insightful about the art of tap dance. She is an amazing inspiration and a wonderful role model for me which is the main reason why I chose her for my eminent person. My research of Dianne Walker will not only deepen my knowledge about her as a person and the history of tap dance but it will also give me an opportunity to teach my peers at school more about my passion, tap dance, as it is not very well known to the general public at this time. In addition it will help me become a better tap dancer through deeper understand of the history and origins of tap.
There is so much wisdom we can take away from studying Dianne Walker. She exemplifies many of the goals I hope to achieve in my life and in TALONS, including being a strong leader, collaborating with others and advocating for worthy causes. She is a wonderful example of how perseverance and hard work leads to excellence even in the face of obstacles. By teaching others, she leaves a legacy by spreading her love of tap dance. From Dianne, we learn that sharing knowledge is vital for the survival of an art form and through the wisdom of her many stories she helps us connect to the past, which then helps start a new path forward for the future of tap dance.
“The Hoffer Award.” American Tap Dance Foundation, www.atdf.org/awards/walker.html.
“Dianne Walker.” Valerie K. Thurston: Tap Dance Enthusiast!, valeriekthurston.weebly.com/dianne-walker.html.v
“Dianne ‘Lady Di’ Walker.” American Memory: Remaining Collections, memory.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.music.tdabio.183/default.html.
“TAP OR DIE: Dianne Walker on Tap Dancing Lessons over Therapy, from the Documentary ‘Tap or Die.’” YouTube, 20 Aug. 2013, youtu.be/BKiIr–8t9A.
“All about Tap Dance.” All About Tap Dance | TheatreDance.com, http://www.theatredance.com/tap/.
By Natasha Dawson