Florida International University

Tribal drums, gospel and the clicks and clacks of tap echoed through the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend as troupes of young people danced their way through black history to commemorate National Tap Dance Day.

Titled “Routes to your Roots,” the performances showcased African-American dance styles from their origins in Africa to present-day hip-hop.

The event was coordinated by Mary Archer of Breath of Life, Creative Arts, a long-time tapper who hopes to preserve and spread an art form she said is uniquely rooted in African-American culture.

“It’s not just about the tap dancing, it’s deeper than technique, said Archer, 73, who’s been tapping for 64 years. “When you get a group of people who love what they do, it creates a spirit of unity and love.”

Archer, who has a doctorate in performing arts and taught at the center 20 years ago, said she wanted to “tell the story of tap dancing.”

May 25, the birthday of renowned tap dancer Bill “Bo Jangles” Robinson, was declared National Tap Dance Day by Congress in 1989. It was first officially celebrated in South Florida last year.

Performers on Sunday danced to everything from old African tribal beats to gospel to hip-hop, and even Lady Gaga, in a program that included interpretive dance, ballet, swing and, of course, tap.

Children from schools and dance studios in Liberty City participated in the event.

Girls from Charles Drew Middle performed an interpretive dance in flowing skirts to a spiritual song.

Reanaldo Farrington entertained the crowd with four different tap dancing solos, to the beat of drums, a gospel handclap, an ode to Harlem’s Cotton Club and a
hip-hop number.  

Dancers from the Next Generation Dance Academy on Seventh Avenue performed an African dance, tapped their feet to a 1930’s big band song called “Sing, Sing, Sing” and banged long wooden sticks to match their dance steps in a hip-hop number.

Third graders from Walker Elementary, a performing arts magnet school in Fort Lauderdale, donned top hats, red sequin tops and their tap shoes for their performance to “Dancing Machine” by the Jackson 5.

Enjoli Paul, who teaches dance at Walker, said she learned about the event after Archer taught a workshop to students at the school.

It took the children about six weeks to learn the routine, she said.

“Art feeds into so many walks of life,” Paul said. “If they have discipline for dance, they have discipline for school.”

Nevaeh Sanders’ parents could not have been more proud of their third-grader, whom Paul praised as her most accomplished student.

“She talks about the class every day,” said her mother, Leah. “It drives her to do good in school.”

Sherard Lasster, a Liberty City native who remains in the neighborhood, has been tap dancing for 22 years. Although he had recently retired his tap shoes to focus on his landscaping business, he said Archer convinced him to perform at the event.

“Dance to me is a way of community, a way of vibing with one another,” he said. “For me, tap was a way to escape. Tap is the beat of the heart.”