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Published: Thursday, 5/26/2005

Tap dancers click heels downtown

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Gale Mentzer, left, Dan Madigan, and Brenda Michalak celebrate National Tap Dance Day outside Government Center. The day became law in 1989. Toledo has not celebrated it. Gale Mentzer, left, Dan Madigan, and Brenda Michalak celebrate National Tap Dance Day outside Government Center. The day became law in 1989. Toledo has not celebrated it.
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Jean Voegeli, by far the oldest member of the Manhattan Dance Company, energetically kicked her feet and waved her arms yesterday afternoon while tap dancing downtown outside Government Center.

In her bright green dance company shirt and sparkling black visor, the 77-year-old Toledoan held her own with the other dancers performing the Shim Sham Shimmy.

"When you're tired and thinking you don't want to go [dancing], and then you go and forget all your problems and come out feeling so good," Mrs. Voegeli said. She started tapping in high school and took it up again in the 1990s for exercise.

Mrs. Voegeli was among as many as 25 tap dancers who performed in celebration of National Tap Dance Day as employees inside the center looked out their windows and about a dozen passers-by stopped to watch and listen.

For 20 minutes beginning at 4 p.m., dancers tapped in unison with wide smiles and energetic arm movements to music from a boom box at their feet. The occasional clap, spin, and shout accompanied the music. Dancers tried to grab spectators and passersby to join in - without much success.

Most of the dancers were from Manhattan Dance Company in Maumee and Sole Rhythms Tap & Dance in Toledo. They kicked off their work shoes and laced up their oxford-style tap shoes to bring attention to the art form.

"This is hoofing, a free-style form of tap," Brenda Michalak said of the dance performed outside government center. "Hoofing is tap, but not as structured as Broadway style."

Mrs. Michalak, director of Sole Rhythms Tap & Dance, organized the outdoor tap-in with Martin Nagy, regional executive director of Arts Council Lake Erie West.

National Tap Dance Day was signed into U.S. law in 1989 and the date May 25 was chosen as a celebration of famous tapper Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's birthday. Large celebrations in New York and Chicago commemorate the holiday, but there was nothing local for tap enthusiasts to do before this year, Mrs. Michalak said.

She began organizing yesterday's tap-in about a month ago, inviting dance students and friends. Even though she was hoping for a turnout closer to 40 dancers, she was happy with those who performed because "it's dance recital season" and it was the first local celebration.

Mrs. Michalak said she plans to make the tap-in a yearly event in Toledo.

"I'm hoping this is something that gets on the calendars for next year," she said.

Toledoan Sue Morgenroth said she's been tap dancing for 13 years and has always thought about heading to a large city to celebrate National Tap Dance Day.

"I've known about the day for a few years and we've talked about going to Chicago or New York to celebrate, then we said, `Why not here?'‚óŹ" she said.

Mrs. Morgenroth said she loves the camaraderie of the dancers in the company. "Most of us dance because we love it," she said. "And it's something you can do at any age."

Ruth Kessen, Manhattan Dance Company director, said National Tap Dance Day is a great way to bring attention to that form of dance. She said when Mrs. Michalak contacted her about the local tap-in event, the members of her company jumped at the chance.



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