Today I found out that one of my old tap teachers, Prof. Robert L. Reed, has passed away. I haven’t been a part of the dance world in years – a catastrophic ankle injury at 15 meant it was easier to quit than do the level of PT and training necessary to ever get back to where I was before I was injured – but his passing hit me really hard today.
Mr. Reed’s St. Louis Tap Festival was a life line for me and other hoofers from Missouri to the best tap training in the country and access to first hand tap history from the founders of the art form. I got to meet people like Dr. Jimmy Slyde and take class from Marion Coles, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Dr. Ernest Brown, Bril Barrett, Karen Callaway-Williams, Avi Miller and Ofer Ben, Mr. Reed himself, and countless others who have shaped the tap world, all because of Mr. Reed’s commitment to sharing the history and living legacy of tap with the next generation.
Mr. Reed taught me the shim sham, how to do wings, how to “respect the dance” as he always put it. He never put up with any bullshit in class, and would call you out on your mistakes, so when he pointed out something you did well you knew he really meant it. I think the St. Louis Tap Festival was the most valuable dance training I got as a young person trying to make it in the dance world.
And one more story. Mr. Reed always wore this really distinctive smelling cologne, and by the end of the week at Tap Fest, both classrooms and the lobby area always totally smelled like this scent he wore. I don’t know how to describe the smell at all, but even though it permeated through everything it wasn’t strong or overbearing at all. Every so often now I’ll be on the train or walking through a crowd and will catch a whiff of some man wearing that same cologne, and am instantly taken back to the hours and hours I spent dancing and watching others dance in those freezing cold rooms at St. Louis Tap Festival.
Rest in power, rest in rhythm, rest in peace, Mr. Reed.
“May the tap gods be with you, and always remember RESPECT THE DANCE. Go in rhythm.”