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Pioneering dancer tapped to perform on campus

Dianne Walker
Dianne Walker

A pioneer in the resurgence of tap dance, Dianne Walker has spent more than 25 years traveling to performance venues all over the world--from Broadway theaters to television studios to universities. Now, as an artist-in-residence this month at MIT, she's teaching and creating movement with the MIT Dance Theater Ensemble.

One of the few internationally recognized women in her field, Walker will present a performance and interview/lecture on Saturday, April 2, at 11 a.m. in Kresge Auditorium. Associate Professor Thomas DeFrantz, also a tap dancer and choreographer, will conduct the interview. Student dancers who have been working with her this month will conclude the event with a short performance, and a reception will follow.

"[Walker's] class is unique because it not only combines the learning of tap moves from a tap dance master, but we also learn about the history from the soft shoe to the shim sham to Jimmy Slyde's cramp roll," said James Tolbert, a senior in electrical engineering and computer science.

Known to her mentors and peers as "Lady Di" for her personal style and elegance as a performer, Walker is also celebrated for her eloquent and passionate commitment to the art of tap dance. "She shows you the full repertoire of tap dance and what it means to be a tap dancer and not simply a dancer who taps," said Tolbert.

Tolbert, who's been tapping since he was 2 years old, says that Walker has taught him to the importance of brushing up on the fundamentals. He's also learned from Walker that "a tapper's job is never done, and when you think you have the shuffle, someone can point out that you don't." Tolbert says he now carries his tap shoes in his bookbag waiting for any chance to bring them out and dance.

Walker was a featured dancer in the movie "Tap" with Gregory Hines and in the original Paris production of "Black and Blue." She has had the honor of being the only female dancer in the prestigious "Hoofers Line" with Lon Chaney, Jimmy Slyde, Chuck Green and Bunny Briggs, and her recent awards include the 2000 Savion Glover Award for "Keeping the Beat Alive," the Flo-Bert Award for Lifetime Achievement, and, in 2004, the Hoofers Award from Tap City New York City, an award given in memory of Gregory Hines.

Walker currently lives in Boston and serves on the board of the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She recently completed a tour with Savion Glover and Jimmy Slyde.

The event is co-sponsored by the Office of the Arts, Program in Women's Studies and the Music and Theater Arts Section. For more information, call (617) 253-2341.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 30, 2005 (download PDF).

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