Savion Glover: Tapping Into African-American History Through Dance

The renowned tap dancer, choreographer and musician will be performing at the historic Howard Theatre Aug. 23-25.

Savion Glover
Savion Glover Lois Greenfield/Courtesy of Savion Glover

The halls of Washington, D.C.’s historic Howard Theatre will be filled with the haunting tones of jazz as well as the skillful tapping of feet over the weekend, with renowned performer Savion Glover taking the stage to share “the dance.” 

“It’s basically going to be myself and a jazz quartet band [the Otherz] and we will of course do some cover tunes … some of the great jazz-music contributors, people like John Coltrane, Miles Davis,” the choreographer and dancer tells The Root. “We will also cover some original tunes.”

Really, the shows, which will run Aug. 23-25, aren’t exactly scripted or planned out. Glover has a pretty casual approach to the dance.

“It’s live music and I’m better [experienced] through an improvisational approach to performing. I might just do a whole evening without the musicians, or we may just do one night where we just pay tribute to John Coltrane and just do my favorite things for an hour,” he says, laughing a bit. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. We just know that we’re honored to be at the Howard Theatre and we just want to explore the music and … [express] ourselves.”

For what viewers of a Glover show can expect, well, he wants them to tune into the experience more than the expectation, and open themselves up a bit for a different kind of show, “edutainment” as he calls it.

“I don’t know what to expect, but regardless, I’m expecting to enjoy myself and explore the music and explore the dance through the music,” he adds. “In a situation like this … it’s a jazz setting. So jazz is improvisational, we’re not coming as an orchestra with charts and everything like that; we’re just coming as cats looking to explore the music.”

The amazingly talented tap dancer describes his approach to dance coming from his own experiences and his own life, something more lyrical.

“My approach to tap dancing is definitely the Jimmy Slyde approach to tap dancing, the Gregory Hines approach to tap dancing, meaning this approach is from the African-American experience as people in this country,” he explains. “So we approach the dance similar to how, again, like a musician would approach his instrument, it’s lyrical, it’s more storytelling than it is presentational as far as just tap dancing for the sake of doing a combination or something like that.”

“My approach to tap dancing comes from my living experiences and how I’m feeling at the moment. It comes from my experience as a black man in this country,” Glover adds.

Men like Slyde and Hines are truly to whom Glover gives credit for creating an African-American tap legacy, and it is this legacy that he tries to honor and express rather poetically through his dance.