American Routes Shortcuts: Reggio McLaughlin
Reginald "Reggio the Hoofer" McLaughlin grew up on Chicago’s south side, where he began his career dancing in the streets and subways. He learned to tap dance using homemade shoes and went on to receive training from prominent dancers Jimmy Payne, Sr. and Ernest "Brownie" Brown. Reggio has taught at the old town school of folk music, where he produces a tap version of The Nutcracker, called The Nut Tapper. He also worked with ragtime pianist Reginald Robinson and the Carolina Chocolate Drops for Keep a Song in Your Soul: the Black Roots of Vaudeville. Here's Reggio.
Reggio McLaughlin: I was always told that when the Africans were brought to America in bondage, they were prohibited to play the drums. They began to substitute that with their feet and body percussion, and they use their feet to beat out and tap out certain rhythms and things in the place of the talking drums, and that developed into an art form on the plantations. You know, it came right there as an art form that developed here in America and continued to develop coming outta minstrel shows up into vaudeville and then Hollywood.
RML: Urban Gateways, that's where I learned the format of art in the form of education, and what they do: they prepare different genres of art to perform in the educational system like schools, libraries, museums. So we'll talk about the origin and history of tap. My whole stage persona came from in the subway and being with people. And even now, when I perform on stage, I have a lot of audience participation and student participation. I'm able to get them right up and dance with me. And when it's like that, they become more a part of your performance than just being a spectator.
RML: Out of all the complicated or complex dances I do, the chair dance is my number one favorite. The guy who had The Hoofers Club in Harlem, in New York, he loved tap dancers so much he gave them this room and they could hang out there like seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. But the thing was, he couldn't catch you sleeping [laugh] so some of the dancers would sit in the chair, and they might try to catch a cat nap and pat their feet. So the Copasetics, they took that scenario, and they created this chair dance, and I've been doing it and carrying on that legacy all the way into this very day.
RML: It's almost like by just dancing that destiny took me down a path that continued to develop and escalate into different aspects of my art form to like producing shows. I produce two annual shows. My holiday show, The Nut Tapper was based on The Nutcracker ballet, but I do a hip variation of that. And then on National Tap Day, I honor that by doing National Tap Day performances as well, as a true American folk dance. What people don't understand, when you see a younger generation doing slamming or putting little hip-hop beats to tap, they could never get to that point without the basics and the tradition of tap. But when you got the foundation, you really have the capability to branch off and to create and to understand everything thereafter. And when I started teaching you realize how important that is, you know, and I wanted to be like a good example and a light for other youth coming up here in Chicago and let them know, "Hey, look, I started out performing in the subways and the streets in Chicago. And if I can do it, I believe that you can do it too."
To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.