Birmingham Magazine
April 2005
The Greatest Show on Earth
Tap-happy grown-ups at the Alabama Theatre
by Julie Steward

Folks, perhaps you are reading this magazine and thinking of moving to Birmingham.  Maybe you do not live here yet, but you find yourself strangely attracted to any city lorded over by a towering statue of Vulcan.  If you are not yet sold on our city, you are about to be.  Fasten your belts.  I am going to describe to you an event unparalleled anywhere.  Really.  And it takes place every April at our own historic Alabama Theatre.

I am not talking about tap recital.  No, not a bunch of cranky children aboard "The Good Ship Lollipop."  I am talking about grown-ups, mature, tax-paying citizens, ages 20-70, resplendent in feathers and sequins and day-glo.  I am talking about the Time Step Studio Adult Tap Spectacular, and "spectacular" it is.

Let me set the stage.  Picture, if you will, your mother parading proudly in a chicken costume.  Imagine your favorite aunt dressed like a cell phone in silver lame.  Envision your brother, over worked father of four, flaunting his stuff in a giant yellow M&M costume with shiny white gloves.  Or, to summarize in three words:  Grandma in fishnet.  You're starting to get the picture.

For one night a year, southern belles (and gents!) shrug off the dull veneer of propriety because, in the musical words of Gene Kelley, they “gotta dance!”  They have just got to, and my hat’s off to them.  

This year marks the 25th anniversary of a tap recital that traces its roots to a humble warehouse in Hoover where, at the first show, audience members sat on rented office desks and chairs.  Louise Beard and Lee Whatley started the Time Step Studio with 60 adults appearing at the first class, tap shoes strapped on, ready to knock ‘em dead.  Now, 25 years later, over 100, tap-happy grown-ups will shuffle-ball-change their way to glory at the Alabama on April 30.

What makes this show unique is its unwavering commitment to fun.  Vernon Push, quite the dancer himself, designs sets to match each year’s musical theme.   A giant type-writer descended behind the smiling faces of tapping secretaries in the “Get A Job” show.  For the theme, “The Name Game.”  Mary Gayle Davidson costumed the dancers in everything from Las Vegas showgirl chic to glow in the dark skeletons.  One dancer told Louise, “I will never forget the first time I saw what costumes you expected us to wear in that first recital; the next day, I enrolled in Weight Watchers.  Eight years and 30 lbs later, I’m now a lifetime member and still panic trying to get into those costumes each year.  Actually, it’s because of those costumes that I maintained my weight all of these years.

Despite pregnancy, broken arms, and overwhelming stage fright, the dancers know that the show must go on.  A few find courage in the bottle, and, like any professional, Louise is very strict in her alcohol policy:  “If you plan to have a drink the night of the show – REHEARSE IT!  Don’t wait until the night of the performance.  Practice drinking the same amount at dress rehearsal so you will know your limit before the show.”  Do you see why I love these people?  

So, sure, there are some ladies out there a bit, shall we say, tipsy in their tapping, but if you had to squeeze your size 10 body into a size 4 banana suit, wouldn’t you be, too?  

The Tap Spectacular packs ‘em in.  The seating is first-come, first-served; in fact, one man, every year, arrives six hours early on the day of the show with his chair and snacks so that he will be the first one in a line that winds all the way around the block and to the McWane Center.  Birminghamians eat this stuff up, as we should.  In other cities, you can attend lovely, tepid performances of theater and dance, but here in the ‘Ham we got Louise Beard dressed as Lady Godiva strutting to an ovation of adoring fans.  Her main goal, as she tells the dancers, is to have a good time.  Who cares about mistakes?  When the tail feathers fall off a chicken costume, that’s the stuff of legends.  There is no scorn or derision in the Magic City.  Whether you have the grace of Gene Kelley or Gene Shalit, we’re gonna love ya.

Time Step Studio
Louise Beard
504 Dexter Avenue
Birmingham, AL 35213
(205) 879-7444
Lee Whatley
3429 Springhill Road
Birmingham, AL 35223
(205) 967-4325