Today has to be one of the saddest days of my life. The tap world has suffered a huge loss as tap master and legend Dr. Jimmy Slyde passed on this morning. The greatest gentleman and most brilliant tap dancer I have ever met, Jimmy was an inspiration to me from the moment I first met him in the lobby in Chicago after his performance in Footnotes. I remember the look on his face and his absolute joy at meeting “another Sarah” (meaning Sarah Petronio) from Chicago. My teacher, Barb, had gotten his autograph for me when she and her husband had gone to see Jimmy in Black & Blue on Broadway – she had told him about me then. His mind ever a steel trap, he knew who I was the minute I introduced myself, and asked how Barb and Ed were doing.
Later, while nursing an ankle injury, the man came out to Café 41 in NYC all the way from Boston to host a special night for me and my Footprints kids. Granted, EVERYONE else was there, but it was on our behalf that Karen Zebulon set it up. What a beautiful night it was, too. Despite my complete disaster of “Blue Skies” (an improvisational atomic bomb that went off as 30 kids tried to all get on stage at once), Buster Brown sat behind me cheering everyone on… Yvette Glover was putting in her two cents and even Mabel Lee was there, singing up a storm from a dimly lit table in the corner.
Of course, my fondest memory of him is after falling flat on my face in front of him during his master class at CHRP last summer. Lord, help us. I have never been so mortified in my life. But Jimmy just smiled and in my head I could hear his words, “If you don’t ever fall, then you’re not really dancing.”
May his memory be eternal, and may all of my students grow to love him as dearly as I do. And above all else… as he once instructed me, “Keep spreading the love.”