The accomplished Reed is preparing for his annual St. Louis Tap Festival, which brings some of the best tappers in the known universe to town for a week of master classes and performances.
The stars include elder statesman Leonard Reed (no relation to Robert), the co-inventor of the "shim sham shimmy," a basic set of moves recognized by any hoofer worth his heels. Robert Reed calls the shim sham shimmy the "tap dancer's national anthem." (If you think that's a funny name, ask about the "slur," the "slurp" and the "burp.")
The two Reeds are joined by legendary senior hoofers Jimmy Slyde, Prince Spencer, Cholly Atkins and Henry LeTang. Some of these fellows danced at Harlem's Cotton Club in the '30s and in films. Atkins worked with Louis Armstrong, and LeTang instructed Gregory Hines. Other dancers include Dianne "Lady Di" Walker; Van "the Man" Porter; performers from Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and Jason Samuels; the St. Louis Hoofers Club; and the Japanese All-Stars. The Tap Rag Tiger Trio of Germany will play live music to accompany the tap.
Tap dancing is "an indigenous art form" in America, says Robert Reed, that began when "South Carolina outlawed drums so slaves wouldn't communicate with each other, and they started speaking with their hands and feet."
It reached the height of its popularity 70 years ago, he adds, when "a show wasn't considered a show without a tap dancer."