Woodpeckers Tap Dance Center and InterArts Space was New York City’s most active center for tap from 1989 to 1996. Opened in November 1989 by the American Tap Dance Orchestra as the company’s rehearsal studio and home base, Woodpeckers presented year-round programming of performances, workshops and master classes, daily classes for adults and children, tap jams, lectures, video archive presentations and visual arts exhibitions. Located at 170 Mercer Street in the Soho area of lower Manhattan, the center stood at the crossroads of tap creativity and quickly became recognized as a vital force in advancing tap artistry.
Woodpeckers served foremost as a laboratory for Artistic Director Brenda Bufalino’s choreographic vision. A visitor could walk in from the cobblestones of the street, say hello to Executive Director and company member, Tony Waag, at the administrative office on the entry level, and perhaps stop to purchase a pair of custom made tap shoes. The bold brush strokes of Jebah Baum’s paintings, or an exhibit by other contemporary artists, stood out from the exposed brick walls. At the end of the ground floor reception area, visitors looked over the art-industrial railing to the lower level to watch the dancers of the American Tap Dance Orchestra in rehearsal. Ms. Bufalino created dozens of works of innovative orchestral tap choreography here, crafting evening length performances that were seen first in Woodpeckers’ intimate in-house showings and later toured to concert stages around the world. In 1990, New York Times critic Jennifer Dunning noted “the rough-hewn little theater had the air of both a place where hard and serious work is done and a cozy family living room” (NYT 12/3/1990).
Four generations of artists danced on Woodpecker’s crisp maple wood floors. The space presented art exhibits, jazz concerts, theater works and one of a kind tap dance performances like “Wrap-Around Sound,” Bufalino’s solo tap-jazz-theater works, and Tap Divas, original duo shows with tap leaders Dianne “Lady Di” Walker, Sarah Petronio, Lynn Dally, and Harriet Browne. Woodpeckers’ tap Intensives and educational events featured these women, along with tap dance greats Gregory Hines and Charles ‘Honi’ Coles (both members of the ATDO Board of Directors), plus members of the famed Copasetics, James “Buster” Brown, Charles “Cookie” Cook, and Hoofers Chuck Green and Jimmy Slyde. Members of the cast of Broadway hit Black and Blue Revue, Ted Levy, Bernard Manners, and Ken Roberson, were guest artists, as were Sam Weber and Dally from the Jazz Tap Ensemble, and New Vaudevillian, Bill Irwin.
Key tap dance innovators of the decade danced here, including Heather Cornell, Savion Glover, Josh Hilberman, Karen Callaway Williams, Billy Siegenfeld and Jeannie Hill of Jump Rhythm Jazz Project. These artists and Members of the ATDO, Neil Applebaum, Barbara Duffy, Sherry Eyster, Mari Fujibayashi, Andrea Goodman, Russell Halley, Lynne Jassem, Herve LeGoff, Margaret Morrison, Olivia Rosenkrantz, Robin Tribble, and Tony Waag all broke choreographic ground, created new works, and shared their artistry with enthusiastic audiences and tap students from around the globe. A younger generation, including Michela Merino Lerman, Baakari Wilder, and Cartier Williams, came through the doors as children or teens to take class with the masters. Now these young artists have become tap dance leaders in their own right. Woodpeckers nurtured tap artistry during a vibrant moment of the Tap Renaissance and although it closed in 1995, its impact is still felt throughout the tap dance world.
A list of tap dancers who taught or performed at Woodpeckers include: the American Tap Dance Orchestra, Artistic Director Brenda Bufalino, Executive Director Tony Waag, Neil Applebaum, Ira Bernstein, Buster Brown, Eddie Brown, Harriet Browne, Charles “Honi” Coles, Steve Condos, Charles “Cookie” Cook, Heather Cornell, Copasetics, Lynn Dally, Barbara Duffy, Sherry Eyster, Mari Fujibayashi, Savion Glover, Jane Goldberg, Andrea Goodman, Laraine Goodman, Chuck Green, Russell Halley, Josh Hilberman, Jeannie Hill, Gregory Hines, Bill Irwin, Lynne Jassem, Herve LeGoff, Michela Marino Lerman, Ted Levy, Bonnie MacLeod, Bernard Manners, Margaret Morrison, Harold Nicholas, Sarah Petronio, Pam Raff, Ken Roberson, Olivia Rosenkrantz, Jimmy Slyde, Peggy Spina, Fred Strickler, Robin Tribble, Dianne Walker, Dorothy Wasserman, Sam Weber, Baakari Wilder, Cartier Williams, Karen Callaway Williams & more!
By Margaret Morrison (2016)
American Tap Dance Foundation
American Tap Dance Center
154 Christopher Street #2B New York, NY 10014
© 2010 ATDF