International Tap Dance Hall of Fame

 

The International Tap Dance Hall of Fame is the only tap dance hall of fame exclusively focused on tap dancers. It features founding and innovative

20th and 21st century professional tap dancers. With a collection of photographs, biographies, and videos, the Hall of Fame

is becoming a colorful and diverse retrospective of America's seminal tap dance personalities.

 

2016 - Ludie Jones, tap dancer and member of the female team, The Three Poms, was born on January 28, 1916 in New York City. She was one of five children. Her mother, Lottie Pearl Jones, was from Roanoke, Virginia, and her father, Luther Jones, from Savannah, Georgia, was a carpenter and painter who worked for the United States Postal Service. She began to dance around age three, being introduced to the Charleston by a family friend from Norfolk, Virginia. "At that time, the Charleston was in vogue, the Airplane Charleston," Jones recalled. "She [family friend] came up with the Tap Charleston, containing rhythms made with the feet. That intrigued me, so she taught me the Time Step. And from then on, it was just dancing. I never had a formal teacher in tap."

 

Jones' mother enrolled her in dance lessons at Elks Hall, on 129th and 7th Avenue. Jones traveled the el (elevated transportation) from her home on 64th Street to get there. By the late 1920s, dance studios were becoming popular in Harlem. Teachers included Alice Garrett, Phil Simmons, Grace Charles, Ella Gordon, Mary Bruce, and Ruth Williams. Emma Kemp, who taught ballet, asked Jones at age eleven to teach tap dance in her studio. At the yearly dance recitals, she would close the show -- be placed last on the program, a placement designation the star quality of the musical dance number, most likely to win approval and extensive applause from the audience. Jones was studio-trained, and never engaged in street dancing, which was performed by boys. She and her brother, however, went downtown to Greenwich Village to perform in bars that had marble floors and sawdust to prevent dancers from slipping. In her last year in high school (1933-34), hoping to attend Hunter College but recognizing that in the midst of the Depression it might be financially prohibitive, Jones heard of an audition for Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1934 that was to play in London. She auditioned and was hired as a member of the dancing chorus.

 

While in London Jones, along with Blackbirds chorus dancers Peggy Warton and Marion Worthy Warner, took tap dance lessons with the African-American tap dancer and choreographer Clarence "Buddy" Bradley, who had been hired as choreographer by the English producer Charles Cochran to take over the British edition of Blackbirds. After returning to the United States, Jones, Wharton and Warner formed the tap dance team called the Lang Sisters, incorporating the steps that Bradley taught them into an act. The Lang Sisters worked the RKO and Loews' circuits, which featured the Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, and Louis Russell's bands. When work slowed down, Warner was cast in Bill Robinson's all-colored show, Hot Mikado (1939); Wharton joined the Apollo Theater chorus line; and Jones spent her days watching Henry LeTang teach tap classes in his New York studio, intent on making her tap dancing improve.

 

Around 1940 Jones met Sylvia Warner (from Canada) and Geraldine Ball. The three formed the dance team called The Three Poms (the name derived from Ball's nickname, Pom-pom). The group featured Warner's fast buck-and-wing dancing, Ball's tap-acrobatic novelties, and Jones' rhythm dancing. The team remained together until the early 1950s. The Three Poms opened the show with a six-minute performance, usually to a jazz standard such as Duke Ellington's "Perdido." The three danced, after which Warner performed quick tap dancing to two choruses of "Just One of Those Things." Ball then performed her specialty acrobatic work to two choruses of "Tea For Two" that consisted of high kicks, cartwheels, Around-the-World splits (splitting her legs apart until seated, she lay on her abdomen, swinging the back leg across to land in a split facing a different direction), Rocking Chair (or chest roll, from a kneeling position the dancer rolls forward onto her thigh, abdomen, chest, and side of face, as the feet come over the head to the floor, landing either on the feet or knees), and Spot Walkovers (placing her hands on the floor, the legs kick into a split position while the back arches, landing on one foot, while the other foot to come over swings back and the hands are placed in the beginning position to repeat the trick in one spot). Jones next performed her rhythm tap dance specialty for two choruses of the song, followed by a challenge dance among each of the members of the group; they finished by all three performing Through the Trenches. Warner and Jones then took Ball's hand and flipped her over, leading to the bow.

 

The Three Poms performed in clubs and theaters throughout the United States, toured the Orient with USO show, and for many years were featured with the Cab Calloway Band. "I was a good tap dancer, said Jones, "I'm not being egotistical. I know I was a good dancer, that's true. I was just born that way really . . . . You don't have too many black women tapping. I'd like to be remembered as a good tap dancer . . . and a good person."

 

Constance Valis Hill

[Sources: Cheryl Willis, Tap Dance: Memories and Issues of African-American Women Who Performed between 1930-1950, Phd. diss., Temple University, 1991. There is a great picture of Ludie Jones in Dancing Female: Lives and Issues of Women in Contemporary Dance, ed. Sharon E. Friedler & Susan B. Glazer (1997)]