Hoofer Awards


The annual Hoofer Award recognizes prominent tap artists as leaders in the community

for their unique contribution to the form and for inspiring future generations.

2019 - Michela Marino Lerman, jazz tap dancer, choreographer, improvographer, and the only woman of her generation to be inducted as a Lifetime Honorary member of the Copasetics, was born in New York's Greenwich Village to parents Theresa Marino and James Lerman. Her tap pedigree is sterling, as she studied with the most venerated rhythm tap masters of her time. Tap study began at the age of six with Bonnie McCleod at Woodpeckers dance studio and continued with Robin Tribble at the Chinese Cultural Center, Susan Hebach at Dick Shay's, and, from age eleven on, with Savion Glover, Baakari Wilder, and Jason Samuels Smith at Broadway Dance Center. In 1997, the eleven-year-old attended her first Sunday-night tap jam at Swing 46, hosted by James “Buster” Brown, who became her most influential teacher and mentor and remained an ardent supporter, even through sickness, living to see her win the Harlem Jazz Festival's Hoofer’s Challenge two years in a row (2001, 2002). Brown died just days before his eighty-ninth birthday (on May 5, 2002), with Lerman, just about to turn sixteen. Gregory Hines brought her back to her feet and became her next mentor. As a rhythm tap dancer who described his art as “improvography,” Hines instilled in Lerman the importance of improvisation. Lerman appeared with Hines in 1992 on the “Put on Your [Tap] Dancing Shoes” episode of Sesame Street. Then Hines died suddenly and unexpectedly (on August 9, 2003, at age 57), leaving Lerman and the entire tap community devastated. LeRoy Myers, one of the last of the living Copasetics, stepped in to officially induct Lerman, on June 12, 2003, as the only woman (since Sandra Gibson in 1949) into the Copasetics fraternity as a Lifetime Honorary Member. Myers' death (on April 26, 2004), led the near-seventeen-year-old dancer to dedicate herself to preserving and evolving the black rhythm tap tradition that had been bestowed upon her. Lerman is acknowledged as one of the most original and cutting-edge dancers of her generation, becoming a leader of the downtown New York tap community. In 2000, she appeared in Roxane Butterfly's Beauteez ‘n the Beat, billed as “the first tap and hip-hop show ever created by women.”  In 2002, she appeared with Jennifer Holliday in Nothing Like a Dame, toured with the Cab Calloway Orchestra, and was featured in 21 Below! The World's Best Tap Dancers Aged 21 & Under, dancing to the Duke Ellington classic “Come Sunday.” In 2006 she conceived, directed, choreographed, and performed in AM+Bu$h+ED, commissioned by New York's Dixon Place, which led to her being named in Dance Magazine as “One of the 25 Best Dancers to Watch.” At age twenty-one, she was a quadruple threat, not just an ace hoofer but also a choreographer who sang and directed. In 2009, at Judson Memorial Church, Lerman conceived, choreographed, and directed another tap original, Tapsploitation, which told the story of a young man and woman's search for meaning and personal identity in urban America in the 1970's.  In 2010, Lerman founded the Tap Messengers, a modern jazz ensemble of cutting-edge dancers celebrating and organizing themselves around the hard-bop jazz performances of Art Blakely's Jazz Messengers. She also took the lead in hosting tap jams, with an ensemble of jazz musicians, at such downtown New York venues as Smalls and Fat Cat; the tap jams have been a magnet for young dancers, many of them international, learning the language of jazz. At age thirty-three, Michela has carved out her own brilliantly-unique path as a globally sought-after jazz tap soloist, choreographer, and creative spirit. She has performed, choreographed, produced and directed numerous projects; and has led as a bandleader at such venues as Jazz at Lincoln Center. A member of the band Michael Mwenso and the Shakes, with whom she tours regularly, she has performed with Winton Marsalis, Savion Glover, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, Cecil McLoren Salvant, Benny Golson, Barry Harris, and Marcus Roberts. In April 2019, Michela was a spotlight artist performing in Steve McQueen’s Soundtrack of America in the opening of The Shed, the new cultural center in Hudson Yards. She most recently collaborated with the Savannah Harris Trio in Wall-To-Wall Coltrane at New York’s Symphony Space in a tribute to John Coltrane, who has been a profound musical and spiritual experience in her life. Michela’s Love Movement, a band she leads, incorporates jazz, spirituals, and traditional and electronic tap boards reflects “a journey through the seven levels of love we experience in life, starting with familial love, self-love and realization, protest, prayer, spiritual love, and romantic love.” Michaela’s always-soulful tap dancing is an immersive musical experience that leaves us feeling deeply loved.

By Constance Valis Hill