End of the Year Story of Hope

Tap Dancing is a State of Mind for Local Artist

Premise

The following is a light piece on a man. The dream of becoming a tap dancer. A white kid from West Virginia (via San Fran and Guam) who got the Big Apple bug, that is, the Great White Way bug to be a hoofer on Broadway.

The man comes to me via my volunteer work at the local Chamber office, which is also an artist shop selling local pieces by local artists. This fellow was putting up his pieces of art when I showed up.

I am a collector of stories.

I am a battler against preconceived notions.

Paradigms are mostly human-constructed as a form of control. They are meant to be questioned, and challenged.

My own belief systems are tied to various stages of human self-reflection; i.e., levels of existence — nature, philosophical, spiritual, cosmic, historic, artistic, cultural, humanistic, animalistic, collective. The stories I have lived and written about, and even fictionalized, all tie to the universe stories:

  • man against self
  • man against man
  • man against society
  • man against nature
  • man against god/existence

For this Dystopian world of Internet of Things, Internet of Micro-things, the newest form of conflict in the once five universal conflicts now includes

  • man against AI

Given the world I exist in, given these lockdown times, these times of Fourth Industrial Revolution, this Seventh Mass extinction, which by the way, is not tied to the SARS-CoV2 event, I am not opposed to being with people who are on their journeys so far afield from where I see my journey.

In the scheme of things, this current epoch is right-in-your-face scary: Correction — 7th Mass Extinction.

In the main, scientists believe that the Earth is currently going through its sixth mass extinction event. Anthropocene is what some call it. However, was another such incident in our planet’s past that researchers had overlooked until now, according to a study published in the journal Historical Biology.

The authors of the study—Michael Rampino from New York University and Shu-Zhong Shen from Nanjing University in China—suggest that the current loss in biodiversity should perhaps be called the “seventh” mass extinction.

They say that the event in question—known as the end-Guadalupian biodiversity crisis—took place around 260 million years ago and its severity has previously been underestimated.

Massive eruptions such as this one release large amounts of greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide and methane, that cause severe global warming, with warm, oxygen-poor oceans that are not conducive to marine life, Rampino said in a statement.

In terms of both losses in the number of species and overall ecological damage, the end-Guadalupian event now ranks as a major mass extinction, similar to the other five.

Again, in the scheme of things — we are a spit wad in the ocean.

  • Ordovician (443 million years ago)
  • Late Devonian (372 million years ago)
  • Guadelupian (260 million years ago)
  • Permian (252 million years ago)
  • Triassic (201 million years ago)
  • Cretaceous (66 million years ago)

And, my own reflection is understanding how we as individuals, small groups and entire societies and cultures, process this information, these contrasts of living in the Anthropocene, but in a state of collective cognitive dissonance. In that effort of reflecting, I seek out people on the edge — in transition, evolving, coming out of the birth canal of trauma, weathering life’s hard knocks.

Born-again Christians, end times believers and those so tied to the simple words of Christ, the man, not the head of any church, are part of that interest area for me.

Sure, it is the season, so to speak; i.e., the Yuletide. Maybe this is the impetus here.

I can’t say that all my articles are going to be revolutionary, fitted with depth of looking into the power of the people I have come to love and adore as thinkers, revolutionaries.

Maybe I was in the mood for positivity after hearing about bell hooks’ recent death. Yes, I met her, as she was appearing at a university to read from her work, and do some workshops with classes.

Here, something to digest, this cool and rousing event with bell hooks and Cornel West at the New School, seven years ago:

Why am I connecting bell hooks and this wee piece on a simple fellow who ended up not making it big time in tap dancing but did make his walkabout to end up out here of all places, the small town of Waldport (2,070 pop.), and into my fold as a writer?

Maybe, the journey he is in — all tied to a recurring dream he had in his 30s where he began his simple passage toward the belief in his god, in what he sees as his savior and humanity’s savior — is including me as a small spit wad in the ocean element. Who knows.

Interestingly, he comes to me, a pantheist. That has happened many times in my life — believers coming to me, a non-believer. A pantheist, albeit!

Yet, he spent time with me, in brotherhood, in fellowship, he might say. I wrote the following piece for the local rag,  and I hope it runs there soon. I am obsessed with people’s narratives, and getting people to pursue their stories, in written form, whichever final product that might be — since books and reading are passe.

Maybe I can’t really connect my feelings about bell hooks’ death with why I wrote this story of a fellow who sees his Christ as a simple fellow, really. She said this in a talk see gave at the New School:

I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.

I heard that before, read it, in her works. Given  John Whitehead‘s use of this epigram in one of his pieces, I see those words — Christian but universal — apropos for this fellow you are about to meet:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.

― Howard Thurman, “The Work of Christmas”  from his book The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations, October 1, 1985

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A Dream Deferred, A Dream Reclaimed — The Tap in Dance is in the Heart!

Listen to my feet and I will tell you the story of my life – John Bubbles, father of rhythm tap

I’m looking at Michael Mailloux’s artwork at the Waldport Chamber. Bright primitive images with golfing themes. All are whimsical, dreamy but simple and childlike. He hands me a booklet, a story of his own rebirth into a spiritual being. “The Dream” tells the reader about a series of nightmares that brought him to surrender to Christ.

My story is about a 69-year-old man who’s struggled with identity and an obsession to be a dancer. He’s a veritable ground-truthing encyclopedia of the art of hoofing.

His walkabout comes with a diverse set of characteristics:

  • growing up in San Francisco, Guam and West Virginia with four sisters
  • hyperactive kid who flunked a few grades and never could sit still to read
  • a 6’2” basketball player with ADHD
  • a passion to learn from the best tap dancers
  • interrupted dreams of Broadway musical fame
  • shy white guy jumping into a world of African-American hoofers
  • years scraping by living in odd places
  • 20 years in California teaching dancing to women’s clubs and others
  • struggles with depression/ hope rolled up in a simple conjoining of Jesus Christ ‘s philosophy

“The message is simple. Like he said, the word of God should be understood by a child. All these religions and denominations are filled with laws, complications.”

He’s willing to critique Christianity, as it has played out throughout history and in our current times, as materialistic and judgmental.  “I believe we have a duty not to judge people.” His bedrock is simple: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

We first met at the Chamber, quickly diving into current events, philosophy and psychology – the lockdowns, Sartre, Hermann Hesse, Carl Jung, Dante. Consequently, I decided to pen a feel-good New Year’s story with Mailloux at its center.

The beauty of being a writer is I spelunk into lives far afield from our own. After almost half a century of doing this, I have intersected with thousands of people. Sometimes the process takes minutes, or hours in the case of Michael.

Three hours later, I have a notepad filled with dates, names, places, a life.

He and his wife Kate have lived near Ona Beach for 1.5 years, after two decades in Arroyo Grande (near Pismo Beach, California).  He donates his time to such projects as Grace Wins Haven in Newport.

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Ain’t Misbehavin’

Eddie Brown, Baby Lawrence, Bubba Gains, Duke Ellington, Gregory Hines, Bill Robinson (Bojangles), Buster Brown, Charles Cookie Cook, Honi Coles, Bunny Briggs, and so many other major/minor characters in the tap dancing scene have influenced this nimble guy who has crisscrossed the US, from LA, Las Vegas, West Virginia, Florida, Arizona, New York.

It was after two years in the Army (ending in Alaska) when he came back to Helvetia, West Virginia, and announced to his mother he wanted to be a tap dancer.

“After I left Fort Richardson I did one semester at Davis and Elkins College on the GI Bill. I went home for the summer and helped my mom in her restaurant. I came down the stairs one day and said, ‘I want to be a tap dancer.’”

He learned the basics of tap dancing from 74-year-old Mary Elizabeth Fassig in Wheeling, West Virginia. He landed a $50 a month room and worked as a short order cook and dishwasher at a hospital. He majored in speech and theater at West Liberty College, and by chance, Mary was choreographing  the play, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and invited Michael on a trip to New York to see four Broadway shows.

“The first Broadway show I ever saw was A Chorus Line. When the show was over and I walked out and saw all the people, the bright lights, I told myself, ‘I’m coming to New York.’”

He did, and landed at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. “I had no money and stayed at the YMCA.” He eventually connected with a member of the 12th Night Club (founded in 1891).  Michael lived above the Carnegie Deli.

He met a young guy, Bernard Manners, who was dancing with the Legendary Hoofers. These middle aged tap dancers rehearsed at Jerry LeRoy Studio. “My eyes opened wide like globes” after Maillous witnessed rhythm time steps. While he takes his hat off to Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, Mailloux credits the “black styling of tap” for his own passion.

Any journalist worth his salt researches, even for a short piece. Readers can find, Tap Dance in America: A Short History by Constance Valis Hill instrumental for background. Check out the book by the same author, A Contest of Beat and Feet, Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History.

Mailloux has worked cleaning furniture in a rental business, developed film at the Las Vegas Hilton, worked in a Turkish restaurant/rehearsal studio — Fazil’s. He was even the Tap Dancing Car Salesman in California.

It was at Fazil’s where he saw the Copasetics practice their steps.

The root of his obsession is Baby Lawrence, who he never met in person, but for which Michael constantly practiced using a tape of one of his records to imprint upon him all the right moves and steps.

One of the biggest regrets Michael has is the fact the Black hoofers didn’t take him into their fold, professionally.  “All I wanted to do was dance. When Bunny Briggs told me I reminded him of Baby Lawrence, I knew I was onto something.”

He never made it on the Great White Way, laughing how he auditioned for a part in the musical, 42nd Street. “I was too tall for the chorus.”

In Synch

Several events in his life stick: When he was heading for a show at the Bowery Lane Theater, he ran into a well-dressed fellow outside. “He told me he was a doctor whose wife had just left him. I felt so much sadness.”

He repeats this story with tears in his eyes: “I wish I had taken him to a shelter for a warm meal and place to stay. For selfish reasons I wanted to go to the tap dance gig.”

Another story is from the Big Apple, when he spotted a Puerto Rican boy who found a leaf on the ground. His mother was in a hurry, and yelled at the son to come along. “He wanted to put the leaf back onto the tree. What love he showed for that tree, because it lost a leaf.”

Michael struggled with depression, and lots of mood swings. While he says his wife Kate is the key person in his life, he still recalls the power of his mother: “My mother raised five children barely one year apart in age. When we moved to West Virginia, our family lived in a hunting cabin with no electricity, running water, or bathroom. Mom cooked our meals on a large wood burning stove and it was our only heating source through the cold winter months.  She would heat the water so we could bathe in a metal boiler tub.”

He tells me he’s grateful for authentic fellowship. He and his wife struggle on two social security checks. However, his faith leads him to believe good things will come to him. His dream is to help the homeless, and those without means of support. He calls this project Getting in Synch – Serve Your Needy Community.

Tap dancing and song are still part of his life. He penned and choreographed a musical, That Rhythm Thing. He’s currently tweaking it. The play is about artists and dancers who came to New York to follow their dreams, but like in most cases, the starving artist stumbles. They are in Central Park, in a tent city, supporting each other with anything they have.

He beats out a rhythm and shows me some steps.  I’ll finish with lyrics from, Copasetics Chair Dance:

When you feel blue,
The best you can do
Is tell yourself to forget it,

Life’s a funny thing

It’s really great when you sing,
And everything will be copasetic…

Never look down,
Chin up and don’t frown,
Don’t let life get pathetic.
Show a happy face to the whole human race,
And everything will be copasetic . . .

Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.