NEW YORK — I'M going to continue to tap until I can't move," says Savion Glover. To anyone who has seen this 18 year old kicking up a storm in Broadway's "Jelly's Last Jam," that is a welcome promise.
For young Mr. Glover it is a reaffirmation that his remarkable gift for tap dancing remains at the center of his busy life.
"Jelly's Last Jam" stars Tony-winner Gregory Hines in a dazzling, high-spirited, and often dramatic musical about the life and times of jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton. It is Glover's third show on Broadway. Eight years ago, audiences marveled at the moves of the lightfooted 10-year-old Glover in "The Tap Dance Kid," and six years later welcomed him back in the splashy revue "Black and Blue." Now, while performing eight shows a week, he still squeezes in three hours of schooling, a twice-weekly tap class h e teaches to advanced students, special lectures to high schoolers around the country, and any spare time on the basketball court.
Glover's mother enrolled him in a Suzuki Method music school at the age of four, and he played percussion with a few other youngsters three years later. Signed to perform at the opening of the Broadway Tap Center, he enrolled in dance classes there, and has been coming back ever since, for 10 years as a student, and now, as a teacher. Does he still practice? "It's not that I don't need to, but I don't have time. I use teaching as my practice time," Glover says.
If the hectic schedule and Broadway pressures seem like a burden for a teenager, Glover knows what keeps him going. "I don't like being too serious. I'm the type of person that, if the mike isn't in the right place when I go on, I just move it. Other people, they'll be all frantic. I'm more relaxed." But the relaxed attitude does not diminish his sense of professionalism or responsibility. He values the traditions taught to him by tap-dance veterans he has worked with during his short but impressive care er.
Along with his Broadway credits, he costarred with Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines in the movie "Tap." That film, along with the shows, put him toe to toe with tap legends such as "Sandman" Sims, Jimmy Slyde, Steve Condos, Henry Le Tang, Bunny Briggs, and Honi Coles. While many look to him to carry on the tradition, he says, "even if it wasn't for that, I'd continue to tap."
And he has learned more than the skills and special steps from the old-timers. He's learned showmanship. With years of performing under his belt, he's mastered some powerhouse steps that showcase his stunning speed and graceful precision, knowing just when to make best use of those centerpiece moves.
"If I'm performing, and I haven't gotten applause in a while," he confesses with a shy smile, "I'll pull out one of those steps." He was even permitted to work with Hines, and "Jelly" choreographer Ted Levy, to create some routines for the show, in which he plays Morton as a young man.
Glover, who lives with his family in Newark, N.J., credits his mother and brothers with keeping him on track. He's conscious of his responsibility as a role model, and advises students he meets "to pray, don't get involved with funny things: drugs, phony people, or people pushing you into something you don't want to do." He points out that his career is his choice, and that his mother "always said to me that if I felt pushed, to let her know."
He looks forward to trying new areas and enjoys acting. "But wherever I might branch out to, I will always come back to tap," he says. One of his dreams is to attend film school, and make movies that feature tap dancing. "I don't think tap dancing is seen enough."
Years from now, when he's in his 40s, can he see himself coming back to Broadway, doing the Gregory Hines part in a revival of "Jelly"? The shy grin spreads across his face one more time, his feet break into an impromptu tap routine, and he nods "Yeah. Oh, yeah. I could picture that. I could do that."