Presentation by Constance Valis Hill
to Margaret Morrison
Tap Extravaganza May 25, 2019
I am profoundly honored to present Margaret Morrison with the FLO-BERT award—-the Bert part of the award is especially deserving-- not for Bert Williams (who the award is named after) but for Alberta Whitman, of the Whitman Sisters, who Margaret immortalized in her tap musical “Miss Bert Whitman meets Dyke Astaire,” in which Margaret covered Fred in top hat, white tie, and tails.
Margaret Morrison is our Renaissance Woman of Tap Dance.
She is a rhythm tap soloist;
A choreographer, turning the clickety-clack clamour of metal taps into the whispering, sonorous poetics of Dreams of What Could Be”;
She is a playwright who writes about the intimate, forbidden lesbian love of jazz artists who find “home” in the music of their “hearts”; in this “queer dance of safety and desire that any non-straight person knows intimately.”
Margaret is a teacher and preservationist—- co-coordinating the American Tap Dance Foundation’s Tap Teacher Training Program so that the Repertoire of the Copasetics will forever be passed down, body to body.
“What is so marvelous,” said Margaret’s teacher and mentor, Brenda Bufalino, “is that she remained working for the art of Tap Dance, after ATDO closed. She remains an important part of the continuance of tap dance . . . “she never let down in her support and teacher training program—- she stayed in the background, humility and dignity in her achievement.”
Margaret is a tap historian of “herstories.” She is a relentless researcher, taking a 2-minute, 33-second clip of the nearly-unknown African-American hoofer Juanita Pitts and weaving 94 citations (from Five African American newspapers and personal testaments) into a Performance Chronology of Pitts—
from her local acclaim at the Lincoln Theater in the 1920s;
and her Midwest tours with Pitts and Pitts in the 1930s;
to her solo dancing in the 1945 film short It Happened in Harlem;
and extended runs at the Apollo Theater in the 1950s—
Proving that Juanita Pitts was one of the most skilled woman in “rhythm tap who laid down iron like nobody’s business.”
What’s close to my heart is that Margaret is my sister in the battle of deterring the erasure of women from official histories of tap.
She is an individualist whose evolving feminist consciousness has pervaded her work.
I will never forget: "Fives and Sixes," performed by Margaret to a score by (partner, now wife) Robin Burdulis playing udu drum—a round clay pot with a narrow opening to the side and resembling (said Morrison) a womb—tapping in shoes with no taps—leather on wood, which gave it a soft, watery, percussive sound. It was presented at NYC’s Tap Extravaganza 2005 in a performance that was mesmerizing-- not only for its rhythmic brilliance and invention but for the super-super-sensitized interplay between the two women, which opened into a realm of intimacy which had rarely (if ever) been explored on the tap stage. It actually made some members in the audience uncomfortable (especially the so-called master of ceremonies [this all before Me-Too!) but some in the audience recognized it as a quiet triumph.
But Margaret is first and always a dancer—
“I am a dancer first. Dance informs everything in my life,”
As a founding member of the Brenda Bufalino’s American Tap Dance Orchestra, Margaret honed a way to be a part of the ensemble, but that wink and sparkle in her eyes always drew my attention.
There is an elegant quiescence to Margaret’s dancing.
Her solo to Hoagy Carmichael’s “How Little We Know” in American Landscape was praised by critics as “a tour de force for a quietly exciting virtuoso dancer.”
“The grace and elegance of that solo,” Brenda Bufalino recently remarked, “the way she moved through the stage, is a style that has remained— Margaret is a stylist, and there are not many.”
“In terms of her style, and watching and hearing her dance, I adore it.”
And so do we all, Margaret, Congratulations!
- Constance Valis Hill