Shelley Oliver took a trip back in time to the glorious era of vaudeville, and liked it so well she decided to stay.
Now she's hoofing it with the big guys.
The St. Catherines native has studied and performed with many of the old tap masters (to name a few James "Buster" Brown and Charles "Cookie" Cook ) who toured with Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
She also studied the specialty act of sand dancing with Harriet Brown, one of the original vaudeville dancers.
Into her fifth year as a member of the jazz tap ensemble Manhattan tap, Shelley was thrilled to learn of the troupe's March 16 booking at The Theatre, Brock Centre for the Arts.
We've been to China, the Caribbean, L.A., we're going to Europe in the fall, but when I heard we were going to St. Catherines, I was really excited," she said during a recent telephone interview from New York City, where she has lived since 1982.
She says her mother, Marjory Manning of Fitzroy Lane, St. Catherines, and other members of her family have seen her perform in New York, but it's not the same as coming home. This is the first trip to St. Catherines for Manhattan Tap which has often performed in Toronto and at Artpark in Lewiston, N.Y.
As a child dancer from the age of four, Shelley remembers watching dance acts at The Theatre and dreaming of performing there one day.
While the Collegiate graduate pursued a psychology degree by day at York University, she danced nights with a modern dance troupe in Toronto, and then set off to London, England for formal ballet training.
"I always found tap extremely expressive, extremely natural, a great way to manifest the musicality within me," Shelley said. "The rhythm came almost like walking. But I realized if I wanted to really develop artistically, I had to train in other forms. Ballet has centered me and given me the physicality I have now."
After a year of modern dance with a western Canadian troupe, she made her way to New York City in search of the tap masters.
Shelley says she wanted to master the original jazz tap form, different from the glitzy, synchronized Broadway style which later emerged. Who better to teach her than the guys who grew up with it in the 1920s and 30s?
"Tap grew up with jazz in this country. It's an original American form, and I wanted to go back to that connection," says the tapper, who appeared three times on Star Search five years ago. "We're taking it back to its roots, connecting with the music as a percussive element.
-- Linda Ritz St. Catherine Standard Cananda