How Tap Dancing Saved Reginald McLaughlin’s Life

By Tatum Bartlett | Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tap masters: Ernest "Brownie" Brown, Henry Le Tang, Jimmy Slyde, Reggio "The Hoofer" McLaughlin and Filmmaker Ken Kimmelman at Tap Extravaganza 2003. Photo from reggiothehoofer.com

?Be-da-ba-ba-bam-boom?salt peanuts, salt peanuts,? says Reginald McLaughlin, better known as Reggio ?The Hoofer.? His Wednesday evening class at the Old Town School of Folk Music watches as his feet magically become one with his rhymes.

?Salt peanuts?? asks one of his students. ?As in the peanuts you eat at a baseball game??

?That?s right,? says Reggio, his feet and mouth doing the talking. ?You gotta get that feeling?relax. Baby, this ain?t no Swan Lake. This is tap.?

Reggio has been a fixture at the Old Town School of Folk Music for the past 16 years, and he’ll be reprising his role as master of ceremonies for this year’s National Tap Day event at Old Town on May 22. The school and its community are truly his second home. ?They have been good to me–we have been good to each other,? he says.? In fact, Reggio followed the school, as did many of his fellow performers in the arts, when it opened its second location in Lincoln Square about 10 years ago.

Reggio grew up in the Woodlawn and Englewood neighborhoods. When he was in second grade, he attended his sisters? tap showcase at Jackson Park. That’s the day he says his life changed. He watched, awestruck, and knew he wanted to become a professional tap dancer. He says he thinks of the artform as his guardian angel. ?It saved me,” he says. “It got me out of a rough neighborhood.?

And not only did tap get him out of a rough neighborhood, but it continues to take him across the globe with the sole purpose of raising awareness and preserving the art of tap dance as a true American artform. He has performed for audiences in countries such as Japan, Italy, Venezuela, France, Poland, and most recently India. He is respected in the tap world as much for his raw talent as for his authenticity. He is the real deal. Reggio is a Chicago tap icon.

Reggio says he began his career dancing in the subways of Chicago and ?eventually caught the attention of legendary tap dancers Jimmy Payne Sr. and Ernest ?Brownie? Brown, who took Reggio under their wings. Reggio laughs as he recounts his first professional tap class. ?I was taught by the old-timers,” he says.?”Hoofing down in the basement or wherever. At my first professional class, another dancer looked at me and told me to get out of her space. Here I was moving all over the place thinking you just get what ya? get. Well, that day I learned that position is just as important as a step itself.? And never moving his eyes, Reggio yells out to a dancer in the back of the room where I’m interviewing him and says, ?I said jazz hands. This ain?t no stick up! Move those hands now!?

From subway performer to Broadway, Reggio has accumulated a long list of accomplishments. He was a principal dancer in two Duke Ellington musicals, Beggar’s Holiday and Jump for Joy; performed in and choreographed for the theater version of the The Sammy Davis Jr. Story; appeared in the documentary JUBA! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance; is a member of Chicago’s First Lady Maggie Daley’s Gallery 37 project, which brings the arts to inner-city residents; and is a recipient of the prestigious Illinois Arts Council’s Ethnic and Folk Arts Master/Apprentice Program award.?Reggio also produces an annual Christmas?show called ?The Nut Tapper,” which is his take on the classic ballet from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.

But?Reggio doesn?t dance for the rave reviews or for accolades; he dances because it is what he loves. And as that thought passes through my mind, Reggio turns to take his place at the head of the classroom. I notice immediately that he walks a little different than most. His steps are light and rhythmic, in sort of the same way his voice has a melody and his words bebop to the sound of his feet.? He is a tap dancer.

For more information on Reggio?s upcoming performances, or to reserve him for yours, visit his website.

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  • Annachiara branca

    It makes you love the man even if you have never met him….,and want to become lightfooted like he is.

  • http://www.j-harley.com j. harley

    nice article. i’m going to have to meet this guy sometime.

    • Tatum Bartlett

      I sat in on one of his classes at Old Town … good energy and people abound. He teaches beginner through advanced-leveled dancers. Definitely a hobby to consider! And glad you enjoyed the article (I can assure you it was just as fun to write.

  • smom

    I believe the song’s title is “Salt Peanuts”—it’s an old standard for hoofers. Look it up….

    • http://www.centersquarejournal.com Tatum Bartlett

      I thought it was something he had just made up! It was catchy, too! I came home from the class and was walking around the house saying “soft peanuts, soft peanuts…” My husband kept looking at me like I was crazy…now I know why! In all sincerity, I actually had Reggio read the article…and he did not say anything to me… Maybe he liked it better as “soft peanuts, too!” Thank you for the laugh (and correction)!

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