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home : readerswrite : bookshelf April 29, 2016

Miracle on concrete
Beth Obermeyer recommends these books by women authors with a theme of "showing up":

Tsvetaeva by Viktoria Schweitzer
Eleanor Roosevelt by Blanche Wiesen Cook
The Group by Mary McCarthy
Anna Akhmatova by Roberta Reeder
Anais Nin by Deirdre Bair

by Beth Obermeyer

"What has 3600 feet and opens an arts center?" asked the Page One headline of the Minneapolis Tribune.

When 1,801 tap dancers flooded Hennepin Avenue to open the Hennepin Center for the Arts on Oct. 15, 1979, they weren't exactly the Rockettes. But people showed up when I put the call out for "The Big Tap" and they danced their way into the "Guinness Book of World Records."

Our dance line was three blocks long! We were a mix of workers, families, lovers, church ladies, ladies of the street, vaudevillians, arts boards members and dance school students. Dancers came from Piper Jaffray & Hopwood and HUD offices. Seniors came in World War II sailor suits. The Karamazov Brothers signed up to juggle and tap. Helicopters circled overhead when the starting whistle blew, and the police band played "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy."

We had gusto!

It wasn't easy orchestrating all of this, but once the plans started to roll, it would not stop. I worried around the clock that no one would show up. And at the same time I repeated over and over: "Imagine." I had to keep the big picture out there.

The invite for dancers to show up was easy: Wear your tap shoes, wear red, white or blue and learn the simple dance steps. The goal was to line up and tap dance along Hennepin Avenue within an hour.

I taught tap on the phone, dance leader by dance leader, long into the nights. Our determination grew.

I imagined and believed. When 32 group leaders signed in on that October day 32 years ago, and brought the numbers they promised, I wasn't surprised. When the 400 extras rehearsed like mad in a parking lot, they were folded in, too. Rows of dancers lined up: A to Z, AA-ZZ, all the way to Row QQQQQ-1.


I believed. And I exploded. This was a miracle on concrete. In 77 minutes we did the tap dance routine seven times.

The next day we went around the world on the news, from the Asahi Evening News in Japan to "Good Morning America."

Barbara Flanagan, Minneapolis Star columnist, predicted we would "dance the crime off Hennepin." The police abandoned their corners and danced, too. One gave me his whistle.

We cracked open the heart of a city. When we pulled together we found we were more alike than different. And that, I knew, was the biggest dance of all.

Beth Obermeyer lives in Minneapolis and has been a dancer for 66 years. She is the author of "The Biggest Dance," and its companion book, "BIG!" "The Big Tap" was sponsored by the Minnesota Dance Theatre. www.bethobermeyer.com

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