Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Putting the "Bug" in Jitterbug

Every year I look forward to Garden Day at Fairyland. Families throng the park to receive free seedlings; watch Uncle Jer’s Travelling Bee Show; and make troll and fairy houses, pollinator masks and butterfly finger puppets. All of the activities encourage kids to get down and dirty and to appreciate the amazing urban ecosystem around us. 

This year we have something new, and we’re sure it will surprise and delight kids and adults alike: tap-dancing insects.

Dance/10’s Jitterbugs tap troupe will perform this Saturday as part of Fairyland’s Garden Day.

You may be familiar with the East Bay phenomenon known as the Tap Dancing Christmas Trees. Alameda-based Dance/10 Performing Arts Center debuted the troupe 26 years ago, and since then the dancing trees have performed at the Alameda County Fair, Paramount’s Great America and even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Dance/10 followed this success with the Tap Dancing Easter Bunnies, also a hit.
The Tap Dancing Christmas Trees on parade.

At Fairyland, we’re huge fans of the Dance/10 center. Run by the indefatigable Pamm Drake since 1984, the center teaches dance to everyone from kids to seniors. Discipline, self-esteem, mutual respect and teamwork are all part of the learning experience.

Dance/10 has brought the trees and bunnies to Fairyland for years. They love our Aesop’s Theater stage—“It has phenomenal sound, like a big drum,” says Pamm. And our audiences love them. Imagine being 3 years old and encountering an extravagantly dressed group of enthusiastic dancers whose feet make remarkable sounds you’ve never heard before!

A few years ago, Dance/10 was hired to choreograph a number for Macy’s annual flower show in San Francisco’s Union Square. That’s when Pamm conceived of the Jitterbugs: dancers costumed as a ladybug, bumblebee, flower, spider and grasshopper – all, of course, doing the jitterbug. In tap shoes.

The tall woman wearing the grasshopper costume will be none other than Fairyland’s own multitalented events manager, Jessica Martin, who has been performing with and teaching at the company for a number of years. 

Tap Dancing Easter Bunnies.
And if that isn’t enough synergy for you, Pamm’s husband Eric volunteers in our gardens every Tuesday.

Pamm’s enthusiasm is a big reason we’ve bonded with Dance/10. Like many Oakland kids, Pamm participated in the city’s Children’s Holiday Pageant, a tradition from the 1920s through the 1980s that brought hundreds of local school kids together for a variety extravaganza. A spotlight hit her, and “that was the end of that,” she says. She realized that performance would be her calling.

She brought her stepson and grandchildren to Fairyland as they were growing up, and she and her troupe members dress in glorious costumes each year at Fairyland’s Gala fundraiser, eliciting general merriment with their cool dance moves.

Graduates of Dance/10 have gone on to work on Broadway and on cruise ships, and to teach performance at universities. But fame is not Pamm’s  goal. “The bottom line is that dance can be a commitment to exercising forever,” she says. “Get kids moving!” is a theme of hers – and ours.

Pamm tells a story about her oldest student, a 73-year-old woman who first saw the Tap Dancing Christmas Trees in the Oakland Holiday Parade. She ran after them, yelling, “Who are you? And how can I join?” She currently attends classes two days a week.

Join us in welcoming the Jitterbugs this Saturday at 11:30 as part of our glorious Garden Day at Children’s Fairyland. You may just plant the seeds for a future tapper.

- C.J. Hirschfield
C.J. Hirschfield has served for 13 years as executive director of Children’s Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation the nation’s first storybook theme park.

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