Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Al Gilbert - Stepping Tones

From our very own Miss Lindsay!

At ESB, our Tap dancers have the privilege of learning the Al Gilbert Tap system, one of many internationally recognized Tap syllabi. It was created in 1947 by Mister Gilbert in response to what he felt was a lack of Tap teaching materials for young children at the time. He felt pedagogy and progressive movement (that is to say, the teaching of Tap steps with a purposeful methodology using build-ups) was necessary in teaching Tap dance, even to the youngest of dancers. Today, on the eve of its 70th anniversary, the system is world renown, with grade work and exams available from Primary level dancers, through to the advanced tapper. Here is a mini-biography on Mister Gilbert, created by Stepping Tones International, sharing his successes from humble beginnings to Tap pioneer. 


Born, Allesandro Zicari, July 12, Al Gilbert was one of ten children raised in a tough Italian neighborhood in Rochester, New York. His mother died when he was very young so it was up to his eldest sister to recognize his talent and encouraged him, "If you want to dance-dance". When other kids made fun if him, she'd say, "They're just jealous of you". His older brother, Charlie, learned how to dance on the back street corners of Rochester, and in turn taught his brothers and sisters. There was no formal training. Charlie was the "splitting image" of actor John Gilbert and won many local look- alike contests, so he became known as Charlie Gilbert. Charlie was the first in the family to become a professional dancer and introduced two of his dancing brothers as Al Gilbert and Pat Gilbert. Pat later became known as Pat Rico. Pat passed away on October 12, 1999.

Al loved to perform so much he would dance whenever and wherever he could, anywhere and anytime. Two days after he was discharged from the military in 1945, serving with the Army's 14th Air Corps Division, known as the Flying Tigers, during World War II, he answered a Hollywood casting call for male dancers and got the job. Within a week he became the assistant to the assistant choreographer of The Jolson Story (1946) where he can be seen in a 30 second segment.

He purchased his first dance studio in Hollywood, California, on his birthday in 1947. Dance schools had begun to flourish in Los Angeles after the war. He quickly discovered there was no material for teachers on how to instruct young children, and few teachers who knew how to teach dancing to the little ones. So he started making up catchy dance jingles and experimented with teaching technique standards. Word got out and parents flocked to his studio with their children. "I was the only one who realized there was a need for children's material. I knew no one else was doing it because I was told that this was something new and different". He sold his song and dance material to a teachers magazine in 1949, that in turn created a demand for more of his original material. He then presented children's songs and dances at conventions for Stepping Tones Records.

Al Gilbert and Betty Zimmer (former owner of Stepping Tones Records), developed the first vocal instruction record with rhythmic tapping sounds in the late 1950's, creating Grade 1 Tap Technique. A new revolution in dance instructional material had begun. It was so popular that other companies began copying the idea. In 1971 Al Gilbert purchased Stepping Tones Records and made available Training Aids and Graded Technique records to dance instructors and their students for Pre- school trough Grade 8 Tap. His techniques are also available on Videos and Compact Discs. He continued to perfect his teaching techniques and developed his graded system teaching thousands of students and dozens of teachers. Celebrities such as Annette Funicello (who was discovered by, Walt Disney, while performing during one of his recitals) and Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, were students of his, as were the children of many Hollywood celebrities. As more and more dance instructors learned of his teaching methods and purchased his material, dance schools around the world invited him to guest teach. He has taught at workshops throughout the United States, Canada, Guatemala, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. His own Al Gilbert Dance Seminars, which are designed primarily for teachers, are held in 15 cities each year. He is on the road nearly every weekend.

In 1994 he released his 1,000th original song and dance Training Aid and recently released Grade 9 Advanced Tap Technique.

He has also published a book entitled "AL GILBERT'S TAP DICTIONARY", "Encyclopedia of Tap Dancing Terminology and Related Information". He will be demonstrating material from the book on the first evening of hisDance Seminars.

Related Material: DANCE TEACHER NOW, July/August 1994, Spotlight on Al Gilbert by Elaine Starr A DREAM IS A WISH YOUR HEART MAKES, Annette Funicello Autobiography, Published be Hyperion, NY

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