LaVaughn Robinson

February 9, 1927 - January 22, 2008

Renowned tap dancer LaVaughn Robinson is South Philadelphia born and bred. "Hoofing" since he was seven, Robinson calls himself the last of the "street dancers." He learned his first time step from his mother in the shed kitchen of the family home, and South Philly street corners served as the academy where he developed his style and technique. With Henry Meadows and others (Howard Blow, Eddie Sledge), Robinson performed in acts with names like the "Dancing Dictators," and the "Dancing Jets", gaining respect for his close rhythms, and touring widely as a "class act."

During the 1940s-50s he shared stages with such artists as Cab Calloway, Ruth Brown, Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra, Maynard Ferguson, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. Robinson actively pursued his dance career through the early 1970s. By then, many of the theaters and nightclubs that kept tap dancers employed were closing as the economics of the entertainment industry and audiences' tastes changed.

In the early 1980s, Robinson returned to Philadelphia after a stint in Boston and began performing for contemporary dance and folk music audiences who were awakening to jazz tap. Robinson began teaching at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he was a faculty member for 25 years and was conferred the title of Distinguished Professor in 2005. He perpetuated the "Philadelphia style" of tap through the generations of dancers that he taught at UArts and at universities, dance festivals and artist residencies across the globe. From the mid-1980 thru 2003 he performed widely, both as a solo artist and with Germaine Ingram, his dance partner of two decades.

Robinson has received many prestigious awards, including the National Heritage Award from the Folk Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts, choreographers' fellowships from the Dance Program of the National Endowment for the Arts, a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, and Pennsylvania Artist of the Year, an award conferred by then-Governor Tom Ridge. His wisdom and experience helped to guide oral histories and documentation of local tap dancers by the Philadelphia Folklore Project and the Dance Collection at Temple University. He was featured in the PFP documentary videotape "Plenty of Good Women Dancers: African American Women Hoofers in Philadelphia," and he collaborated with Carole Boughter and Barry Dornfeld on "Dancing History", a biographical documentary on Robinson's career as an artists and teacher.

 

 

Related Resources

In Memory of LaVaugn Robinson. By Germain Ingram. WIP 21:1-2.