The Happy Hoofer

Tap dancing is all in the feet, whether large or small, or so many people think. Not true, says 26-year-old hoofer Marshall Davis, Jr., a generous size eleven-and-a-half, double E. "It's more your approach, your technique, and how you want to be heard dealing with tonality -- just being precise in exactly what you want to do," notes Davis on the phone from his home in New York City, where he teaches dance, performs on Broadway, and works as a member of the Ti Dii (pronounced Tie-Dye) dancers. Established in 2001 by youthful tap sensation and Tony Award-winning choreographer Savion Glover (a size twelve), Ti Dii and its founder will offer what is sure to be a dynamic show in Miami this Saturday, honoring the 75th anniversary of the Miami-Dade Park and Recreation Department.

Our fair city and the county's recreation programs are more than familiar to Davis. A Miami native, he frequented Miami-Dade Park's African Heritage Cultural Arts Center many times over the years. Run by his father Marshall Davis, Sr., the AHCAC was the place Junior initially was exposed to the uniquely American dance form, if you don't count the TV show Sesame Street. Wearing sneakers, he took his very first tap dance lesson at age ten. Once Davis, Jr. -- a child of many interests who played several instruments and when bored threw them by the wayside -- finally received his first pair of tap shoes, he took off like a rocket. He apprenticed with tap great Steve Condos in Hollywood, Florida; began taking top honors in contest after contest; and at age thirteen ended up on the TV talent competition Star Search, where he became teen dance champion of 1991.

By the mid-Nineties, Davis starred alongside mentor/friend Glover in the Broadway smash Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk. A few years later, summoned with a phone call, he enthusiastically joined Glover's new dance troupe, which made its ambitious debut at the Cannes Film Festival. "He's a genius with what he does," Davis says of Glover. "I look up to a lot of things that he has accomplished and how he's continuing to improve and reach new levels with the art form."

Recently seen frenetically shilling for V8 vegetable juice on television commercials, the 30-year-old Glover, who has also been dancing since childhood, has expressed interest in widening his artistic horizons. He's added acting and singing to his repertoire, much like one of his idols, the late Gregory Hines, did. For the moment, though, Marshall Davis, Jr., is content to keep on hoofing, squeezing powerful emotion from his fancy footwork the way a singer can melt hearts with a song. "Dancing will definitely be a part of what I do," he says. "It's physical and spiritual and emotional. It's not just all technique." Or big feet.