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Interview with Brenda Bufalino, April 24 and May 5, 2014

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Interview with Brenda Bufalino, April 24 and May 5, 2014
Bufalino, Brenda (Interviewee)
Arnold, Joan, 1948- (Interviewer)

Dance Oral History Project

Dates / Origin
Date Created: 2014
Library locations
Jerome Robbins Dance Division
Shelf locator: *MGZMT 3-3035
Bufalino, Brenda -- Interviews
Coles, Honi, 1911-1992
Clark, Bobby, 1888-1960
Fort, Syvilla
Barretto, Ray
Hines, Gregory
American Tap Dance Orchestra
Tap dancing
Tap dancers
Ballroom dancing
Racism and the arts
Women tap dancers
African American dance teachers
African American dance
Dance schools
Lindy (Dance)
Choreographers -- Biography
Oral histories
Content: Interview with Brenda Bufalino conducted by Joan Arnold on April 24 and May 5, 2014, in New York City for The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Jerome Robbins Dance Division Oral History Project.
Bibliographic history: Title supplied by cataloger.
Venue: Recorded for The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts 2014, April 24 and May 5 New York (N.Y.)
Funding: The creation and cataloging of this recording was made possible in part by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. The support of the National Endowment for the Arts is also gratefully acknowledged.
Physical Description
Born digital
Extent: 3 audio files (approximately 4 hr., 4 min.) : digital, stereo +transcript (185 leaves : 2 charts)
Streaming audio file 1 (approximately one hour and 46 minutes). Brenda Bufalino speaks with Joan Arnold about her family and early dance training at Professor OBriens Normal School of Dancing in Massachusetts; dancing with her mother and aunts touring group, the Strickland Sisters; briefly, early training and influences including Afro-Cuban dance, Katherine Dunham technique, and her study of jazz music while a young nightclub dancer in New York city; instruments she learned to play; the concertina, her current preferred instrument; how she composes music and an example of the charts she makes for her musicians and dancers; the origin of her surname as well as her mixed Native American and Italian ancestry; learning funeral dances while on a trip to West Africa; the composite history of tap dance, especially influences from the English music hall and clog dancing traditions; musical influences, especially jazz music and classical music, on her dancing and choreography; training at Stanley Browns studio in her teens, especially the so-called “modern primitive” classes, based on West African dance, being taught there; briefly, the social fall-out in her hometown, Swampscott, from taking classes in what was called a “black form”; joining the Bobby Clark Dancers, dancing in their production of The red shoes, and her introduction to the bohemian intellectuals of 1950s Boston; the hostile reactions and ostracism that she and her family faced from the Swampscott community about her dancing in a mixed-race company; reflecting on the process of her waking up to the realities of race in America; discovering the Honi Coles and Pete Nugents Dance Craft Studio upstairs from the Jimmy Ryans Jazz Club when she first moved to New York; learning tap dance from Coles as his protégé and their synchronous personalities; briefly, taking classes at the Phillips-Fort studio, especially with Syvilla Fort; they speak about mambo, and Bufalino recalls dancing a mambo act at the Palladium nightclub with Chino, a teacher from the Phillips-Fort Studio; the drummers at Forts classes especially Danny Barajanus; she recalls Coles disappointment that she was often hired as an Afro-Cuban dancer but could not find work as a tap dancer; an anecdote about Fort; they speak about Coles dynamic range, especially his lightness as a dancer; briefly, the style of current tap dancers; Coles health issues and his attendance at the American Tap Dance Orchestra benefit in 1987 while still under hospital care; her top-billed calypso act at Café Society that led to more nightclub work; performing Afro-Cuban and Caribbean acts at clubs with Ray Barretto in the mid-1950s; briefly, performing calypso at Blue Angels in Chicago; ways that the introduction of television, changes in music and New Yorks cabaret laws affected live nightclub performance in the late 1950s. Streaming audio file 2 (approximately one hour and 53 minutes). Brenda Bufalino speaks with Joan Arnold about the meaning of the title of her book Tapping the source [Tapping the source: tap dance stories, theory and practice, Codhill Press, c2004]; examples of tap dancers choreographing their own roles in various Broadway productions of the 1950s including Gentlemen prefer blondes and Kiss me, Kate; how her producing of tap performances on the concert stage in the 1970s created a different performing approach for tap dancers from that of the vaudeville tradition; she speaks about the Copasetics club, its members, and filming their activities for her documentary Great feats of feet (1977); briefly, teaching the solos of the Copasetic canon to students of the American Tap Dance Foundation; briefly, her avant-garde collaborations with musician Eddie (Edgar) Summerlin in the 1960s; reuniting with Honi Coles and arranging for the Copasetic tap dancers to perform at SUNY New Paltz [State University of New York at New Paltz] while she was teaching there in the early 1970s; more about Coles especially his role at the Apollo Theater and her inclusion of the Copasetic dancers in performances with her Dancing Theater Company, which she passed on to the Company dancers she trained, in particular, Dorothy Anderson and Pat Giordano; briefly, her film Traveling; more about the filming of Great feats of feet and how the experience inspired her to improve her tap dancing; how she treated her arthritis and gout that developed in this period and subsequent changes in her approach to tap dancing that incorporated a method she learned from Coles; ways in which choices of shoes and heels affect sound and pitch; her solo Cantata & the Blues, including influences such as classic tap dancer Paul Draper, as well as her early years in New York living above Jillys Black Magic Room where Niki DeFrances played the piano; briefly, the impetus to create her Too tall, too small blues; more about the Lush Life monologue in her Cantata & the Blues; briefly, her tap colleague Harriet Browne; her own style of social dance, which she calls Lindy Bop, and how Lindy hop and Bebop developed in relation to one another; more about how social dance and jazz music developed in relation to another and also diverged; briefly, the unique rhythmic base of her work Crossfire; in response to a question about black dancers in American Tap Dance Orchestra, Bufalino briefly speaks about her relationship with dancer Tina Pratt and why several African American dance students of hers were not that interested in pursuing a career in tap; briefly, Bill Robinson, especially Coles impression of Robinsons dancing; the origin of Coles preferred name Honi; an anecdote about an early career manager hiring Luigi to choreograph an act for her; briefly, changes to the academic atmosphere at SUNY New Paltz in the 1980s; reasons that contributed to the folding of the American Tap Dance Orchestra in 1997, especially changes to NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] funding distribution and the view of tap as a primarily solo form; the incorporation of American Tap Dance Orchestra into the New York City Tap Festival to become the American Tap Dance Foundation under Tony Waag; ways in which Savion Glovers approach to tap, especially improvised solo tap, divided the tap community even while inspiring a new generation to begin tap dancing; childrens performances as part of the American Tap Dance Foundation; the resurgence of tap choreography, including an artist-in-residence series at the Tap Center that she participated in and younger tap choreographers she admires. Streaming audio file 3 (approximately 25 minutes). Brenda Bufalino continues to speak with Joan Arnold about her creation of the American Tap Dance Orchestra in 1986; an anecdote about Bubba Gainess advice to her on being a solo dancer; choreographing and co-arranging the compositions with her pianist Darrel Grant for the Orchestra; briefly, speaks about her American Tap Dance Orchestra works American landscape and White buffalo dance; the relationship between choreography, musical selection and music composition; briefly, the ways Gregory Hines choice to use popular music influenced tap; a brief anecdote about her short time in the June Taylor Dancers.
Type of Resource
Sound recording
RLIN/OCLC: 958375956
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b21082208
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): b8d81830-7c8c-0136-5800-0b3151f850e2
Rights Statement
This item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).

Item timeline of events

  • 2014: Created
  • 2020: Digitized
  • 2023: Found by you!
  • 2024

MLA Format

Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. "Interview with Brenda Bufalino, April 24 and May 5, 2014" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 2014.

Chicago/Turabian Format

Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. "Interview with Brenda Bufalino, April 24 and May 5, 2014" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 29, 2023.

APA Format

Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. (2014). Interview with Brenda Bufalino, April 24 and May 5, 2014 Retrieved from

Wikipedia Citation

<ref name=NYPL>{{cite web | url= | title= (sound recording) Interview with Brenda Bufalino, April 24 and May 5, 2014, (2014)|author=Digital Collections, The New York Public Library |accessdate=November 29, 2023 |publisher=The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations}}</ref>

Interview with Brenda Bufalino, April 24 and May 5, 2014