The bell rang and jolted her back to reality. She jumped up and raced to be first in the dismissal line. The bell rang again and everyone started out the door. Doris started running home.
“Doris, where are you going? Why are you running?” Amy yelled.
“I have to get home, Amy. Today is my first tap dance lesson,” Doris shouted, still running.
She ran all the way home and, breathing heavy, ran up the stairs two steps at a time. AJ was practicing on the platform in the front room. She tiptoed in the room, sat near the door and became engrossed in the dancing. Her hands were clenched, her face fixed and her body was so stiff she appeared frozen. AJ hummed and danced, twirled on his toes and flipped over as he executed some miraculous moves. Doris sprang to her feet and started applauding, like an electric current went through her body.
The music ended. AJ wiped his brow, took a deep breath and said, “Hi there. Ready to start?”
“Yep! What do you want me to do?”
“First, go change shoes. We’ll start when you get back.”
Doris ran toward her room,
kicking her school shoes off. She grabbed her dance shoes and started putting
them on while walking, stumbling every once in a while, toward the front
part of the house.
Charlene and Claude Brown, Sr. had four children. They lived in a rented house on the south side of Chicago. Doris was the youngest and only five and a half years old. She had an older sister, Joyce, and two older brothers, Andrew (AJ) and Claude (CC). All of her siblings were in high school.
Joyce was a beautiful young lady, tall for her age and very smart. She always had a book in her hand. She was well respected by her teachers and classmates. She spent a great deal of time at the rehabilitation center assisting the physically challenged and abused children. She taught them different games and assisted with the rehabilitating process. The children anticipated her coming because she always had surprises.
AJ was called "Mr. Personality". He was short like his mother and loved to tap dance. He was a very gifted young man but not as serious as Doris and CC. He laughed and joked all the time and was very popular in school. His favorite girlfriend was his baby sister, Doris. He spent a lot of time with her, teaching her how to read and continuously, correcting her grammar. He was known for his beautiful smile and willingness to assist the students who were having problems in school.
CC was the oldest and more reserved. He was tall and lithe like his dad. He was in his last year of high school, and worked part time at the US Post Office. He saved his money to help pay his college tuition, and was a typical big brother. Everyone talked to him when they had problems. CC was the most compassionate of all the children. Whenever there was a problem with one of the Brown children, Mr. Moseley, the high school principal, would summon him before they contacted the family. This did not happen very often; but, he was considered the substitute father during school hours.
Doris was the youngest and the most active. She was a pleasant child, talkative and very inquisitive. She loved being the center of attention at home and school. She felt very comfortable in this role. She and AJ were very close despite the age difference. He made sure she used the correct grammar because of her loquacity; and, took charge of teaching her how to read. She started reading at the age of four.
Education was top priority in the Brown’s home. They were not learned people. It was the primary goal for their children. Their parents made it clear that it was all right to dance and prance as a favorite pastime, but not as a career. As a result, they did well in school. Mr. Brown supported his wife in most things and this one in particular.
When Doris was enrolled in Waring Grammar school, she was tested; because of her previous training was placed in first grade immediately. She did well in all of the subjects while in first grade. Mrs. James, her teacher, was very impressed with her reading ability. She asked her to help some of the other children who were having problems. Doris loved that and the children were receptive. Her only problem was talking all the time. After the third warning, a note stating Doris and her talking was sent home to her mother. The note was a notification to the parents. There was no meeting requested. Mrs. Brown was expecting this because her daughter talked all the time at home. After reading the note, she stared at Doris for a while.
“What’s this all about, Doris? What is so important that can’t wait until recess?” Her mother asked.
Doris lowered her head saying, “Nothing. I won’t do it anymore. Amy is always talking to me and I just answer.”
“Well, tell Amy not to do it anymore, ok?” Otherwise, you will be in big trouble, young lady.”
Doris’ birthday was in three weeks. Mrs. Brown planned to ask her what she wanted for her birthday before she received the note. Afterwards, she decided to wait a few days to see if there was improvement. After three days, Mrs. Brown asked what she wanted for her birthday. She told her mom she only wanted one thing. She wanted AJ to teach her how to tap dance.
“What? Is that all you want?”
“Let me see if I can make that happen. I’ll see if your brother wants to teach you, ok?”
“Ok. Thanks, Mama. I love you.”
Mrs. Brown talked to AJ later
that night. He wasn’t surprised about her wanting to learn to tap dance.
He was surprised that she wanted nothing else. They both laughed. AJ agreed
to start her lessons the week before her birthday and asked his mother
to tell her.
AJ started tapping when he was seven years old. He became interested when he saw the Nicolas Brothers dancing in the movie, Sun Valley Serenade, starring John Payne, Glen Miller, Sonja Henie and a host of other stars. Afterwards, he started trying to teach himself. He told Dee about Mr. Harris and his daily visits.
Mr. Harris, one of the neighbors, was a retired professional dancer and internationally known. His career was cut short because of a car accident en route to his next engagement. AJ visited him every day after school, and listened, for hours, to stories of his many experiences. Each visit was like taking a trip around the world. Mr. Harris gave very detailed descriptions. The look on his face, the gesture of his hands made you feel you were there, experiencing the same activity. During one of the visits, AJ told him that he would love to learn how to tap. He loved dancing, but teaching himself was somewhat ineffectual. He needed pointers badly.
Mr. Harris, rubbing his chin said, “J, I’ll teach you. I will not be able to demonstrate the steps, but I can tell you what to do and make sure you do them right. It will be left up to you how good you become. Practice is the name of the game. Man, I use to practice for hours every day. My mama would fuss at me all the time ‘cause I‘d practice dancing instead of my school work.”
(All the neighbors called AJ…”J” and CC…”C”)
“Would you, Mr. Harris?” AJ yelled, “Would you? I promise to practice every day! Of course, mama won’t stand for not completing my homework, but I’ll find time to do them both. When can we start, huh?”
“J. You’d best talk to your mom. If she agrees, then we can start the next day,”
“Good deal. Thanks, Mr. Harris,” AJ said smiling
AJ talked to his parents. His mother was apprehensive, but Mr. Brown thought it was a good idea if he kept up with his schoolwork. He promised his schoolwork would not suffer. After hugging his parents, AJ ran to tell Mr. Harris the good news.
His lessons began the next day. He took them every day for an hour. Afterwards, he went home, practiced for an hour and then, did his homework. This went on for about six months.
One day when AJ arrived, Mr. Harris said: “J, you are darn good. I’ve taught you all I know and you have added some spiffy steps. It’s time to end our lessons.”
( Mr. Harris just received the results of his tests. The doctor informed him that he must get more rest because his condition was getting worse. No one knew about this and he had no intentions of telling anyone.)
“AJ’s eyes widened as his mouth opened in disappointment.
“Close your mouth, young man. You knew this time would come, right?”
“Yes Sir, but I didn’t think I was ready.”
“Well, you are. As a matter of fact, I’d like you to dance for us on Saturday night. My Lodge is having a little going away party for one of the retirees. We’ll pay you, if your parents say it’s ok.”
Tears were forming in AJ’s eyes.
“Run along now. I’ll call your mother later to get her approval. You are good, J.”
When Mr. Harris called with the request, Mrs. Brown was uncertain. She told him she would talk to her husband because AJ was still rather young and promised to get back to him later that evening. After speaking with her husband, she sat for a while staring out the window, asking for guidance. She decided she would allow him to perform this once. When she called Mr. Harris, he thanked her so much; she felt as though she almost performed a miracle. Is he that good, she thought?
The night of the performance he received a standing ovation. The Lodge members invited their families and friends. Mr. and Mrs. Brown attended. It was standing room only. He danced like a trouper who had danced for many years. The intensity and the moves were spectacular. You could hear moans and screams, along with applause, from the audience. He put his all in it. Mrs. Brown stared in wonder. Is this my child doing all of this? she mused. Mr. Brown wore a perpetual smile during the entire performance. He was like a proud father who was looking at his newborn for the first time. His heart accelerated. He felt tears forming. After the performance, AJ approached his parents and they embraced for a few minutes. That was the beginning of many dancing engagements for him. He saved every penny to help with his college tuition.
AJ entered and won several
dance contests. He also started giving dance lessons for a small fee. The
lessons were given in the front of their house on the infamous platform.
He developed new tap steps for each class and became very popular as a
dancer and student. At graduation he was cited as the Valedictorian and
recipient of several scholastic scholarships. He enrolled in Stowe Teachers
College. CC was in his second year at Stowe.
When Doris returned to the front room, out of breath she said, “Ready, AJ.”
“Ok, little sister, let’s start. But, first, I want you to promise you will practice for an hour every day.”
“K, I will. How long do I have to practice, for the rest of my life?” Doris asked frowning.
“You have to practice until you learn all the steps. Then you will be tap dancing. After you’ve learned the basics, you can be more creative and make up different steps.
“Now, let’s begin. Watch what I am doing. Then, I’ll ask you to do it.”
He started swinging his right foot backward and forward, touching the floor as he swung in both directions. He called it the “shuffle.” He repeated the same step for about ten times then asked Doris to do it. She stumbled on the platform and started shuffling, but with the wrong foot. When she realized it, she looked at her brother apologetically with tears forming.
“Hey, what’s the matter? You’re doing fine.”
“I started on the wrong foot,” Doris mumbled.
“That’s ok. Just start again, on the right foot.”
She started again. Doris did it about 20 times. Then she changed to the other foot without being told. He started clapping and gave her thumbs up. Doris eyes widened as she smiled.
He started the music and they both shuffled in sync with the music. This went on for almost an hour.
Since she had no problems with the first step, AJ decided to add another part to the step. So, he told Doris to watch him again. He repeated the shuffle, but tapped on the floor as he swung back and forth. He repeated it three times and then asked her to do it. She had no problems with the added step. The music was restarted. They repeated these steps for another hour.
“Ok, that’s enough. Remember to practice for an hour tomorrow, ok?”
“K. When’s the next lesson?”
“Oh yeah, that’s right! How about day after tomorrow? That’ll give you a chance to practice.”
“K. Same time, same place, right?” she said laughing heading toward her room.
Doris changed shoes again. The music was still in her head and she started humming while practicing. She didn’t hear her mom calling her. Mrs. Brown came to the room and watched her for a while, smiling. She is really determined to tap dance, bless her heart, she mused.
“How’d you do today, Sweetcakes? Did AJ teach you a lot?” she said smiling.
“Uh huh. He taught me the shuffle. Wanna see me do it, Mama?”
“Not now. Dinner is ready. Maybe you can show me after dinner. Ok?”
During dinner Doris talked incessantly about her lesson, describing the shuffle. Her voice trembled as she continued. The family watched in amazement, absorbed in the excitement in her voice and the movement of her body. I’ve never seen her so excited, Mrs. Brown thought. Doris ate very little food. She had a very difficult time sleeping that night. The shuffle and the music were still dancing in her head.
The next day after dinner, Doris started again for an hour. She played the same song so that she would not miss a step. When they met for the next lesson, AJ asked her to perform the first step with the music. She did, with ease. He gave her another loud round of applause. She giggled lowering her head and twisting her body. She was embarrassed. AJ started laughing.
“Ok, time for the next lesson. Let’s get on with it.”
“Now, the next step is shuffle, tap twice both ways, in sync with the music, then turn around still tapping. Watch me.”
AJ proceeded to demonstrate. He did it a few times. Doris watched with a furrowed brow.
“Got it, Sis?”
“I’m not sure. It looks hard.”
“Well, it’s not exactly easy. But you can do it. You should practice this step for about a week.
Now, you try it.”
Doris walked slowly to the platform and started with the music. She became confused, so she started again. After the fourth try, she did it. It was not in sync with the music, but she had the right step. AJ turned the record off and told her to take her time and perform the step. She did this one step for about an hour. The music was turned back on and she was told to perform all three of the steps. She turned and gaped.
“You can do it. Just take your time and go over the steps in your head. Do you wanna try it first or do you want me to do all of them and then you ry?”
“I’ll try it first,” she said.
“Good. Go for it.”
Dee started slowly and very precise. She stumbled the first couple of times then performed them correctly. She started slowly and gradually increased speed until she was tapping in sync with the music.
“Bravo! Bravo!” AJ shouted. “You did it.”
They both started laughing. She plopped on the floor and stared into space, fantasizing about her tap dancing debut. She was tired, her body gave her the signal and her legs said, enough.
“Ok, young lady. You did very well tonight. Be sure and practice and we will have another lesson a week from today. By then this step will be a part of your routine and, it’ll be smooth sailing from now on.”
“Good. Thanks, AJ. I’ll practice every day.”
She practiced regularly. The lessons continued for the next six months. She performed for the students in her class, thrilling them. By the time she was seven, she had a routine of her own and they did a duo every once in a while. They complemented one another; Doris did her routine and AJ would follow through with an additional step.
One Saturday night they went for a walk through the neighborhood. Doris was thrilled. About a block from their house Mr. Biggam yelled, “Hey, J! Are you gonna give a little taste of your dancing tonight?”
“Oh, not tonight Mr. Biggam. I’m just taking a stroll with my sister.”
“The way I hear it, she can shuffle a little bit herself.”
“Yeah, she can. But, I don’t know if my parents would like that.”
“Just one tune, Son.” I’ll blow my harmonica for music.”
“Let’s do it, AJ. Just one time.”
Mr. Biggam started playing his harmonica and they did their routine. By the time they really got started, the street was filled with people, clapping and making encouraging remarks. The crowd was so loud, gapers held up traffic. Doris did a few extra turns and twists. The crowd roared! This went on for about an hour. Once it ended, the crowd threw money to them. They scrambled for the coins and thanked everyone and ran home. When they got home and counted the coins, they had ten dollars. Doris’ throat constricted, eyes bulged and the palms of her hands were wet, she’d never seen than much money. As they were laughing and planning how they were gonna spend the money, Mrs. Brown stormed in the room.
“Is it true the two of you were dancing in the street for money?” She growled hands on hips and staring intently.
“Yes, Mama,” AJ whispered.
“You were suppose to baby-sit, not entertain the neighbors,” she continued.
AJ tried to explain, but she would not hear it. He was grounded for a couple of weeks, promising that this would not happen again. Doris tried to explain, but her mother’s eyes kept her quiet. AJ offered his mom the money. She refused it and stormed out of the room.
That was their first and last
time they: "TAP DANCED IN THE STREET".
AJ graduated high school the next year. He attended the Teachers’ College in town and worked part time at the local grocery store while continuing to practice. He joined a local theater group while in college and appeared in a few plays with his dance routine. He made quite a name for himself.
Doris also continued to practice. When she was eleven she was in a play at school and was asked to dance during intermission. She loved it. She gave lessons to some of her girlfriends in her class. They stayed after school and practiced. When she entered high school, she signed up for the dance class. Her reputation had preceded her. She was known as “The Other Dancing Brown.”
Doris and AJ loved dancing, but it did not interfere with their education. AJ graduated and became a teacher. Joyce graduated majoring in Social Services. She accepted a position in New York City at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Claude also became a teacher.
Claude married a few months after graduation. Both boys were inducted in the army during World War II. Doris was the only one at home. She danced, but not professionally. She graduated college with a math degree. She taught tap dancing, part time, at the local YMCA for years.
Doris married Joseph Bennett and had three children. She learned about the vagaries of life. She focused on taking care of her family as tap dancing passed into loving memories. So at the age of 35, she gave it up entirely. She still loved it, but had no time for it.
In long run of a lifetime, Mr. and Mrs. Brown were right in their priorities, education was the stone foundation and the dancing was the roof, which blew away with the winds of time and circumstances.
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Dorothy's Story List and Biography