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Tripping the light fantastic

D.C.’s own tap dance prodigy goes national with superstar Savion Glover

(Published March 27, 2000)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

"Fuh-LAP, heel, heel! Fuh-LAP, heel, heel!"

The tap dance teacher calls out instructions to his eager students and they dutifully follow his lead, with varying degrees of success.

In a kinetic call and response, the instructor taps out steps in the routine and the class members try their best to mimic him. He lays down a dizzying series of heel-toes, shuffles and ball-changes that by the end of the 45-minute master class becomes a fluid minute-long dance routine.

"Sounds great," he says when the class performs it for him. The class breaks into applause and he graciously accepts it, chewing and snapping his bubble gum with a big grin on his face.

Pretty good for a first-time teacher. Even better considering Cartier Williams is only 10 years old.

Williams is the District’s own dance phenom and he’s getting his first shot at national fame touring with the reigning superstar of the tap dance world, Savion Glover. The tour made a stop in Washington at the Warner Theater March 25 and 26, and as part of the performance Cartier also conducted his master class at the D.C. Dance Collective March 23.

Cartier is no stranger to the stage by any means. He danced at the millennial celebration on the Mall, he performed at the sesquicentennial celebration of the Smithsonian, he was on Oprah and he’s performed for the president of the United States at the White House. And he hasn’t even made it out of elementary school yet.

But you wouldn’t know it by meeting him. Young Williams is charming, self-possessed and has more self-confidence than a 10-year-old should be entitled to.

His mother Alicia, though, said he hasn’t let it go to his head. Even though he’s touring and performing with four generations of tap legends, she said Cartier still knows he’s just a kid.

"As a dancer, he knows what he can do and what he can’t," she said.

What he can do is dazzling. His mother said when she enrolled him in a dance camp at the age of 4, the director of the camp immediately recognized his innate talent.

"She said, ‘He’s really tapping, he’s not just out there stomping around like the other kids,’" she recalled. She said he earned the nickname "sponge kid" because of his ability to absorb his lessons so well.

She recalled the first time she took her son to see Glover perform, he was so enthralled that he wouldn’t leave the auditorium during intermission. She would take him to master classes taught by Glover, but because he was so young he wouldn’t be able to participate through the whole class. A couple of years later, Cartier caught Glover’s attention when he performed at the famed Apollo Theater in New York. That was how Cartier got recruited for the current tour. Now, on the road, Cartier learns his latest steps from the man he admires.

Even with all the grown-up trappings that fame brings, Cartier is, after all, still a 10-year-old. When the regular dance teacher at the D.C. Dance Collective gently teased him about chewing gum in class, his hand shot up and covered his mouth as he blushed. And even after his TV appearance, Cartier said his friends at Leckie Elementary School in Washington Highlands don’t act like he’s a star.

"They treat me just like the other kids," he said.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator