Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

The tale of the tap


No idea why this came seeping up from my memory bog, but I suddenly saw myself in my favorite pair of oxblood penny loafers — fifth grade, this was — and begging my mom to buy me a set of metal taps for them. You know, like tap dancers have on their shoes.

This was 1967, maybe the spring of ‘68, back when boys didn’t wear sneakers to school. Sneakers were known as “gym shoes,” and there was nothing terribly cool about them. Converse high-tops were all right. They only came in white or black, though, and you certainly couldn’t nail taps into them without getting your feet butchered.

You’re wondering, I bet, Why did this kid want tap shoes anyway?

The truth is, I hardly knew myself. Just, suddenly, a bunch of the boys got this vision (but it was probably only one boy) of a whole posse strutting down the hall all clickety clackety in our penny loafers and Florsheim wingtips. Oh, it would be awesome — even if we didn’t say awesome in those days. We said, I think, “cool,” possibly “neato,” but the meaning was the same as awesome.

Teachers would step out of our way. Girls would watch us, mesmerized, as we made our way down to the cafeteria like a pack of rattling robots. A couple of us might try a James Cagney move or two, grinning at particular girls, and kids from the lower grades would see us and go, “We wanna be like them next year!”

This is probably how any kind of clique gets started. Something unites a formerly amorphous group of individuals — a certain haircut, a pathological appreciation of Mickey Dolenz, susceptibility to xenophobic rhetoric — causing them to congeal into an ever-tightening organization. Pretty soon the uniting feature is all any of them can think about. They’re living it, breathing it, preaching it, teaching it. They’re recruiting too.

My mom took me to the local shoe store, where, behind the counter, the clerk had a swiveling rack of taps. Interesting that you’re asking about these, he remarked. Several lads have come in lately to buy them.

I looked at Mom knowingly. “See?”

She was still skeptical, but she bought a set for me anyway. Neato. There were two big taps for the heels and two small taps for the toes. That evening my dad hammered them onto my shoes, musing all the while that he didn’t know I had the dancing bug, though tap was sure a terrific thing to watch, kiddo, the old hoofers who could really dazzle and make the boards sing. Good luck with it.

I didn’t try to explain that this had nothing to do with tap dancing.

At school the next day, only about five of us had taps on our shoes. We clicked and clacked through the tiled lobby, feeling, all of a sudden, self-conscious. My friend Steve C. took a running start and slid a good fifteen feet down the hall, so we all gave that a shot, until Mr. Brown — the sixth grade teacher — came out of his classroom and told us, in his way, to cease and desist.

Our own teacher, Mrs. Elphingstone, watched us sternly as we entered her class, clickety clackety, though I thought I spied a smile hiding at the corner of her mouth. She told everyone to get settled. It was time for social studies.

Before she got started with the lesson, she said, “Steve … Robert … Kevin … Paul … Greg …. Please get up and go to the cubbies in back. Get your gym shoes out and put them on. Store your school shoes in the cubbies, then come and sit back down at your desks.”

We knew there was no point in resisting.

I wore my tap shoes home that afternoon, getting one more performance out of them, but by the time I hit our front steps, one of the toe taps had come off and disappeared, and one of the heel taps was already loose.

The next time a few of us congealed around something it was all about orange sweatshirts, and that one stuck for a while.

13 comments on “The tale of the tap

  1. kingmidget
    March 8, 2016

    Great story. But … orange sweatshirts?

  2. sknicholls
    March 8, 2016

    Our big thing was POW bracelets. You just weren’t cool if you didn’t wear one.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 8, 2016

      I remember! And they turned the girls’ wrists green … I also went through an aggressive tie-dye phase.

  3. Adrienne Morris
    March 9, 2016

    My strong willed toddler once took us on what seemed an endless journey through the mall in search of “skapping” shoes–little girl shoes with loud heals. When the kids were a little older some kids got those ridiculous sneakers with hidden skates in them. For some reason the kids who had them usually had annoying personalities.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 9, 2016

      Ha! I can believe the skate-shoe kids were annoying. I know I had to have been annoying as a tap kid!

      We’re all searching for our identity, eh?

      • Adrienne Morris
        March 9, 2016

        I remember the poor kid in middle school forced to do tap dancing. One of the evil “popular” kids found his shoes in his book bag and from then on the kid was ostracized. But not as much as the kid with big ears. Middle schoolers are awful humans.

  4. cinthiaritchie
    March 9, 2016

    Nice story,and kind of sweet too, you know?
    I wanted tap shoes when I was young, too, but I wasn’t allowed. We lived on a farm and I imagined tapping out dance numbers over the barn floor. Have no idea where that came from.
    We wore sneakers to school and colored the soles with magic markers. Certain people were allowed certain colors. Mine was green. (Why in the hell do I remember that when I can’t remember how to multiply fractions?)

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 10, 2016

      Who was the shoe-sole color boss? Some kid? Sounds like you went to Lord of the Flies Elementary!

  5. Author Rebecca Heishman
    March 9, 2016

    Reblogged this on Dancing With The MS MonSter.

  6. butimbeautiful
    March 10, 2016

    the strange power of teenage fads! Can’t imagine why you would have ever wanted taps on your shoes, but I like the anecdote!

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 10, 2016

      It’s a complete mystery to this day! At least I had no interest in Beatle Boots …

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This entry was posted on March 8, 2016 by in Et alia and tagged , .
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