Tap Dancing in the Moonlight – Written by Ken Westgate Jr. 7/25/2016 ©

This story is dedicated to my loving mother whose passion for music and dance is something I will always cherish.

The sound was soft and distant. A tapping and scraping sound of something dragging across a wood floor. The moon was full and bright shining through my bedroom window as I looked out toward my elementary school down the street. As I lay on the top bunk with my brother sleeping soundly below, I wondered what could be making that noise. All the floors in our house were wood floors. A few were covered in part by area rugs, but the beautiful oak flooring had always been something my parents liked about this little Cape Cod style house in Midway Manor. I was sure no one was scrapping the beautiful wax finish on those floors that my parents cared for so carefully, and on which we were never allowed to step with our shoes on. Shoes off at the door was my parent’s rule for all the kids in the family. Carefully placed entrance mats were at each entrance for the adults entering the premises. The only entrance we kids could use that didn’t require taking our shoes off was the Bilko doors from the outside patio into the basement. While the basement was finished, it was simply painted concrete floors and so we were allowed to play down there, especially on raining days with our shoes, usually sneakers, on.

The noise continued ever so softly, but occasionally there were louder quicker tapping noises as well. At first, I thought the noises were random, but as I listened closer, the noises seemed to have a pattern and rhythm. It was unlikely that was some animal that had crept in through the coal bin shoot in the basement. It was unlikely that my father was fixing some piece of furniture at this hour of the night. I lay there wondering what in the world it could be. The sounds continued sometimes soft and sometimes louder for quite some time. There were breaks every few minutes where there were no sounds, and then it would start up again. Being a very curious ten-year-old I decided I would have to investigate despite the fact that is was nearly midnight and I should have been sound asleep long ago. The only good thing was that tomorrow was Saturday and my brother and I were usually allowed to sleep in a bit longer than on school days. My mind was made up, I would sneak downstairs and hope that my parents didn’t catch me and send me back to bed.

I climbed carefully down the bunk bed ladder so as not to wake my brother. Put on my bedroom slippers which had nice quiet pads on the bottom. Pulled the half closed bedroom door open just a bit more so I could slip out into the hallway. I checked quickly to see if a light was still on in my parent’s bedroom across the hall. Their room was dark and their door completely closed. It was only about four steps to the stairwell and then down the 12 stairs to the first floor. There was light coming from what must be the kitchen area since the living room and dining room were dark. I crept carefully down the steps. Fortunately, like the wood floors, these wooden stairs were nailed down tight and there was no squeaking to give my descent away. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I peeked around the corner of the dining room entrance toward the kitchen to see where the light was coming from. The only light on in the kitchen was the little light over the sink. It gave off a pale white light that barely lit the kitchen area. I didn’t see any movement in the kitchen, but now the sound I was listening too grew louder.

I crept slowly through the dining room and into the kitchen. It was a very narrow kitchen at the back of the house. The sound appeared to be coming from a slightly opened doorway to the basement. The doorway was on the far rear right corner of the kitchen just past the little breakfast table. I had to be very careful working my way around the breakfast table. If the metal chairs scraped on the floor you could hear the sound all the way up to the second floor bedrooms. So I shuffled sideways past the chairs and reached for the doorknob on the basement door. The sound was definitely coming from the basement. Not directly at the bottom of the stairs. It sounded like it might be coming from the laundry room area behind the coal furnace, but it might have been coming from the back of the area that my brother and I played in opposite the coal furnace. Normally the lighting in the basement was a few incandescent bulbs. These were placed in sockets mounted strategically on the floor beams spaced about three beams apart. They usually lit the area fairly well, unless a few were burned out and had not be replaced by my dad yet. I noticed that the light was very dim and it seemed like either all the bulbs were out or the only light that was on was the one bulb hanging over the washing machine in the laundry area. As I peered carefully down the steps into the muted light below, I stopped suddenly as my foot touched the first step. The sound had stopped altogether and I was afraid that whoever was down there would easily hear my footsteps on these stairs. They were simply bare wooden stairs. Secured well enough so that the didn’t squeak when you walled, but my slippers had plastic soles that would surely make noise on these bare wooden steps if I proceeded further. I waited, my heart pounding in my chest to see if the sound would resume, not daring to take another step. I backed slowly into the kitchen again, but left the door open so I could hear of the tapping started again.

After waiting what seemed like a half hour, but it was probably only two or three minutes, the tapping resumed. I decided I would take my slippers off and risk a splinter from the steps so that the plastic soles of my slippers wouldn’t make noise as I carefully descended the basement stairs. I took one step at a time, pausing between each step to make sure the tapping was continuing. I also noticed some humming along with the tapping as I descended further down the stairs. Now I was pretty sure that the only person in the house who hummed like that, other than myself or my brother was my mother. My dad whistled, but he rarely ever hummed. Since my brother was asleep upstairs, and I was here at the bottom of the basement steps, the only other person I could assume would be humming was my mother. I also noticed that all of the lights that would normally have been on in the basement were off, and that the only light that appeared to be filling the area was the moonlight streaming in from the four basement windows.

I stood frozen at the bottom of the stairs, wondering what my mother might be doing down here, making such a strange sound and humming a tune I didn’t recognize. Perhaps she couldn’t sleep and had decided to throw in a load of laundry for the morning. If that were the case, it would have only taken her a few minutes and she surely would have returned to bed by now. What was going on?

I gingerly poked my head around the corner to pear back into the corner of the playroom area. There in the back corner near the laundry room was my mother, dancing away, tapping her feet on a wooden mat and humming one of her favorite songs from the 1930’s.

I hid in the shadows under the stairs and watched intently for the next few minutes. She did some steps where she tapped the toes on her dance shoes and sometimes the heels, and then sometimes she would drag her foot slowly over the wooden mat making that scraping sound I heard. The tapping was a beautiful rhythm, and it made me sort of want to tap my feet too, which were getting cold standing on the cement floor of the basement under the stairs. I continued to watch in awe as she moved gracefully on the wooden mat never leaving its boundaries. How she managed to do all that with her eyes closed at times, I didn’t know, but it was amazing. Suddenly I could feel a sneeze welling up in me after having stood on the cold floor in my bare feet for at least ten minutes. I did my best to stifle it, even pinching my nose shut as hard as I could, but it didn’t work, and suddenly the sounds of the tapping were rudely interrupted by the sound of my sneeze.

I sneezed so hard that I pushed myself slightly out from under the stairs. The tapping stopped abruptly, and my mother’s voice spoke in a firm but hushed tone. “What are you doing out of bed young man?” “I …, I,,,, I,,,heard the tapping noise and wondered what it was”, I stammered. “Oh, did you now?”, my mother shot back. Then her stern tone softened and she said quietly, “Well what did you think of my dancing?” “I thought that was really amazing how you did that”, I replied. “How did you know when to tap with your toe and tap with your heel?, and what makes your shoes make that sound?”, I inquired. My mom came over and stood by the stairs, taking a hold of the stair rail she lifted her right foot to show me the metal pieces attached to the tip and heel of her dance shoes. “Oh, the metal hitting the wood makes the tapping sound and the scraping sound when you drag your foot.”, I see now. “Yes, these are my tap shoes”, my mother responded. I have been tap dancing since I was a little girl, actually my daddy, your grandfather, paid for me to have tap lessons during the Great Depression when money was very scarce. My mother, and brother, and sisters, your aunts and uncle were very upset about that, since they wanted special things too, but your grandfather decided I had talent and he wanted me to learn how to use it. The tap mat I was dancing on I got so I could practice in between lessons at home, and I have had it ever since. It is almost 30 years old now.,” she added.

Wow, that’s a lot older than I am”, I replied, “ Yes it is, Kenny, and its time you got back to bed”, she in that feigned stern tone again. “Can I ask you one more question before I go back to bed, mom?”, I inquired. “Yes, just one more,” as mom feigned an exasperated tone in her voice. “Why is the only light on the one in the laundry room and the light down here is mostly from the moonlight coming through the windows?” “Very good question, young man, and here is your answer then it is off to bed with you. The tune I was humming was Benny Goodman’s Moonglow, it was one of my favorites and I learned to do a tap routine to it when I was taking lessons back in 1934. When the moon is really big bright and full like it is tonight, I often remember that tap routine, and sometimes I like to get out the tap mat and my shoes and dance a while, when it is very quiet and I can just focus on the moonlight and the music.” “Ok, mom, I don’t know who Benny Goodman is, but I am sure you or dad will tell me about him some time, thanks”.

I gave mom and hug and kiss goodnight, as she slowly turned and walked back toward the tap mat. I climbed the basement stairs again, grabbed my slippers and headed back up to my bedroom, I could still hear the faint tapping of her shoes on the tap mat as she danced in the moonlight. I don’t know how long she spent dancing that night or how many times over the years she dug out her old tap mat and danced for herself, or for my sisters or cousins, or girls in the neighborhood. My last memory which sparked the writing of this story, was when she died and I had to go through her belongings stored in our basement, and I pulled the old tap mat from its space over the storage lockers and held it in my arms one last time before giving it to my antique dealer friend who was going to sell it for me. I longed to hear the tapping of her shoes again and see her dancing in the moonlight. I still have her tap shoes, and will pass them along one day to one of the girls in the family who may have a desire or talent for dancing. It isn’t the pair she was wearing that night so long ago, it is a pair she bought later in life and kept in a shoebox in her closet. I found them there as I was going through her belongings the week after we buried mom. I held them close and cried. I had taken them to her funeral and proudly displayed them on the alter steps so that all could remember her as the beautiful women whose tapping feet still echo in my soul.

Technology Applications:

  1. Curiosity … is essential for our growth as human beings. It means taking risks and daring to explore. Whatever it is that prompts us to do so, we should follow that calling as I followed the sounds of my mother’s dancing. Being curious about how some new piece of software or some new device might work or how we could apply it to our teaching and student learning experiences will help us to grow and to advance our teaching practice and our students’ growth experiences. Giving them the freedom and opportunity to explore their curiosities when they come across some new piece of information on the Internet or in a book, magazine, newspaper, or other sources of information will help them to grow as well.

  2. Rhythm … is important in establishing a flow of energy when we are pursuing our passions or just exploring. Rhythm can be precise like a great classical composition, or seemingly chaotic like a great piece of Jazz, or a pounding pulsating rhythm like a drum line or heavy metal music. Whatever our rhythm, we should use it to energize our pursuits. For some of us, it will be a slow gradual pursuit like establishing our own Personal Learning Network, for others, it will be the lightning fast connections we make when using Twitter, or Instagram or FaceTime. It may be something in between, but whatever it is, follow it and use it to propel yourself forward. Your rhythm may change over time or go through phases, like the flowing of a river, let the current carry you onward in your quest to better understand how, why, when, where, and what we are using technology in the classroom for.

  3. Timing… Maybe it won’t be dancing in the moonlight at midnight, but don’t miss opportunities to explore. Timing is often not perfect and often not even of our own design. We need to learn to not be constrained by our own timing and let God’s time also work in our lives. There are many factors we will never be able to control the life we live or the timing in which things may occur. We need to not hold so grudgingly tightly to our self-made timelines as to miss out on opportunities to learn, share, embrace, and encourage others as we explore together the ever-changing world of technology development and utilization.

  4. Cherish … the memories we have of those who have encouraged, embraced, shared our ups and downs, and loved on us as we continue on life’s journey. Don’t forget to cherish even those students who struggled to grasp what we were teaching or got the steps mixed up or didn’t follow the directions. Each one is precious and valuable and may someday come to be great at things we never thought possible. Each one is valuable and should never be lost. Likewise, do the same for your colleagues. Those who have helped you discover and learn new things and who stood beside you as your struggle with trying to grasp the latest application or electronic data reporting tool. If they believed in you enough to stand by you, then you need to believe in yourself. Likewise, stand beside them, because all of us, no matter our skill or expertise in using technology can use support and encouragement at some point or another.

%d bloggers like this: