ARDIE BRYANT was born on March 20, 1929 In Dallas, Texas. When he was very young, his mother took him to an amateur show at the Harlem Theatre. Dressed in a short, white suit with white shoes, Ardie danced "The Susy Q" and some "truckin" and "peckin". In the audience was rhythm dancer, "Pork Chops" Pattterson. After the show, he took Bryant aside and taught him a single time step, break and a rhythm turn. He also showed him how to hold his arms gracefully instead of letting them hang at his side. Two weeks later, his mother bought him his first pair of black patent leather tap shoes. When Bryant was 7 years old, he appeared with Jimmie Lunceford's band.
Shortly after, his parents moved to Sacrament, CA and insisted he concentrate on schoolwork. However, they would often take him to see stage shows at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco. When he saw Bill robinson dance to It's Magic," it left a lasting impression on him. Bryant said "From Bill Robinson, I learned posture, showmanship and technique". Dancer John bubbles also influenced Bryant. He said that if Bubbles had not developed rhythm tap, all of the tap dancers would still be dancing on their toes and following his example, he tried to take it one step further and use his entire foot to create different sounds and combinations.
By the time Bryant was 16, he had developed a good "swing" technique. But after hearing recording by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, he was hooked. "the drummer was wild, cutting in and out,challenging, executing combinations that were totally different from anything he had ever heard before." He went out and bought every record he could find and began making the transition that would forever change the style of tap dancing.
As his act developed, he designed a drum platform which allowed him to advance the percussive elements of his dance style. It raised him above the audience's level, so his feet were visible and it also provided him with a first class floor. Later hi added two, 14-inch tom-toms that were tuned and enabled him to create unique sounds.
In 1958, when Bryant co-starred wit Cab Calloway at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, Nat Nazzaro, one of the top business managers in the country, approached he about letting Nazzaro represent him, Bryant agreed. His career zoomed and he moved to New York where he played the Palace, Carnegie Hall, the Latin Quarter, the Copacabana and the Roxy and Paramount Theatres. When Bryant played the Paramount, Duke Ellington honored him by accompanying his act, something Ellington rarely did. Variety said of him..."His feet tick at the dazzling speed of a ticker tap in a Wall Street crash".
Bryant performed on "The Record Show of 1953" with Nat "King" Cole and at Carnegie Hall with Sarah Vaughan. Leonard Reed also featured Bryant in "The Big Rhythm and Blues Show" in 1954. When Fred Astaire caught Bryant's act at the Charlie Foy's Supper Club, he told Fred Astaire that his graceful turns inspired Bryant. Astaire reciprocated by comementing on Bryant's agility, saing, "His footwork is phenomenal". Bryant also admired Gene Kelly's athletic ability, but felt no one could top "PegLeg" Bates for pure inspiration.
On several occasions, Bryant toured as a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. Department of State performing in Europe, the Far East, South America and Australia. Though he continued to work into the mid 60's, Bryant decided to retire and moved to California. He changed careers and went into the music publishing business. However, in 1992, he decided to tour with the Benny Goodman Orchestra on a 70 city, 30 state circuit, because he felt the history and heritage of tap dancing was in danger of being lost forever. He received rave reviews!
Bryant has designed and developed a jazz tap technique and tap history curriculum that he has been teaching for several years - first at the L.A. County High School For the Arts and then at Cal State University L.A. Bryant continues to perform, starring at the Calgary Stampede, the Walt Disney Concert Hall with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and The Luckman Jazz Orchestra, celebrating Duke Ellington's Sacred Music. He appeared in a worldwide Pepsi commercial with Britney Spears and can be seen in a recent iPod commercial. He is currently writing a book about his life that will be welcome on shelves of the tap dance section in libraries.
In 2006, the city of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs declared Bryant a Los Angeles Cultural Treasure and named him Ambassador of Tap for the city of Los Angeles. His dance memories and the sounds of his percussive feet are preserved at the Archives Center of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. He was honored at the 2008 Tradition In Tap Celebration and awarded a beautiful tap award plaque. Bryant gratefully acknowledged the excellent faculty teaching in his honor.
(This bio courtesy of brilliant tap hisotrian, Melba Huber@ melbasdance.com)