Dianne Walker, jazz tap dancer known for her elegant and fluid style of dancing that is delicate yet rhythmically complex, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Her mother remembered that her infant daughter had a keen rhythmic sensibility. At age fifteen-months, she contracted polio and spent three months in the hospital and several months in quarantine. When she was released, for the proper exercise of her legs, she was sent to study dance with Ethel Covan, whose forte was ballet, but little Dianne's interest was tap. At age of seven she was referred to Mildred Kennedy (Bradic) who ran the Kennedy Dancing School in Boston. Nicknamed the "Brown Bomber," Mildred Kennedy had been a professional tap dancer, with a successful performing career on the New England and New York vaudeville circuits. With the high standard of achievement she set, everyone in the school excelled. In 1979, Walker began a professional dance career under the watchful eyes of her esteemed mentors. She is grateful to many of the tap legends that have given to her so generously throughout her career such as Leon Collins, The Slyde Brothers, Honi Coles, Cholly Atkins, Eddie Brown, Nicholas Brothers, Peg Leg Bates, Steve Condos, Henry LeTang, Prince Spencer, Gregory Hines, Leonard Reed, Arthur Duncan, LaVaughn Robinson and many others.
In the Spring of 1985, Collins was hospitalized, too sick to attend the upcoming International Tip Tap Festival in Rome, Italy. He asked Walker to attend the festival, and to perform his classic work, Flight of the Bumblebee, to the music of Rimsky-Korsakov. That was her first gig as a tap soloist. In 1989 Walker was featured in Great Performances: Tap Dance in America, hosted by Gregory Hines, dancing a solo to the swinging up-tempo Latin "Perdido." She snapped into her elegant arms-open-wrists-dropped pose and sailed into her one-chorus solo, tapping the first A section with double-time stomps lifted onto the tips of the toes; then a scatting scissor-steps; and matching her murmuring cascade of rhythms, in the stop-time bridge, to the screeching accents of brass instruments, she finished with light-skipping trench steps. Looking insouciantly over her shoulder as luscious rhythms spilled from her feet, Walker was both demure and debonair. At thirty eight years old, she had the radiant, authoritative ease and expertise of a veteran hoofer double her age. Leon Collins passed away in l985, leaving Dianne to continue as one of the Directors of his school. It is with a great sense of pride that she continues to share this rich legacy with her students.
Walker is considered by many female black tap dance artists as the transitional figure between the young generation of female dancers-- such as Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Germaine Ingram, Ayodele Casel-- and the "forgotten black mothers of tap," such as Edith "Baby" Edwards, Jeni LeGon, Lois Miller, and Florence Covan.She is considered a pioneer in the resurgence of tap dancing. Her career spans Broadway, television, film and international dance concerts. Throughout the world of tap, she has been dubbed the "Ella Fitzgerald" of Tap Dance." The Boston Herald called her "America's First Lady of Tap" and in Dallas, “The Ballerina of Tap”. Savion Glover and his contemporaries affectionately call her “Aunt Dianne” in acknowledgment of her unique place as mentor, teacher and confidante. In appreciation of her personal style and elegance as a performer, as well as her eloquent and passionate commitment to the art of tap dance, her mentors and peers always refer to her as "Lady Di". Jennifer Dunning in the New York Times described Walker as "a tapper from whom steps and moves flow like music, she has an easy warmth of presence that makes her dancing incandescent."
In 2006, Dianne's lifetime achievements were honored in Flint, Michigan. In 2005, she also received lifetime achievement recognition from the Vancouver Tap Dance Society. In 2004, Walker received the "Hoofers Award" from Tap City NYC and was also presented with an award at the Los Angeles Tap Dance Festival, in memory of Gregory Hines. That same year she was presented with The "Humanitarian Award" from Jason Samuels Smith of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. On May 25, 2003, she received the “Flo-Bert Award” for Lifetime Achievement, presented by the New York Committee To Celebrate National Tap Dance Day. She received the “Savion Glover Award for Keeping the Beat Alive” in St. Louis, Missouri in 2000, and in 1998 she became the youngest dancer and first woman to receive the “Living Treasure in American Dance Award” from Oklahoma City University. Walker received the Dance Magazine Award in 2012 for lifetime achievement in dance. She has also received numerous awards over the years for excellence in teaching
Dianne was featured in both Paris and Broadway Production of BLACK AND BLUE, directed by Claudio Segovia and Hector Orezzoli. On Broadway, she was the only female to dance in the famed “Hoofers Line” which included Jimmy Slyde, Ralph Brown, Buster Brown, Lon Chaney, Chuck Green, Bunny Briggs. She was also featured in “Memories of You", a soft shoe choreographed by Cholly Atkins. She was Assistant Choreographer and Dance Captain for the show’s Tony Award winning choreography and recreated choreography for the European tour of BLACK AND BLUE. She was featured in the motion picture Tap, starring Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis, Jr. and has been seen in the PBS production of BLACK AND BLUE directed by Robert Altman; PBS Great Performances- ”Tap Dance in America”; Documentary, “Honi Coles..The Class Act of Tap”; Documentary, “Songs Unwritten...Leon Collins” and most recently as the principal commentator in the PBS release, (WTTW-Chicago) “JUBA”.
Often seen in Jazz clubs (and festivals) around the country, her most memorable performance was the Rainbow Room in New York City with Ruth Brown, Grady Tate, Al McKibbon and Sir Roland Hanna. Jazz Festival appearances include North Sea (The Hague), Pouri , Chicago Jazz and Montreal Jazz Festival with Gregory Hines. She has appeared at the Smithsonian on several occasions honoring such distinguished artists as Cholly Atkins and Jeni LeGon, and most recently, a special lecture/performance entitled “Women in Tap”. She also completed a year long engagement of Savion Glover’s Concert Tour, entitled “Footnotes” with Jimmy Slyde, Buster Brown and Cartier Williams. She is a frequent guest artist at Tap Festivals around the world.
Ms. Walker, who holds a Master’s degree in Education, has taught at Harvard, Williams College, the University of Michigan, UCLA, Bates, Wesleyan and on numerous other campuses. She has been the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Massachusetts Cultural Council Jacobs Pillow, and the New England Foundation for the arts. She was a participant in the Dance USA Task Force on Dance Education and in 1997 represented the United States as an adjudicator for the World Tap Dance Championships held in Dresden, Germany. She is on the board of several tap dance organizations.
Dianne is currently the Artistic Director of TapDancin, Inc, of Boston. She is also working in conjunction with major dance organizations in Dallas, Minneapolis and Tokyo, to facilitate collaborations and work opportunities for tap dance and tap dancers.