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In my dreams, I'm tap dancing

On Sunday afternoons when I was a lass (shortly after the Spanish-American War) I checked my father's change drawer for 12 cents, the amount of money needed for me to go to the Highland Theater three blocks from our house in St. Paul. I waited until he looked like he wanted a nap to spring my request to go to the movies.

It always worked.

In the '50s, Sunday movies were big-time feature films. Many of them were in Technicolor, a term used by movie studios to indicate films were in color.

To understand the impact of watching a movie in color on a big screen, you need to put it in context. Television at the time was viewed in black and white on small screens and programming was limited. We got three stations on our set.

Many households did not have television. Only one other family in our block had a television set.

There was little news on television. Most of it was on the radio. "Newsreels," the only visual news, were shown in movie theaters.

I remember watching Queen Elizabeth crowned and medals won at the Olympics.

But it was movie musicals that sent my imagination soaring.

I was 11 in 1952 when "Singing in the Rain" debuted.

On the way home, I tried to tap dance down the sidewalk all the way home while singing to myself. I spun around lampposts just like Gene Kelly did in the film.

"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" came in 1954.

I didn't care what anyone thought as I danced and sang my way home.

I had a good singing voice so my mother decided I should have piano lessons. I hated them. Piano practice was enforced. I watched the clock and the hands seemed like they were never going to move.

My younger sister, Connie, could not sing well so my mother decided she should have dance lessons.

I looked forward to escorting her to lessons that included tap and ballet. She hated it, but I tried to remember everything the teacher taught her. After we got home, I went into the basement and practiced what I had seen.

Becoming an adult did not interfere with my occasionally dancing on sidewalks and twirling around street light poles while singing.

While going down an escalator in middle of Maplewood Mall, I launched into singing "New York, New York" from "On the Town," a musical from 1949. The escalator's descent through the wide-open space seemed to demand it. My junior-high-age daughters were beyond embarrassment.

I've watched as many late-night movies as possible that feature tap dancing in the '30s.

In November, I ordered a DVD of "42nd Street," a tap dance '30s classic.

Guess what? I got a gift certificate for tap shoes from daughter Margie for Christmas.

I got them today. In our laundry room, I practiced what I remembered from watching my sister's lessons.

"I'm singing, just singing in the rain."

Judy Spooner can be reached at

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600