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Tommy Tune Teaches Vulture How to Tap

Tommy Tune, the six foot six, 70-year-old Broadway legend, is planning a one-night performance on September 21 of his memoir-via-song-and-dance road show, Steps in Time, at the Gerald Lynch Theater at John Jay College. He chatted with Vulture at his sleek Union Square loft about his show and how to properly tap dance, all the while cuddling with his cute Yorkie, Little Shubert.

Do you rehearse in this house?
No, this is not a floor for dancing. As a tap dancer, the quest is always for the perfect floor. Charles Honi Coles, my mentor, would play this broken-down theater in Boston because of the floor — you could just tap it and it rang.

What makes a good floor?
It's hard to name. It has to be a certain kind of wood, but when you find it, it's like finding a Stradivarius. You want to not have to slog. A lot of tap these days, the new kind of tap ... I dance American classic tap.

What's the new kind? Like Savion Glover?
It comes from an angry streak, a frustrated thing — but that's not what I do.

How much tapping do you do in your show Steps in Time?
It starts with the time step. The lights come up and I'm just standing there and then I do a single time step, which is basically the square root of all American classic tap dancing. It's shuffle hop step brush front back. Tap dancing is very intricate; that's why you never see it on all these dance shows on TV that people are competing in.

Do you watch those kinds of shows?
I can't watch them, it hurts my body — they're so popular and I love that America is loving dancing and I congratulate all of that, but being a trained dancer, I watch them and they hurt themselves. They're not dancers, and they're being pushed into doing and slamming and things that they're not aligned to do. And so my inner dancer's body that I've trained all my life hurts.

So, do you dance every day?
I do something physical every day, not necessarily dance. You must keep your body ready to dance! In my apartment, I do what Michael Bennett and I used to call house dancing. You slide and you swirl and you move through the furniture. My mother says that I never walked anyplace, I always danced. If she asked me go get her sewing basket, I'd dance to the room and dance back.

Did she think you were gay?
My mother knew I was gay at the end of her life.

So, how exactly do you spend a typical day?
Well, I have to preface this by saying I'm not a very good sleeper, and I never have been. I want to get really rich and start a cable channel called Sleep TV and make it for those of us who can't — and do beautiful dancing fields of grain blowing in the wind and beautiful water things and that fire thing that they do at Christmas, which I just love. That's my biggest dream.

How does dancing feel on your body these days?
Wonderful, because I am determined to dance the appropriate dance for a gentleman of my age and my scale. It's not appropriate that I kick my leg over my head anymore. Who wants to see that? I don't know if it was ever appropriate, but it was fun to see this great gawky guy doing those things.

Can you still kick your leg over your head?
I can, but it requires an effort. I always want it to look easy, and it's not easy.

Photo: Getty Images