Brenda Bufalino’s been tap-dancing for 60 years. “Sometimes,” she writes in her new book, “it seems such a foolish thing for a mature adult to do.” But her recent retrospective concert at F.I.T. showed the fruits of experience: the technical discoveries turned second nature; the glassy, ringing tone of her instrument, the closest thing to cantabile in tap. She’s at home with a band and a floor, but still not at ease, lurching between showbiz selling and pretentious artiness. If her lifelong effort to respect tradition while pushing boundaries makes her anxious, she’s never timid. Her mastery of electronic delay pedals lets her layer a dense counterpoint with herself. Younger tappers have tried this and failed; Bufalino transforms it into art.
Part memoir, part manual, Tapping the Source details her struggles as a white woman in an art dominated by older black men (and now by the young) and insights she’s gleaned along the way. Anecdotes illuminate but the real strength is analytical. In a largely intuitive art, Bufalino’s unsurpassed in her ability (and desire) to articulate what she’s doing and why. Oddly, though, for such an outspoken woman, she’s exceedingly polite. It’s not the secret love she sang of at F.I.T. that’s missing, but true candor. The tap community may just be too small for that.