Armen Bacon

Armen D. Bacon: From a Fresno Unified office to Broadway, Savion Glover dances his dreams

Armen D. Bacon
Armen D. Bacon sflores@fresnobee.com

There is never a perfect time to chase a dream. You just do it until it snowballs into reality. You push, you prioritize, inching your way past the fears, staying clear of the naysayers, knowing full well the conditions are bound to be impossible. But you do it anyway.

I began writing this column hoping to inspire readers to dance fearlessly with their dreams in the New Year. A few days later while perusing a stack of journals and newspapers, my eye caught the full-page ad showcasing Fresno’s own Audra McDonald in her upcoming Broadway musical, “Shuffle Along.” Talk about inspiring.

In large bold font the ad read: “A show like this happens once in a lifetime.” If you follow my writing, you know I’m a huge Audra fan and have used this space before to write about her. But this story is not about Audra. It’s about another name appearing in the ad.

Savion Glover – choreographer.

Seeing the name caught me off guard, catapulting me back in time, remembering the Savion who sat sheepishly in my office more than 25 years ago while his mother pushed all my buttons and negotiated an auditorium and stage.

She was a large woman possessing an even larger persona. Her body language told me rather emphatically that she wasn’t leaving until she got exactly what she came for – a yes.

I was working for Fresno Unified in the late ’80s, early ’90s, and my office was a hub for reporters chasing stories, disgruntled parents trying to navigate their way through the education system, and community leaders eager to forge partnerships and alliances for the betterment of our fair city.

Introducing herself only as Yvette, her voice filled the room – a rhapsody of pure and unfiltered determination. I also detected a New Jersey accent. Speaking a dialect of long run-on sentences, she stopped only to catch her breath and then asked if I might be the one to help arrange for a stage and auditorium full of kids.

Who was she, I wondered, more intrigued than bothered by her bull-in-a-china-shop demeanor. Hands braced onto my desk, a strand of oversized pearls hanging from her neck, her torso tilted forward so much so I was nearly blinded by cleavage. But something in her voice whispered to my soul.

This woman was for real. I kept listening, sensing and intuiting she was about to win me over.

She had come to Fresno with her 16-year-old for some kind of dance performance and needed a venue where her boy could share his “God-given gift,” as she put it. Let me add here that in those days there were few hoops and even fewer layers of bureaucracy for the state’s fourth-largest school district.

You just did the right thing and once in a while you maybe got your hands slapped for not following an SOP (standard operating procedure) or AR (administrative regulation) but I was still a newbie – wildly enthusiastic about my job and in that “grace period” when sincerity of apology could excuse a blunder and get you out of trouble.

I kept listening.

Never in my life had I met a mama bear so proud of her cub. My lips curled upward each time she recited his name: “Savion.” He sat respectfully on the solo chair against my office wall, never saying a word, occasionally looking bored, eyes transfixed and staring out my window.

His feet shuffled as if maybe he was nervous or slightly embarrassed. He wore jeans and a stretched-out white Hanes T-shirt. At some point in the conversation, she sweetened the pot by sharing he was the protégé of tap guru Gregory Hines, scheduled to be in Fresno later that week, performing for the Lively Arts Foundation.

I leaned in.

First making a series of calls, then chatting with colleagues, I found Yvette her auditorium and stage. She didn’t stop there. She insisted disadvantaged youth be bused in as part of the audience, promising me her “Savion” would not disappoint.

Only inspire.

That he did, leaving jaws dropped, all eyes glued to a pair of magic feet that would dance their way straight to Broadway.

Savion Glover has since performed in “The Tap Dance Kid,” “Black and Blue,” “Jelly’s Last Jam,” and “Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk.” Today he is a Tony Award-winning artist whose style has revolutionized tap dancing.

And there you have it – a dream come true. Fueled by passion, hard work and someone standing nearby saying, “Yes, you can.”

Whether you imagine a better life, a stronger city, or a new and improved you, January is your month. Grab hold and harness your dream.

Dust off those tap shoes. Now dance.

Armen D. Bacon is a writer and co-author of “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship” and a collection of essays called “My Name is Armen.”

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