Rita York tap dancing heart throb!
At my elementary school, PS 122 actors and actresses were employed by Roosevelt works progress administration to teach the older children to sing, dance, play ball and I was lucky to reside across the street from the school where I could take advantage of their services, I was too young to attend the tap class but the instructor, Pat Grant, an old vaudevillian noticed my feet tapping and invited me to join the class.
We were very poor but I loved playing ball and dancing and didn’t realize how poor we were. I remember one day taking a turn at the softball game when I hit the ball so hard that it broke the bat and I ran home thinking I would need to pay for the bat but the coach, wanted me on the team, but my mother refused to let me play with the boys team. So I played paddle ball, tap danced and roller skated in the street.
When I learned enough of his routines, Pat Grant decided I was ready to be in show business with him. At 16 I was dancing in night clubs where my mother was ever present. The routines I learned from Pat we’re mostly copy cat steps from the former stars like George M Cohan and Eddie Leonard’s and Joe E Lewis who sang “Me and My Shadow” and always ended with “is everybody happy?!” Also I learn wings which were done mostly by black tap dancer dancers, similar to Sammy Davis and at the time and the Nichols brothers who were later in films.
I danced like a boy rather than the female stars such as Eleanor Powell, who had ballet training and used their hands as well as her fast tapping feet. In an audition for Pat Grants former agent Ed Riley, he mentioned that he liked my work, but he recommended that I take ballet and follow the path of Powell and Ann Miller. Luckily, my brother Paul was our bread winner, working during WWII as an engineer in an aviation industry, he helped to finance my dance lessons that would pave the way for my dance career. Meanwhile, Pat and I played a few clubs as York and Wales but when he told my mother that he would marry me when I was older she decided the time had come to part company,
and I was then just Rita York doing the same songs and dances I had learned with Pat Grant, until I was able to work with choreographer
Tommy Royal, who taught me the rudiments of ballet as well as tap.
After 13 months of constant training both in tap and some ballet I was ready to go forth and make some money. Because I had no resumé to get a job, I was only able to land a job in burlesque. As it turned out it was the best introduction to the world of show business.
There we were, mother and I standing outside the old Howard theater in Scollay Square, the battery of Boston Massachusetts, looking up to where we were to stay at a hotel where Sally Keith the tassel twirling stripper could twirl her tassels from one breast one way and the other the opposite way. Mother thought I was in the den of iniquity and bolted the door with the dresser and sat up all night watching me sleep. She offered an out to quit showbiz, but I refused, thinking that after all the hard work I’ve done will I ever give up now. My mother traveled the burlesque circuit which went from Boston’s Old Howard to Newark’s Empire theater the Gayety in uptown Boston, another Gayety theater in Norfolk Virginia to Allentown Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and the “Hudson” in Union City New Jersey. When we couldn’t save any money with my mothers expenses on top of mine I went on the circuit alone but was very safe and cared for by my burlesque family.
“I’m a hoofer not a hooker!”
Rita coined this phrase in reference to the fact that the dancers and strippers in their traveling Burlesque troop were trained professional performers, NOT prostitutes! Also, she’s a lover of alliteration!