Phil Black, Noted Jazz and Tap Dance Teacher, Dies

Obituaries   Phil Black, Noted Jazz and Tap Dance Teacher, Dies
 
Phil Black, a legendary New York jazz and tap dance teacher, died June 5 at the Actors Fund Nursing Home in Englewood, NJ. He had been fighting Parkinson’s disease for more than 20 years.

Playbill.com recently received word of his death.

Mr. Black’s eponymous dance studio was at the corner of Broadway and 50th Street and was a second home for many of the theatre district’s hoofers. Performers like Chita Rivera, Ben Vereen, Greg Burge, Jennifer Lopez, Goldie Hawn, Irene Cara, Danielle Brisbois, Cynthia Onrubia, Charlotte d’Amboise, Teri Garr, John Travolta, Marlo Thomas and Eddie Mecca all worked and trained there. It was said in dancing circles that if you could complete Mr. Black’s advanced class you were good enough to dance on Broadway.

Until the end of the nightclub era in New York, he was in demand as a choreographer and performer, working with Judy Garland and Flip Wilson. He staged and choreographed shows at the 1964 World's Fair as well as many commercials. As a choreographer on television, he worked on "The Tap Dance Kid" and "Unicorn Tales."

Mr. Black was born in Brooklyn, NY. By age seven, he was already dancing, learning at the elbow of his Aunt Rose. He entered the U.S. Navy at age 18. Once out of the service, he taught ballroom dancing at an Arthur Murray studio in California. In his late '20s, he moved back to New York, hoping to break into musical theatre. He practiced his steps during the evening and worked the days as a longshoreman, unloading bananas from ships.

He studied with Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham and Ernest Carlos. When Carlos retired, he handed over his space at 50th and Broadway to Mr. Black. "I’m a tyrant-type," Mr. Black, who beat out rhythms on a drum as he teached, told the New York Times in 2002. "I yell and throw things," he said. "I throw my sticks if they do it wrong. That's the way I make them good. I don't want to yell at them forever, but if I don't they feel I'm not paying attention. I tell them, 'You're putting yourself in my hands. I feel obligated to help you. Give me 100 percent and I'll give you 100 percent back. I can't do it without you. And if I'm a little tough on you, think about working with a choreographer. They want to see a finished product. The money's on the line.'"

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