When I was growing up in the '50s and '60s, I used to watch Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Donald O'Connor on TV. All those guys. They were so great. I wanted to do what they did. But I was a garbageman's son from Brooklyn, and you can't be a song and dance man if you can't dance. I became a boxer. And after that, I became an actor and a sitcom guy.
I remember thinking, "Hey, I really wish I could do this. I want to learn." So I went and found this guy, an Italian tap dancer named Pat Rico, and I started studying with him. Only an Italian guy like me from Brooklyn could find an Italian tap dancer!
I started taking classes, two-hour private classes. Classes all the time. We did routine after routine. Step, learn, put it together — then dance. I was so crazed about it, I kept a piece of plywood in my car so I could pull it out and show my friends the new steps I'd learned.
Tap dancing is the joy of joys. I love the way it feels. I just think it is so cool that you can do this with your feet. A lot of guys don't move so much up top, but I do. It's really a whole-body thing.
Tap dancing was the first time I was able to have musical artistry in my life. It taught me that later-in-life endeavors are very worthwhile and was absolutely my license to becoming a true performer. That's how I think of it. After Taxi and Who's the Boss? I went on to do films and Broadway plays and have since done so many other things I never did as a kid. Singing. Playing the ukulele. I play a little piano. Play a little trumpet. I don't know if you'd actually want to hear me play! But I do it, and I enjoy it. "Never let your curiosity ebb" — this quote is so true.
You know "Begin the Beguine," one of the great, iconic dance numbers of all time, with Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell? I've performed it in Vegas, in Old Westbury, N.Y., and for high school kids. Pat Rico has since passed on, but 30 years later he's with me on stage, so to speak.
In my new Broadway show, Honeymoon in Vegas, with an incredible ensemble and great singing and dancing, I do a step he actually taught me. I wish he could see it. Yes, here I am, at 63. And you know what? At the end of the show, I look up into the balcony. It's backlit, and I see these people in the audience so happy and clapping over their heads. It's amazing and exciting, and I'm very grateful.
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