Skip to content

Hibbard keeping his feet flying

Dances for a Small Stage. August 10, 11 and 12. The Legion on the Drive, 2205 Commercial Drive (at East 6th Ave). Doors: 7 p.m. Show: 8 p.m. Tickets: $20. Cash at the door. 19+ Admitted.

Dances for a Small Stage. August 10, 11 and 12. The Legion on the Drive,

2205 Commercial Drive (at East 6th Ave). Doors: 7 p.m. Show: 8 p.m. Tickets:

$20. Cash at the door. 19+ Admitted.

NORTH Shore tap legend Jim Hibbard learned to dance on a really small stage

- just a wooden platform his grandfather built for his childhood home in a logging camp in Idaho.

"We'd go down to (the state capital) Boise on Saturday and Sunday for my lessons and then I would practice all week on this wooden platform," he says. "From the very start, I don't remember not wanting to get home from school and practice. I couldn't wait to get my shoes on and dance."

So, after a long and venerable career in dance, directing and choreography, which saw him work alongside household names as diverse as Elvis Presley to Paul Anka and choreograph movies from Bye Bye Birdie to A Very Merry Muppet Christmas, Hibbard should be able to make his upcoming performance in Dances for a Small Stage look easy.

Still, a challenge is welcome, and Hibbard, now 68, has planned a piece that's pretty rare for tap - he's performing a six and a half minute long dance.

"For a tap dancer, a three-minute number is a long number, so six minutes?

It's crazy, tap dancers normally wouldn't want to do it," says Hibbard. Why the long piece?

"I like the song, and it happens to be six and a half minutes." The choice of music is Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind," about a man who's away from home and missing the Big Apple.

And throughout, Hibbard can speed up the footwork and then slow it down and throw in some more emotion than he can in a shorter dance.

"I really enjoy tap dancing, not only fast stuff, because I can do all the fast intricate stuff like that, but I also enjoy tap dancing really slowly.

It's just a matter of control, and controlling your meter and rhythm," he says.

While these days Hibbard works as a professional teacher at Harbour Dance Centre, his dance has given him it a backstage pass to the golden age of Hollywood.

It was a performance by American dancer Gene Kelley in 1951 that first moved the then eight-year-old Hibbard to take up dance, practicing his steps all the way home from the theatre. By age 15, he moved to Los Angeles to continue his lessons and quickly landed his first professional gig working in choreography with his own childhood idols of Gene and Mariam Nelson.

Over the years, he worked with all his childhood heroes and a few newer

names: Barbra Streisand in Hello Dolly, Natalie Wood in Gypsy and six films with Elvis Presley.

"What I found out the people who have immense talents, these wonderful talents have no axe to grind. They're like you and I," he says.

He got to relive his cameo appearance dancing in Hello Dolly when the clip was shown on Disney's Wall-E, as one of the little trash-collecting robot's favourite scenes from the movie.

"I think it's hysterically funny, that the robot likes to watch the dance numbers from Wall-E," he says.

Aside from dance, he also acted and sang, including backups for Mel Tormé almost completely by accident when he saw the singer backstage at a concert.

"He was singing a song he was rehearsing for the show and my natural thing is to go into harmony," he says. "He took me over to his home in the valley where he had a recording studio and we recorded the song with another girl from the show, and we got to sing with the show as well."

It was a choreography gig for West Side Story that first brought Hibbard north to Vancouver in 1964, where he also met his wife. The two moved back up to North Vancouver in 1972, and kept going strong thanks to the thriving film industry.

More recently, his best memory was doing choreography for muppets in It's A Very Merry Muppet Christmas, when they invited a group of kids into the Lions Gate Studios to watch the puppeteers perform "Moulin Screwge," a song based on Moulin Rouge.

"It was just amazing. They would sit there, and you could see the puppeteer talking and moving Miss Piggy, but the children's eyes never left the puppets. They didn't look at the puppeteers at all, they just talked to Miss Piggy and Kermit," he says.