ALAMEDA -- It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Alameda's Dance/10 studio on Santa Clara Avenue as 53 tap dancing Christmas trees prepare for Macy's 86th annual Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City.
To the strains of Irving Berlin's "Happy Holiday," the dedicated tappers practice their spirited routines under the skillful eye of director/choreographer Pamm Drake. A professional dancer, Drake's many credits include the national touring company of "A Chorus Line," among others, before she settled in Alameda and opened Dance/10. The tap dancing trees began 20 years ago as the finale to one of Dance/10's holiday shows.
"There were only five of us, and we didn't do it the next year," Drake explained. "I couldn't believe how many people asked me what happened and said how much they loved the trees."
From that humble beginning, the dancing trees grew to more than 50 dancers ranging in age from 15—74.
"We have five sets of mothers/daughters and one husband and wife who are in the group this year," Drake said. "While most of our dancers are local, we have some former students now living in Arizona, Oregon and other parts of California who return to dance with the trees."
The group has so much fun doing the extravagant Christmas tree number that Drake began putting together other performance opportunities. In addition to Bay Area venues, they have danced at such places as Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, the Caribbean, Hong Kong and, this year, in London, where they entertained audience members at the Olympics.
The 2012 Thanksgiving Day parade will mark the fourth time the group has tapped its way through the streets of New York. They also appeared in 2001, 2004 and 2007.
"In 2001, we weren't sure the parade would go on, given 9/11, and, this year, after Superstorm Sandy, we didn't know if New York would be able to pull off the parade, but they just said, 'You have to come. We need the parade more than ever this year,'" Drake said.
The parade route has changed slightly over the years but, at three miles long, it's still quite a workout for the tappers who practice long hours and even "parade" around Alameda Point on Sundays. In addition to "Happy Holidays," the sparkly trees will dance to 12 songs including "Rock Around the Christmas Tree," "Need a Little Christmas," and Nat King Cole's "I Am the Happiest Christmas Tree," among others.
"It's kind of funny that out of all the things I've done, what everyone remembers are the dancing Christmas trees," Drake laughed.