N.H. tap dancer Aaron Tolson brings the tap dance world to children’s literature in his first book
Manchester native Aaron Tolson has a successful career as a professional tap dancer and teacher. But this year he’s dipping into a different art form: writing children’s books. The book is set in Bedford, and follows a tap dancing fairy named Steve.
Tolson tells NHPR Morning Edition host Rick Ganley how Tolson’s bedtime stories for his children inspired the new book, Tiny Tap Shoes.
Rick Ganley: Good morning. Thanks so much for coming in. This is a really, really sweet story. It's about a fairy named Steve who loves to tap dance. So what inspired you to write a children's book?
Aaron Tolson: Honestly, it simply comes down to my children. We would read books at nighttime, and then when we were finished reading books they'd get next to each other and I would tell them stories. And Steve was a consistent returning character to all of these stories. So I was talking to them. I said, "You know, we really enjoy this. Maybe other people would, too. Should Daddy write a book?" And they were like, "Absolutely, Daddy." And that's like my kids’ vocabulary, “Absolutely, Daddy, you have to do it." And so I did.
Rick Ganley: So tell me more about the book. Who's the main character in the book?
Aaron Tolson: Well, the main character of the book is Steve the Fairy, and the book is about his exploits in dance and meeting people in the human world. It's a pretty fun and exciting adventure he goes on. And I didn't want him to have some sort of mystical, magical name that nobody ever heard of. I wanted people to feel like fairies are just normal. Here they are. They exist and they're here. There happens to be one that lives in Bedford, New Hampshire. And my kids are big into fairies and mermaids, and so it just made sense to give him a very normal name and have him live in our neighborhood.
Rick Ganley: So you grew up in New Hampshire? Tell me, what are some of the New Hampshire influences that a reader might find here?
Aaron Tolson: Well, there are definitely local destinations that are there. So Steve's home is in an ice cream shop in Bedford, New Hampshire, called Inside Scoop. And I cleared it with Inside Scoop to be able to use it. They love the fact that Steve lives there. And, you know, the area where he lives and the things that happen in the book are very New Hampshire. And I think that by doing that, it can bring in readers from all over. So often these stories that we hear about are in big cities, but a lot of people don't live in big cities. So I want it to be in a setting where many, many people can relate. And if you're from a city, you still get it.
Rick Ganley: Speaking of the big city, I know you've tapped all over. I know you did a lot of work in Manhattan. Tell me about tap dance, though. This is sometimes considered a kind of old-fashioned art form.
Aaron Tolson: Old fashioned, for sure. I mean, tap dancing was born here in America. It's starts in the fields of slavery, where people that were enslaved were communicating through drums and the owners passed a law called the Negro Act, took the drums away. So what do they do? They created another way to be percussive and communicate, and that's where tap dance is born. And then it goes on through other cultures seeing and imitating. And that's when it gets on to the minstrel stages and then it goes to vaudeville and Broadway. And here we are.
Rick Ganley: And are you seeing a revised, renewed interest in tap these days?
Aaron Tolson: You know, more people tap dance now than ever before in history. In the early '80s, people were saying that it was an art form that was dying, it was going away, but it never did. It never was going away. It was just kind of underground. And now there are conventions and tap festivals. When there's not a pandemic, there's a tap festival every weekend somewhere in the world, and there are huge pockets of tap dancers in Japan and in Brazil and Canada. Like, it's not simply here. And I get to travel the world and tap dance with all these people.