“Stealing steps is very important to the course of tap,” says Kelly Michaels, codirector of the tap company Alexander, Michaels/Future Movement. “But you have to make what you’ve learned your own. You have to manipulate and move the steps forward–the same way that Balanchine and Eliot Feld have moved the ballet syllabus forward.”

As in most dance forms, which are passed down in the most direct fashion from one body to the next, lineage is crucial: your teachers are your points of departure, your family. And the tap family these days has several branches. There’s rhythm tap, in which the dancer crouches close to the floor and concentrates on the sounds she’s making rather than how she looks–“It’s about musicality,” says Michaels, “the sound and rhythm of the steps.” An offshoot of that is flash dance, in which the dancer allows “oppositional forces” to take over, maybe dropping into the splits, then bounding back up into the air. Musical-theater tap puts more emphasis on the whole body, how it looks, what it communicates in terms of character and emotion. And concert tap takes its cue from modern dance. “Not so much in the movement,” say Michaels, “but in the craft of choreography–the choice of dynamics, the way the space is used. Tap has been a frontal art form, but people who see AM/FM comment on the inventive use of space, the floor patterns.”

The tap workshop that Michaels and his codirector, Lane Alexander, have organized for the week after Christmas is intended to “build bridges”–it’s a kind of family gathering, drawing together several Chicagoans of various stripes (Bruce Stegman, Tracy Vonder Haar, Idella Reed, Alexander himself) as well as Saint Louis Tap Festival’s Robert Reed (the grandson of Maceo Anderson, an original member of the Fabulous Four Step Brothers) and Savion Glover, the 20-year-old star of Broadway and television. Chicagoan Jimmy Payne, who doesn’t divulge his age but is known to have been making dances since at least 1940, was supposed to teach but has been prevented by health problems from doing so. Other members of the percussive-dance family invited to teach are Dame Libby Komaiko (Spanish dance), Mark Howard (Irish step dancing), and Andrea Vinson (African)–after all, tap is a quintessential American hybrid, stealing from Irish clogging and African dance alike.

Workshop classes are aimed at the intermediate to professional levels and are scheduled from ll AM to 9 PM Monday, December 27, through Thursday, December 30, at the Chicago Studio for Dance & Musical Theatre, 420 W. Ontario. Single classes start at $20, and you can get the whole shebang for $275; there are also several levels of participation in between. Call 761-4889 for info or to sign up.