When Mom, Paul, and I Were Famous for 30 Seconds

I’ve always loved to dance; just not in front of an audience. My parents were just the opposite. In fact, my father used to tell everyone, “Dancing is my life!

Mom and Dad Show portraits
Mom and Dad’s Headshots. My father’s famous quote was, “Dancing is my life!”

My parents performed in as many PTA, ORT, and any other shows they could. They could both tap dance, sing, and act. My father also had the gift of knowing precisely when to ad lib a line in a song, causing the entire cast to crack up during live shows. He was like Tim Conway of “The Carol Burnett Show.”

In one particular show, the director wrote new lyrics to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Each person in the number would stand up to say their line. My father’s line was, “I’ve got a headache,” but each night, when he stood up to say his line, he’d change it. One night, he sang, “I’ve got cramps,” and another night, he sang, “I’ve got gas.” There was no way for the cast to recover, but it was okay, because the people in the audience were laughing so hard, they wouldn’t have been able to compose themselves to hear the rest of the song, anyway.

As much as my mother loved to perform, she would get extremely nervous before each show. It’s no secret…well, it might have been, but, it won’t be after I spill the beans: she almost always tossed her cookies before going onstage. In fact, before every show, the entire cast waited anxiously for her to run to the bathroom to, let’s just say, “purge her nerves.” If she was successful, the cast knew they’d put on a great show. If she didn’t “belt out a tune” in the bathroom, the cast feared the show might not be as good as it could have been, plus there’d be six more weeks of winter, even in the summer.

Paul Chase (or Carlos Santana?) with some of the dancers he performed with in the AADC.
Paul Chase (or Carlos Santana?) with AADC members, c. 1975

Literally wanting to follow in my brother, Paul’s, footsteps, I auditioned for, and was invited to join, Indiana University’s African American Dance Company (AADC) in 1981, which was Founded and Directed by Professor Iris Rosa (ProR0) in 1974.

Photo of the AADC copied from the 38-page program booklet when we performed at the Murat Theatre in Indianapolis in 1981. I kept everything I ever had when I was in the AADC. It was so cool to find the program and see the letters from Richard Lugar, and Dan Quayle inside.
Photo of the AADC copied from the 38-page program when we performed at the Murat Theatre in Indianapolis in 1981.

I loved being a part of the AADC family, but I was never able to shake the sweaty-I’m-not-good-enough-I’m-going-to-faint-I’m-too-fat-feeling I’d always get before taking the stage, even though, for the first and only time in my life, I weighed exactly what my driver’s license said I did.

In the middle of the show at The Murat Theatre in Indianapolis, I decided I was just not going to go onstage during one particular piece. I was one of six dancers in a tap routine. No one would notice I was missing, would they? Normally, no matter how nervous I was, I’d go out, do my thing, and then exit, stage left, or stage right… whichever was closest.

But, this time, I was more nervous than usual because our “costumes” consisted of purple tights, a purple leotard, and tap shoes. Period. Nothing else. I was just one, thin, purple layer of spandex away from being completely naked onstage, except for my tap shoes.

It didn’t help that my boyfriend at the time saw me in all my purple glory, laughed, and said, “You look like a grape!” I dumped him shortly thereafter.

So, the other five dancers took their places onstage as the lights went up, and began tapping away as the music began. Where was I? Hiding in the wings, hoping no one would notice I wasn’t onstage.

Now, when there are only six people in a piece, it’s pretty obvious when one of them is missing; especially when she is the first person listed in the program for that particular dance because her last name begins with a “C.”

ProRo found me cowering in the wings and told me to get my purple butt onstage.

I rolled – – I mean, tapped – – into place onstage, making my entrance look as natural as possible.


Fast forward to 1986.

Besides performing, my mother taught tap at The Carol Walker Dance Studio. My father started as a beginner, and never advanced during Mom’s 25-year tenure, so she referred to him as her “best beginner.”

While Mom was sitting in the office of The Studio before one of her classes began, she received a phone call from the producer of an upcoming Famous Footwear commercial. He called the studio looking for tap dancers who would be willing to work a 12-hour day for next to nothing. Mom told him she would round up dancers, and that we’d be delighted to shoot the commercial.

“We” consisted of some of Mom’s students, Mom, Paul, and me.

Well, I wasn’t exactly “delighted,” but, I realized that if the three of us were in the commercial together, we’d have an opportunity to create a life-long memory.

On the “set” (because I’ve been in one commercial, I know the lingo,) Paul was given a top hat, cane, and tails, and told to “just improvise” some tap movements.

What none of us knew at the time was that the director was shooting, “Honey, I shrunk the Paul.” (See below)


Famous Foot wear Commercial; Paul

Mom and I brought our own black leotards, tights, tap shoes, and those black wrap-around tunics with little skirts that were popular at the time because they were adorable, and covered up any excess adipose tissue in one’s midsection.When the director said it was time to film the tappers, I realized I hadn’t yet cased the joint for an escape route. That’s when I heard ProRo in my head, much like Yoda, saying, “When a grape life hands you, roll with it you must.*”

Famous Footwear Famous Label Sale

Thankfully, the director told us the camera would only be shooting our feet…or so I thought.

After we shot the tap dancing scene, and I thought we were finished, I was handed my wardrobe change for the next part of the commercial.

What? Hey, Mr. Director-man, Sir, Mom only signed me up to tap dance; and, against my will at that! Now you want to put my entire body on camera in just a leotard and tights? No one wants to see that – – especially me – – and, by the by, everyone knows the camera adds at least 10 pounds!


Famous Footwear Exercisers

So, there I stood on the set in a very, very, very light gray leotard, an oh-so-flattering elastic band around my waist, a sweatband I had to wrangle around my very-1980’s asymmetrical fro, and a pair of gym shoes.

I was going to be filmed exercising with Paul, who was given an outfit worse than anything Richard Simmons ever wore, and another woman wearing exactly what I was wearing, only taller.

Did I mention that part of the wardrobe was a pair of purple tights? It was grape déjà vu all over again.

It turns out I had nothing to worry about. If you blink, you’ll miss me, so please blink. Also, because the real stars of the commercial were the Famous Footwear shoes, we were blurred out in the background.

As much as I love to dance, I’m very content being a humor writer, which, by the way, is an excellent career choice if you don’t like performing in front of an audience, or earning a living.

Enjoy watching my 30 seconds of fame, because, if I have my way, there will never be a second more.


*A fruit salad attempt of an homage to one of the AADC’s most powerful works, “Lemonade Suite.”


The African American Jewish White Girl

AADC 1981-82 warming up at TV studio before performing and filming Lemonade Suite

In 1974 I chanted Hebrew as a member of the Jewish community in front of family and friends, and celebrated my new-found womanhood at North Shore Congregation Israel, in Glencoe.

In 1981 I danced onstage as a member of The African American Dance Company (AADC) of Indiana University, and celebrated the resurrection of Lazarus’ “dead” body, played by the only other Jewish white girl in The Company on the stage of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, in Indianapolis.

After the performance, we were treated to a delicious dinner supplied by the Women’s Auxiliary of the church. I ate food that was better than anything I had ever tasted. I said to one of the male dancers, “Wow! That spinach is really good!” He laughed and said, “That’s not spinach. That’s greens.” Talk about feeling white.

Years later, while having lunch with our friends, Savannians Alex and Michele Raskin, at Mrs. Wilkes’ Boardinghouse, I learned the secret of making great-tasting greens. Now, I make some of the best non-Kosher greens east of the Mississippi.

As members of the AADC we danced, took lecture classes, had exams and learned about African culture. We learned how African dance evolved, forming the basis of tap, and many other forms of dance. Since my mother was a tap dance teacher for 25 years at the Carol Walker Dance Studio, I found it all fascinating.

Professor Iris Rosa (ProRo) founded the AADC in 1974, and poured her heart and soul into all of us. The alumni were recently told that ProRo is retiring at the end of the year.



My parents performed in many benefit shows together while I was growing up.

If you have one of these, please leave a comment after this blog post.
If you have one of these, please leave a comment after this blog post.
 [Barat College- in master class with Dennis Wayne of Joffrey ballet c. 1974 Taking a Master Class from Dennis Wayne of Joffrey Ballet at Barat College c. 1975.  Notice I straightened my hair so it would look nice. It didn’t look that nice after the class.
I was a dance-studio “rat.” I grew up at the Carol Walker Dance Studio, in Highwood, Illinois, where my mother taught tap dance classes for 25 years, and my much-much older sister, Beth Chase Avraham, and I used to perform at local schools with The Carol Walker Dance Troupe. Of course, because of the huge age difference, we didn’t perform together.
After taking a Jazz class with Randy Duncan or a Modern Dance class with Carol Walker, I’d come home and thank my parents for genetically giving me their strong legs and sense of rhythm. After ballet class, I’d come home and “thank” my father for genetically giving me his flat Fred Flintstone feet that made being able to get on pointe next to impossible.

Auditioning to become a member of the AADC was especially important to me because, even though our years at I.U. never overlapped, my brother had been a member of The Company five years earlier.


The experience of being a part of the AADC family is an integral part of who I am now. Plus I had the opportunity to dance every day, which I loved, and to perform frequently, which I didn’t. But, once I’d get onstage, I had no choice but to do what I was supposed to do, which helped take my mind off of being perpetually nauseated. Vomiting onstage? Not cool. Unless you’re a 70’s rock star.

I remember once standing frozen in the wings, thinking, “There are four other dancers already out there. They won’t miss me.” Iris Rosa, the director of the AADC, found me and told me to get onstage. I’m glad she did. I didn’t like it, but I knew I’d eventually get used to it. I haven’t.

I know that a big part of the reason I didn’t go out on-cue was because all I was wearing was a purple leotard, purple tights, and tap shoes. Nothing else. No skirt to cover my adipose tissue. No dress to smooth out my curves or tame my boobage. Plus, my boyfriend at the time had thoughtlessly remarked that in that particular costume I resembled a grape. I broke up with him shortly thereafter.


The first time I remember truly enjoying myself onstage was when we performed at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. The stage was low and closer to the audience than any other stage on which I’d tried desperately not to throw up. And, being able to look into the eyes of kindergarteners who sat with amazed, mesmerized faces thoroughly enjoying every single move we made, gave me a newfound confidence to smile at the faces smiling back at me, allowing me to temporarily forget how terrified I usually felt in front of an audience.

I knew I didn’t have what it took to be a professional dancer; like arched feet, weighing 80 pounds, and little things, like being able to balance and pirouette on pointe,  so I decided to transfer to Lake Forest College to study Creative Writing that upcoming fall.



My final performance with the AADC was in the spring of 1982 on the main stage at I.U.  I was going to miss this family with whom I had spent nearly every day during the school year. We had fun, especially when we weren’t in rehearsal and spent entire classes dancing to Michael Jackson’s 1979 album “Off the Wall”.

But I was excited,too, because my parents had come to see me dance. We debuted “Lemonade Suite,” a piece that combined Iris Rosa’s choreography, Dr. Kenneth Ware’s original score, and the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks.

My bio in the program read, “Leslie Jo Chase (dancer) is a junior from Highland Park, Illinois. Majoring in General Studies, this Capricornian likes to dance, play tennis, read, and cook.” I was grateful the editor of the program added our astrological signs; otherwise, mine would have been as plain as, well, white bread.

I was one of the dancers in a part of “Lemonade Suite” titled “The Mother.” It was the most dramatic piece in which I have ever danced, and the only one that didn’t cause me to be afraid to be onstage.

The stage was dimly lit. The background music sounded like a funeral dirge that intensified as we walked slowly and aimlessly with blank stares out onto the stage, and then fell to our knees.

We clutched and contracted our midsections, as if we’d each received a fastball to the stomach delivered by a Major League pitcher, as the narrator spoke the first word of the poem with agony in her voice: Abortion.

My parents must have been so proud.


There was much more writhing, contracting, and rolling around the stage in remorse as the narrator repeated the words of Gwendolyn Brooks, “I Loved you All.” It was haunting, and powerful, and, just a tad embarrassing because I knew my father was videotaping it.

The last segment of ”Lemonade Suite” was “The Wedding Dance.” That was really fun, and not at all embarrassing to perform. But, I had to rein in ”the girls” by binding them up with an ace bandage beneath my dress to prevent getting  a black eye.

That would have been quite the Pas de Don’t.

The audience didn’t just sit there clapping politely when we finished a piece. This audience enthusiastically showed us all of its love — while we danced — by cheering, screaming, clapping, and then jumping to its feet yelling, “Break that body!” Their infectious enthusiasm and encouragement moved me to dance better, harder, and have more confidence than I’d ever had before. I knew I might never feel that way again so I let loose and became “Leslie, the African American Jewish White Capricornian,”  “breaking her body” to the delight of the hundreds of people in that auditorium. It was exhilarating. It was magical for me.

For my parents? Oy.


But, to this day, they laugh about a letter I sent to them that included an article and photo from a local newspaper about The AADC. I noted on the side, “I’m the first person on the left on the 3rd step.” My mother called and said, “Did you really think we wouldn’t be able to pick you out?”

Before the end of the year, we recorded a DVD of “Lemonade Suite” at the I.U. television studio. It was shown on local cable stations and used as an educational tool in schools, helping children learn to make good choices.

Years later, I contacted the Black Film Center at I.U. and bought a copy of the DVD that I watch from time to time, always feeling proud to have been a part of something so profound. (Of course, when I showed it to my husband and kids, they thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen.) But, most importantly, I actually DID weigh what my driver’s license said I weighed for once in my life.

My brother and I went to th 25th reunionIMG_3281 of the AADC in Bloomington, Indiana in 1999 and were invited to come back in April, 2014, for the 40th reunion. We thought about going, but then realized it fell on the same weekend our family had decided to have an early Passover Seder so everyone could be together to celebrate our peoples’ freedom from bondage in the land of Egypt, as it is said.

I’m looking forward to the 50th reunion, so, in case anyone on the planning committee is reading this and wants the three or four Jews who were in The African American Dance Company to be able to celebrate with you, Passover is Tuesday, April 23rd through Monday, April 29th, 2024.

If it doesn’t work out, don’t worry. I’ll just sit in the dark, alone, waiting for the invitation to the 60th anniversary. May we all live and be well, and still be breaking those bodies!


My brother, Paul Chase, was killed in a car accident on June 25th, 2014, three weeks after my father passed away from a sudden heart attack on June 6th, 2014. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. If only we had attended the 40th anniversary celebration. But, we didn’t. Iris Rosa, and her husband, Anthony Artis, attended a memorial service for Paul in Indianapolis, on July 6th, 2014, created by all of Paul’s friends and colleagues. Iris, the most thoughtful person I’ve ever met, brought along an AADC 40th anniversary commemorative pin, and gave it to me at the service. It’s one of my most prized possessions.

Images of Lemonade Suite are the legally protected property of Indiana University.