Dance/10 and Pamm Drake’s Tap Dancing Christmas Trees are a hit with everyone, tapping their way into Bay Area hearts.
Alameda has been home to its share of notables over the years, including baseball great Willie Stargell and rock star Jim Morrison. Currently keeping the Island in the limelight is a group of dedicated hoofers who dress up as Christmas trees and tap dance their hearts out every holiday season. Known as The Tap Dancing Christmas Trees—what else?—they’ve appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City and countless other festivals throughout California and beyond for the past 28 years. What makes these troupers tick? Is it the fame? The glory? The perks? The groupies? Or just the thrill of getting to dress up like a Christmas tree and trip the light fantastic? For answers I reached out to the woman who came up with the idea in the first place, longtime Alameda dance pro and instructor Pamm Drake. She did not disappoint.
Paul Kilduff: How did the Tap Dancing Christmas trees come about?
Pamm Drake: I run a studio in Alameda called Dance/10 [Performing Arts Center], and we do two performances a year. One at Christmas time, and one in July with all of our students. And one year, we dressed up as Christmas trees. It was a very minimal costume, and we had one of the other dancers running around behind us with a pretend chainsaw cutting us down. Anyway, it was just a one-shot deal. The next year, many of my students and parents said, “What happened to the Tap Dancing Christmas trees?” I was like “Oh, well that was just a one-year thing.” “Oh, that was really funny; you should bring that back.” So, I started thinking to myself, hmm, OK. So, the next year, I put an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle that read, “Would you like to add a little kick to your Christmas party? Tap Dancing Christmas trees available for hire in the Bay Area.” And I started looking at a couple of jobs and a couple of parties. Twenty-eight years later, there are 50 of us. Last year, I think we did 43 performances between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
PK: How did the trees make it into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade?
PD: That happened in 2001. I basically talked my way into the parade. I had a young man, Ethan, who was dancing with me. At that time I was president of Dance Masters [of] California. And he was a junior titleholder, which means he’s Junior Mr. Dance of California. And he and I went to New York City for him to audition for Mr. Junior Dance of America, which he came in first runner-up. Anyway, I took my little scrapbook of pictures of the Tap Dancing Christmas trees and walked into the Macy’s parade office. And the guy said to me, “Oh, no, those applications are due in April.” Meanwhile, he’s yelling down the hallway, “Robert, you got to come look at these pictures. This is a kick.” And so he took my card, we talked a little bit, and I left. And then I wasn’t home a few days and they called me and said, “Would you like to be in the Macy’s parade?” We tapped for 3 miles, two formations in kick line to a medley of songs. We were not walking and waving.
PK: The trees also tried out for America’s Got Talent—how’d that go?
PD: How did you hear about that?
PK: Well, there’s this thing called the internet.
PD: Somebody from America’s Got Talent saw us in the Hollywood Parade in 2013 and called me and said, “This is America’s Got Talent, and we would like very much for you to come down and be on our show.” So we negotiated back and forth, and they ended up flying us down there, picked us up in a limo, put us up overnight in a hotel, to be on the show. I kept speaking with this woman. I said this is March of 2013. We do Christmas trees in November through December. It’s a seasonal act. “No, no, no. We want trees.” Well, I kept saying we tap dance; we could do lots of other things. We don’t have to just link into that. “No, no. We want trees.” So, they put us on stage and we started out with our traditional “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” bit, and they buzzed us. And he said how could you possibly win an international competition as Christmas trees? We were so flabbergasted. We were like wait a minute; you invited us to be here.
PK: Did that make it on to the show?
PD: Never showed that. We were not good TV. I didn’t cry. I didn’t pull at my hair. I didn’t storm off or take off my costume and throw it on the street. They paid us a per diem, we all went out and had dinner and a couple of drinks and flew home. That was it.
PK: Has anyone contacted you about making a documentary film about the trees?
PD: Years ago, some lady did a short little documentary for I think Channel 9, and we never saw hide nor hair of it. She interviewed me and gave me a copy of it, but I never saw anything put out about it.
PK: So you’re open to the idea of a feature-length film?
PD: That would be great, of course.
PK: A lot of big time Hollywood producers read this column, so you never know. Is there a rivalry between the trees and your other group, the Tap Dancing Easter Bunnies?
PD: No. Easter bunnies are just some of my more advanced tappers. And it was kind of this thing of, well, too bad we can’t do Christmas trees all year long. One of my trees and I and another student recently auditioned for the Golden State Warriors senior dance team. I started rehearsals last night. I’m a Warriors girl.
PK: Hold the phone. Is the K-File getting an exclusive here, Pamm?
PK: You are going to be a senior Warriors girl?
PD: Well, they’re not calling us girls. Right now they’re struggling with a title. They haven’t given us a title yet. They’re referring to us as the Warriors Senior Dance Team. They’ve never done this before. The whole thing is part of sponsoring the older age health aspect. There’s three men on the team and 18 women. The auditions were 55 and up.
PK: That is very exciting. Congratulations. You might not be the right person to ask this last question, but I’m a hard-hitting guy, so here goes: Do you think Christmas celebrations start too early these days? I mean, you go into a store in September, and they’ve already got Christmas stuff up.
PD: It’s hard for me to answer, because behind me on my wall is all Christmas decorations. It’s Christmas at my house all year long.
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Astrological Sign: Virgo
Book on nightstand: All The Light We Cannot See
Motto: “I choose to be happy.”
Why does Pamm spell her name with two m’s? Growing up in Oakland, a neighbor was also named Pam. To distinguish herself, she decided to add an m to her first name.