Fancy Footwork : Boy, 11, Tap-Dances on the Street to Get Money for His Lessons


"Sammy Davis' Comeback Time" is a tough number for Phillip Attmore. It has him twisting and tapping his feet in a complicated rhythm and stomping the unforgiving concrete of Old Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard in a growing crescendo.

At the end, it looks like the 11-year-old boy is about to fall as he squats and twirls his legs in circles again and again to the cheers of the crowd, which happily deposits dollar bills and spare change into his upside-down top hat.

This is not the oft-repeated tale of a lost youth struggling for survival. It is the nightly weekend ritual of an energetic straight-A student determined to help finance his pricey tap-dancing lessons with his own talent.

Phillip has danced on this corner of Colorado Boulevard almost every Friday and Saturday night for the last two years, pocketing $50 to $60 a night to cover lessons at the prestigious Academy 331 in Beverly Hills. The classes and the numerous competitions he attends cost about $100 a week.

The Sammy Davis number is his biggest draw.

"Go Sammy!" shouts his father, William Attmore, a legal investigator for the Los Angeles city attorney's office, as his son's routine builds in energy. "Go Phillip!"

"You should open for Liza!" calls a fellow street performer, Willie Huggins, as he walks by.

Phillip started tapping on the street as a way to advertise a candy-selling business, but found that people were more willing to pay for his flashy routines than sweets.

His show lasts up to an hour and a half. Among his performances are his four best numbers: the Sammy Davis tune; "Top Hat," in which he sings and dances to the famous Fred Astaire song; "Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," a Frank Sinatra standard, and "Heat Wave," a playful nod to the hot weather.

Tap-dancing became a passion for Phillip when he was 3. His brother, William Attmore Jr., who was a Mouseketeer on the Disney Channel's "Mickey Mouse Club," showed him one of the most basic steps, the shuffle step, which looks like someone is running in place. Since then, Phillip has won 90 trophies for his dancing, overrunning his family's Pasadena home with statuettes big and small.

This summer he was named Mr. Showbiz in Palm Springs by the Showbiz National Talent Competition, and won the performer of the year nod in San Jose at the North American National Dance Competition.

He is only part of an active night scene in Old Town, where on any given weekend night the sidewalks of Colorado Boulevard become a kind of upscale Venice Beach, where sightseers can bump into a former Ringling Bros. clown, a ballon artist who will make giraffes and puppies for kids or heart-shaped rings for loved ones, and a poet who will recite lines of his own verse in exchange for a spare bill. Pianists and bands vie for space with homeless men and women looking for a place to rest. Police turn a blind eye to most of the action, which is technically not supposed to occur, unless it causes too much commotion.

Phillip dances "because it's fun and it makes people happy . . . even babies!" he says with an earnest smile. And he acknowledges that he likes having "a rep."

It is almost 9 p.m., late for Phillip. The sweat is building up on his face, and he is taking a little longer to catch his breath. He takes one more sip of his soda and tells his father that he has had enough. While the crowds shuffle by, Phillip packs up his radio and his tap shoes and walks home, tired and ready for bed.

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