Suzanne Bruneau is busy planning the funeral for her late mother, well-known Montreal tap dancer Ethel Bruneau, who passed away last week at age 87.
“She was the queen of tap,” Bruneau told Global News. “The queen of tap in Montreal and Quebec and Canada.
It’s something she says the pastor who will be officiating at her funeral discovered when doing his research.
“When he called me he was like, ‘Oh, we’re celebrating Miss Swing,’ and I said, ‘Indeed, we are.’”
It’s a nickname Ethel earned while travelling across the province performing in the ’70s to various audiences regardless of background or language, Suzanne recalls.
“They would say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Swing,’ you know, and when you go in a lot of these places, ‘Miss Swing, chante les blues, chante les blues,’ ” Bruneau laughed.
Ethel introduced tap dancing to many in Montreal after arriving from Harlem, New York for a three-week dancing gig in 1953. She ended up staying and began teaching tap dancing in the 1960s. Former students say she was a force to reckon with.
“Try to tell her what to do,” said former student and professional tap dancer Travis Knights, bursting out laughing. “She would put that smack down on you so quick. Oh, it’s great. I’m going to miss that.”
Yet she was loved and welcoming, he and other former pupils point out.
“Oh, Ethel,” recalled Knights, smiling. “Ethel is a fiery person, irascible, kind, lovely, loved, loved, loved, loved tap dance. All things tap dance.”
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Those she taught included her own kids, grandkids — even great grandkids.
“Oh, I miss her so much,” said granddaughter Makeda Philip, weeping, as Bruneau, her mother, hugged her.
For Philip, Ethel was like was a second mom.
“You know, every summer I’d spend time with her and my grandfather,” she said, smiling through tears, “and they would keep me for the weekend and give my mom some free time.”
Bruneau says Ethel was a unifier, a life teacher and like a godmother to all her students.
A funeral will be held 1pm Aug. 20 at Maison Darche in Brossard, on Montreal’s south shore.