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Remembering Tap Dancing William “Bill” Orlowski

By Marissa Trarback
  • William Orlowski (1988) / Photo by David Cooper
William “Bill” Orlowski, one of the greatest Canadian tap dancers and choreographers, died October 22, 2016.
 
Born in Brampton, ON, Orlowski began tap dancing at a young age. It was dance films of Fred Astaire that first inspired him to dance, according to the Arts Alive website. He trained at the Marise White School of Dance in Port Credit and with Gladys Forrester before moving to Toronto to work in television and in professional musical theatre, as well as to perform in various community theatre productions.
 

In 1977, Orlowski opened Hoofer’s Club in Toronto, the first dance school in Canada to focus solely on the art of tapping. He co-founded the National Tap Dance Company with Steve Dymond and remained involved as artistic director and choreographer for thirty years, creating over forty works including The Tin Soldier, Oliver Button is a Sissy, Hound of the Baskervilles and Brandenburg Concerto #3. As a choreographer, Orlowski challenged the parameters of tap dancing by refusing to allow vaudeville conventions to define the art form. Instead, he communicated plot through rhythm and movement, encouraging narration and storytelling.

Orlowski continued to explore opportunities in film, choreographing for such films as Stepping Out (1991) with Liza Minnelli. In 1990, he started his own company, the William Orlowski Tap Dance Projects, through which he choreographed more works for the concert stage, including the Shaw Festival’s 2001 production of the Noël Coward musical Shadow Play.

The Arts Alive website also notes that his sense of civic responsibility often accompanied his artistic talent. His work with Smile Company, a theatre group that performs for people in hospitals and nursing homes, exemplifies that.

After his diagnosis with dystonia – a neurological movement disorder closely related to Parkinson’s – Orlowski continued dancing, performing as recently as October 2, 2016, in Well Seasoned Production’s Curtains Up on 50+. He performed, as his friend and colleague Anne Wootten recalls, “as always, with style, grace and humour.” 

Orlowski’s funeral service took place at Turner & Porter Funeral Home in Mississauga, ON, on Monday, October 31, 2016. 
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