It used to be that you couldn't pay young, black inner-city youths to tap dance.

During the black consciousness movement of the 1960s, many viewed it as stereotypical and exploitative of blacks.

That attitude was nowhere in evidence at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts at 35th and R streets NW last Friday, where 10th-graders enthusiastically tapped their toes and shuffled their feet during a tap workshop conducted by dance veteran Harold Nicholas and young star Savion Glover.

Nicholas and Glover, 16, both of whom danced in the movie "Tap," were in town to perform in the weekend "JazzTap" at the Kennedy Center.

The event marked the first National Tap Dance Day, set by Congress to be commemorated every May 25 -- the birthday of the legendary Bill Bojangles. Bojangles, memorialized in song, is best remembered for his role as Shirley Temple's valet who tap-danced up and down a staircase in the 1935 movie "The Little Colonel."

The Ellington master class was arranged by the Charlin Jazz Society as part of its efforts to teach local students about jazz.

"I think the youngsters should know about tap, what it is and what it was. We're trying to keep it alive," Nicholas said. "They're the ones who can do it."

And do it, they did. The dance students, most of whom had studied tap for one semester, easily followed the series of time steps, shuffles, low skips and smooth kicks led by the master Nicholas.

In bright blue leotards, brown tights and street clothes, the 17 students wasted no breath on words, concentrating earnestly on making their steps as light and smooth as Nicholas's. Ellington requires dance majors to study at least one year of tap. Students say they don't get enough.

"I think the Duke Ellington School of the Arts should emphasize it more," said Amanda Taylor, 17, a senior dance major who slipped out of a dance concert rehearsal for the workshop. "If you have tap, I think it will help you in other dance forms because you have to think fast."

"It's like ballet and jazz together. You can have fun with it. {Plus} you can make noise," said pony-tailed Nikki Sutton, 15, a sophomore majoring in dance.

Movies such as "Tap" in 1989, starring Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines along with a cadre of distinguished old-timers, and the 1989 Broadway tap and jazz review "Black and Blue" helped erase negative stereotypes and return tap to the forefront of American dance consciousness, enthusiasts say.

"It was taboo," recalled Lynn Welters, Ellington dance department chairman. "In the profession, there was a feeling that it was dying out . . . . There was a real thrust to bring it back."

"We're in a renaissance," said Brenda Bufalino, choreographer and director of the American Tap Dance Orchestra, who also participated in the workshop. "It's a very exciting time."

After the class, students crowded around Glover and Nicholas, begging for autographs on the soles of their tap shoes, on their homework assignments, on their T-shirts. Then they jockeyed for positions to have their pictures taken with the dancers and flirted with Glover, who quickly changed from tap shoes into his designer athletic shoes.

"I was here before you," one eager autograph seeker said, throwing an elbow.

"He used my pen to write with," sighed another starry-eyed fan.

For Nicholas, the workshop was his way of keeping tap alive in the hearts -- and soles -- of a new generation of young people.

"I've been doing it all my life," said Nicholas, who gave his age only as "over 60." "It never left as far as I'm concerned. It never left me."