Legendary Montreal tap dance teacher, Ethel Bruneau, will receive the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award, presented by the Black Theatre Workshop at its annual Vision Celebration on Saturday evening.

Every year, the award is presented to an individual who has made a "significant contribution to African-Canadian artistic and cultural life in Canada."

"I'm very honoured," said Bruneau. "I've always believed in Martin Luther King. I've always believed in having a dream."

Bruneau, 72, was born and raised in Harlem. She started taking tap dancing lessons at the age of three.

"I would be tapping my feet around the house and stuff like that, so my father was like, 'Okay, dancing school!'"

Dancing with the best

Her parents enrolled her at Mary Bruce's School of Dance, a prominent institution in Harlem that attracted some of the most talented young dancers in New York. Bruneau grew up dancing with the late Gregory Hines.

"There were the boys and girls numbers, so you had to dance with the boys," she said, smiling. "The only boy that I really liked to hold hands with was Gregory."

Bruneau came to Montreal as a teenager, in 1953. She was booked for a three-week dancing gig with American entertainer Cab Calloway, a veteran of New York's jazz scene. She fell in love with the city, and decided to stay to pursue her career in show business.

"When you walked down Ste. Catherine, it was Las Vegas! Nobody slept in Montreal. This city was open 24 hours a day," said Bruneau. 

A long and successful career

Since then, Bruneau has established herself as one of Montreal's foremost tap dance teachers. She has spent more than 50 years of her life teaching, influencing hundreds of students along the way.

Bruneau said she has no plans to quit dancing any time soon. Not even occasional hip trouble can stop her.

"Tap makes you happy," she said. "Let me tell you, I wake up happy and I go to bed happy because I'm having such a good time."