William McKinley (Willie) Covan, a stylish and versatile tap-dancer who taught his unique steps to generations of Hollywood stars and lesser-known aspiring hoofers.

Known as “Poetry in Motion” on marquees and to his peers, Covan, born March 4, 1897, in Savannah, Ga., began dancing in vaudeville at age 9, and soon was touring the West Coast.

At 8 and living in Chicago he met Harry Yancey, who had been in an act of very young black dancers who shared bills with major white performers. Yancey captivated him with tales of touring the West, riding horses and picking oranges and lemons from trees in California. Covan was so smitten by the idea that he hustled part-time jobs and began paying Yancey to teach him to dance.