We’re all familiar with tap dance. The tapping beats, the smooth footwork, and the synchronization of the taps with the music is mind-boggling. Tap dancing is a uniquely American art form, and over centuries its influence has spread far across American performance art culture. Tap dancing originated as Juba, a kind of dance practiced by African slaves. It melded with Irish dancing and continued to change under the influence of jazz dance.
Tap dance was first featured to the wider public during minstrel shows by one of the first black performers ever allowed to dance on stage to white audiences, William Henry Lane, also known as Master Juba. He became famous as the dancer who could outperform all his white competition in the United States. Even though Master Juba was responsible for the initial spreading of tap dance, the true acceptance of this dance came during the time of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. He broke serious protocol and decided to tour as a solo act, something African Americans rarely did at this time, and caught the eye of young Hollywood. He became internationally known for the string of performances he did in Shirley Temple films and his starring musical film Stormy Weather. His signature dance move was tap dancing up and down set of stairs in a very complex and difficult manner.
Tap dancing was an audience favorite because people were amazed at the complex rhythms that the dancers could make with their feet, as well as with their impressive acrobatic style. The different styles of tap dancing evolved from several backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. People from across the globe have all contributed to tap. The Clog Dance is of Irish origin, and was performed with wooden shoes. In this dance, no thought is given to upper body movements. Almost rigid, the shoulders and arms are kept motionless. This trait is also evident in the early ‘Buck and Wing’ style. The most complex of the Irish clogs are the Irish Jigs and Hornpipes, where the feet can tap the floor four or five times per second. John Diamond was considered one of the greatest ‘Jig Dancers’ of his day.
During the Second World War, the public was hungry for light-hearted, feel-good movies, so Hollywood started producing musicals in droves. A screen performance called for more lavish sets and acrobatic dancing, so this style of tap dancing became more popular, called “broadway tap.” With the exception of Bojangles, most actors were white, and thus the rise in performers like Gene Kelly. This style of dance incorporates jazz and tap to create a solid performance for the audience. Another such type of tap dance is Rhythm Tap, where the tap shoes are considered as an instrument. Emphasis is placed on the heel sounds and scraping noises of the taps. It is mostly performed as acapella, so the audience can concentrate on the sound of the taps rather than the music.
The Soft Shoe or Sand Dance is performed with shoes that are made of soft soles. It not only includes delicate taps made by the soft shoes, but also elements such as wit and humor. Buck and Wing is another style of tap dance that is very energetic and upbeat. It involves a lot of jumping, hopping, and upper body movement like swinging of the arms.
Thus, we see that tap dance has come a long way to become the sensational dance form that it is now, and many have developed an interest in this agile and unique dance style. The widespread teaching of this rhythmic style has contributed to the popularity of the genre and has also expanded the history of this dance into a performance art for enthusiasts of all ages.