Tap dance was developed in the United States during the nineteenth century, and is popular nowadays in many parts of the world. The name comes from the tapping sound made when the small metal plates on the dancer's shoes touch a hard floor. This lively, rhythmic tapping makes the performer not just a dancer, but also a percussive musician (and thus, for example, the American composer Morton Gould was able to compose a "concerto for tap dancer and orchestra").
The Encyclopedia Britannica definition for tap dance is: A style of American theatrical dance using precise rhythmical patterns of foot movement and audible foot tapping. It is derived from the traditional clog dance of northern England, the jigs and reels of Ireland and Scotland, and possibly the rhythmic foot stamping of African dances. Popular in 19th-century minstrel shows, versions such as "buck-and-wing" (danced vigorously in wooden-soled shoes) and "soft-shoe" (shoes) developed as separate techniques; by 1925 they had merged, and metal taps were attached to shoe heels and toes to produce a more pronounced sound. The dance was also popular in variety shows and early musicals.
The precursors to tap dancing may include:
- African dance to drum rhythms
- African welly boot dance
- Irish Sean-nós step dancing
- Zapateado of Spanish flamenco, where nails are hammered into the heel and the front part of the dancers' shoes, so that the rhythm of their steps can be heard
- Spanish mad-step (practiced by early tap practicioners Eduardo Corrochio and Henry Rogers)
- Step dancing
- Stomp dancing, where the sound of other objects are used to enhance the stomping sound of the foot
- Clogging, for example from Lancashire, where there may be no accompanying music, just the noise of the shoes
Tap dancing as such may have begun in the 1830s in the Five Points neighborhood of New York City as a fusion of Irish and African Shuffle. Perhaps the most influential of all was the Irish jig. Dancers from different immigrant groups would get together to compete and show off their best moves. According to theory, as the dances fused, a new American style of dancing emerged. Master Juba was a prominent dancer in this period.
Tap flourished in the U.S. from 1900 to 1955, when it was the main performance dance of Vaudeville and Broadway. Vaudeville was the inexpensive entertainment before television, and it employed droves of skilled tap dancers. Many famous bands included tap dances as part of their show. For a while, every large city in the U.S. had amateur street tap performers. At the time, tap dance was also called jazz dance, because jazz was the music with which tap dancers performed.
During the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, the best tap dancers moved from Vaudeville to cinema and television. Steve Condos, with his innovative style of percussion tap, created a whole new tap style that he introduced to audiences in Vaudeville, and later to the audiences of film and Broadway. Prominent tap dancers of this period included Fred Astaire, John W. Bubbles, Charles "Honi" Coles, Vera-Ellen, Ruby Keeler, Gene Kelly, Jeni LeGon, Ann Miller, Fayard and Harold Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers, Donald O'Connor, Eleanor Powell, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, PrinceSpencer, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Ginger Rogers, and Jimmy Slyde.
In the 1950s, the style of entertainment changed. Jazz music and tap dance declined, while rock and roll music and the new jazz dance emerged. What is now called jazz dance evolved out of tap dance, so both dances have many moves in common. But jazz evolved separately from tap dance to become a new form in its own right. Well-known dancers during the 1960s and 1970s included Arthur Duncan and Tommy Tune.
No Maps on My Taps, the Emmy award winning PBS documentary of 1979, helped begin the recent revival of tap dance. The outstanding success of the animated film, Happy Feet, has further reinforced the popular appeal National Tap Dance Day in the United States, now celebrated May 25th, was signed into law by President George Bush on November 7, 1989. (May 25th was chosen because it is the birthday of famous tapper Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.) Prominent modern tap dancers have included Brenda Bufalino, Jay Fagan, Ted Bebblejad, Savion Glover, Peter Briansen, Gregory and Maurice Hines of Hines, Hines, and Dad, Alfonso Ribeiro, Jason Samuels Smith, Shirley Temple, and Grant Swift. Indie-pop band Tilly and the Wall also features a tap dancer, Jamie Williams, tapping as percussion.
Characteristics of Tap Dance
Tap dancers make frequent use of syncopation. Choreographies typically start on the eighth or first beatcount. Another aspect of tap dancing is improvisation. This can either be done with music and follow the beats provided or without musical accompaniment, otherwise known as a capella dancing.
Hoofers are tap dancers who dance only with their legs, making a louder, more grounded sound. This kind of tap dancing also called "rhythm tap", is typically found in cities or poor areas, but this is not always the case especially with such a wide [variety] of styles spreading throughout the world. Steve Condos rose out of his humble beginnings in Pittsburgh, PA to become a master in rhythmic tap. His innovative style influenced the work of Gregory Hines, Savion Glover and Marshall Davis, Jr.
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