HISTORY OF TAP DANCING IN AMERICA

Tap is a kind of dance move generated from European and African dance styles and music. Besides, it emphasizes the interplays of beats given off by feet. The dance has developed for more than a hundred years. Jazz syncopations are what define tap’s inflection and discern its rhythms. However, African heritage has the greatest influence on the tap’s advancement.

People learned to dance tap by watching people dance in dance halls and streets. It evolved from indigenous social dances of the white and black. Tap is something that has been gradually formed into an exemplary stage dance by steps being stolen shared and reinvented after and during competitions. It is also considered to be a musical form of dance; feet act as the drum with heels that play the bass and melody is given off by the toes.

Tap’s distinguishing feature is the augmentation of the feet beat. Initially, tap styles involved using boards laying across sawhorses, barrels, or cobblestones; wooden clogs, hollow-heeled shoes even soft-soled shoes playing against an oily, wooden abrasive surface. Later in the 1910s is when shoes with special metal plates placed on the toe and heel were introduced.

During the early 1500s, Africans that were in slavery were transported to the West Indies and this is how blacks and whites began watching themselves dancing. As they moved across the Atlantic, enslaved Africans were taken to the topmost decks and they were told to dance. Slaves improvised upturned buckets into drums. African –American dance evolved from the metallic thunk of the buckets, chain restrictions, and their rattling. Sailors who witnessed these dances later served as participants at civic slave dances.

On the other end, when slaves reached their destinations, they had already had exposure to white people dances such as the contredanse, cotillion, and quadrille which they adopted and kept the figures and patterns but maintained the African rhythms. Other slaves were bought from the Caribbean island and were combined with other Scotsmen and Irishmen who were exiled, sold, or deported to the European plantation islands. Cultural exchange between these groups continued to take place up to the late 1600s in the urban centers and plantations (Kerrymen learned the art of playing jubi and Ibo men fiddles)

On the other hand, in America, the African-American dance centered motion in the hips and was preferred by flat-footed, dragging, shuffling steps with a torso that was gently bent and relaxed at the waist and a flexible spine. Slowly, the British-European style mixed with the former and had its focuses motion in proficient footwork favoring cautiously placed heel and toe work, bounding, hopping, arms placed carefully, erect spine, little hip action, and upright torso.

In the 1600s to 1800s, there was an evolvement from the British step dance and other religious and secular step dances from the Africans (ring shouts and juba dances) to form the American tap-hybrid. The rhythmical shuffling footwork and the circular counterclockwise motion is what differentiated the African-American juba from the British step dance. In 1740 some slave laws prohibited the use of drums therefore jawbones, hand-clapping, tambourines, and percussive footwork were the substitutes.

Jigging was a word used in the 1800s to refer to any African dancing style where the dancer had a responsive and relaxed torso, the motion was emphasized from the hips downwards with feet that were shuffled quickly. Tap dance well developed in the 1920s when taps found on the heels and toes of shoes became well known. In 1921, a chorus known as Shuffle along performed on stage with tap shoes officially forming tap dancing.

Tap dance has continually evolved and molded by dancers. For instance, Jimmy Doyle and Harland Dixon are famous for the buck and wing dance that influenced other dancers in their creativity and skills. Dancers have also influenced the upcoming of American music since drumist got their inspiration from the dancer’s rhythmical patterns.

During the beginning of the 20th century, the forefront of entertainment consisted of the Vaudeville shows with tap dancers like Drayton and Greenlee and others traveling the country. Vaudeville acts were hosted in more than 300 theaters in the country. Musicals, vaudeville, and night clubs all presented tap dancers with their names appearing on many marquees which enlightened New York’s Broadway.

The Great White Way was illuminated by the siblings Fred Astaire and Adele due to their great dancing skills. Bill Robinson, the first African tap dancer known for his dance ‘stair dance’, became the first to be featured on Broadway. This was the era that tap dancers had to come up with unique dancing styles to be noticed. Buster West, for example, tap-danced in oversized shoes that slapped loudly on the floor while dancing due to their extra length.

The major learning of tap dance evolved from dancers challenging each other to dancing duels and this led to the improvising of new styles. Some of these styles are; novelty (dance movements that incorporated props like suitcases, ropes, and stairs); flash (the incorporation of aerobatics that was utilized in finishing a dance); eccentric, comedy, and legomania (they used the body in comic and eccentric ways to play tricks on the eyes and characteristically wiggly and wild leg movements) and many more.

All these dancing styles were created by several dancers. For instance, the father of rhythm tap is identified as John Bubbles; a handicapped dancer Clayton invented ‘Pegleg’ to fit his dancing.

Between the 1920s and 1940s tap dancers performed in nightclubs together with musicians and bands. Each performance could have more than 20 dancers (chorus line, solo dancers, and duo acts). This was well known in places such as Culver City in California (Plantation Club), Harlem in New York City (Cotton Club), Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles, and Hollywood (Ciros). Some dancers like the Nicholas Brothers, Ruby Keeler, and Louis DaPron. African-American tap dancers depended on TOBA (Theatre Owners Booking Association) to book venues that entertain black audiences ‘chitlin circuit’ while the white had prestigious routes like Orpheum Circuit.

The developers of Shim Sham Shimmy (tap’s national anthem), William Bryant and Leonard Reed were nurtured by TOBA. Chinese nightclubs in New York City and San Francisco had ‘chop suey circuit’ that featured tap dancers like Paul wing and Dorothy Takahashi. In the later years, Bill Robinson became the first African American to be featured in vaudeville shows, opening doors for other artists to perform. However, these performances became more common later in the 1970s.

A new era for artists opened in the film industry. Well-known vaudeville dancers such as Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and others performed in Hollywood in the 1930s. These dancers created new content for the film. In the beginning, tap dance films were shot with little camera movement and straight on. It was only until Fred Astaire that the film was shot with the motion for he insisted that he should be followed by the camera from head to toe throughout the dance, and this set the pace for tap dance 30 years later. Shirley Temple (six years old) made twenty-four films between 1934 and 1940 taking the film industry by surprise. This lead to a high number of people enrolling into tap dance schools.

During World War II and the Great Depression (the 1930s-1950s), musical films were used to distract people from the occurring events. Studios also had tap dancers perform; Gene Nelson and Ruby Keeler performed in Warner Brothers; Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen performed in MGM; Dan Dailey, Nicholas Brothers, and Betty Grable were found in the Twentieth Century Fox; Jivin Jack and Jills, and Peggy Ryan performed in Universal Studios. African-American artists on the other hand were not featured in these films until later when they began appearing in soundies, and musical short subjects.

In 1950, tap dancing begun to lose its popularity. This was as a result of the introduction of Ballet by Agnes de Mille in the Broadway Show and also because there was a decline in club attendance since people began focusing on more important things like their careers and raising families. Television innovation and the upsurge of Las Vegas are what saved the extinction of tap dance.

Tap dancers participating in various shows were the most common programs in the early ages of television. Some of these shows included; Your show of shows, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Colgate Comedy show among others. Despite this being a good thing, it was also challenging for most tap dancers as they were used to minutes performing acts, and for live theatre, they only performed once or twice to the same audience, while TV had them performing for a whole nation. To transit to television performance, they had to create new choreography. This also increased their opportunities to dance in Las Vegas and Casino Showrooms.

Tap dance companies like; Jazz Tap Ensemble the founder being Lynn Dally was created in 1979; American Tap Dance Foundation founded by Brenda Bufalino, Honi Coles, and Tony Waag in 1986; were created to teach younger individuals how to tap dance.

Later in the 1980s tap dance begun regaining its glory after shows such as Black and Blue (1989) and 42nd Street (1980) – Broadway Shows, featured tap. Gregory Hines- musician, dancer, and actor- made tap more famous later in the 20th century by making tap dance with modern music bringing a different type of tap dance to the world. Savion Glover is also known for combining tap dance with rhythms of hip hop and funk.