Figure 1.--While not popular with most boys, some are very enthusiatic about tap. This is probably because the noise appealed to them and the fact it was generally considered a male dance form. The lack of elaborate costuming could have been another factor.
Tap dancing and western square dancing are the two indigenous American dance forms. Interesting both arose from the lower and working classes in America. The more cultivared upper classes meerly followed European dances. Thus no destinctive American dancesved oit of the cultivated sallons of the northeastern establishment. Tap dancing evolved from black slaves Juba dancing, strongly incflued by step dancing, especially the step dancing of Irish immigrants. The current evolution of tap dancing consists of a performance in syncopated rhythms and executed with lud audible foot work--including tapping with both the toes and heels in specially designed shoes. Vaudevill dancers tended to keep the upper body relax and emphasize the rhyymic suncopation in the feet. Mothers in the early 20th century became increasingly concerned that their children be exposed to the fine arts, including music and dance. Many Americans benefitted by the country's expanding industrial economy. Mothers who had humble beginnings wre determined that their sons learn the social graces, Few boys, especially white boys, however, studied tap dancing which was considered rather vulgar. This did not change until the 1930s when Shirley Temple danced with Bill Robinson. It was further popularized in the 1930s and 40s by film stars and epic Hollywood musical productions. Tap dancing became one of the more acceptable dance styles for boys. Despite the fact that Shirley Temple tapped, tap dancing was generally considered a man's routien which was furher conformed by the great male dance and film stars of the 1930s. Another factor was that the noise appealed to them. Tap dancing was also popular with boys because elaborate, fancy costumes were not required.
Tap dancing is an indigenous American step dancing form. Even so it was greatly influenced by immmigrantgs who brough theirtraditions with them, both from Europe and America. Tap dancing is related to the step dancing of Ireland and Scotland and English clog dancers, but developed out of a dance form that was created by black slaves in the southern United States. The current evolution of tap dancing consists of a performance in syncopated rhythms and executed with loud audible foot work--including tapping with both the toes and heels in specially designed shoes. While initially considered a slave dance it eventually was accepted by main stream America. It was popularized in the 1920s by film stars and became one of the more acceptable dance styles for boys. Tap dancing is an indigenous American step dancing form. It is related to the step dancing of Ireland and Scotland, but also the dance tradition of balck slaves in the American South. The fusion of these two traditions as well as other immigrant groups gave rise to modern American tap dancing.
Modern American tap in many ways developed out of a dance form that was created by black slaves in the southern United States. It was in fact an outgrowth of the harsh measures adopted throughout the South after the Stono slave rebellion in 1739. Black slaves were prohibited from "... beating drums, blowing horns or the like." The measure was taking to restrict means of communication. Slaves for celebrations substituted instead hand claps and footbeats. Eventually the footbeats evolved into a form of entertainment. This "Juba" dancing was the inspiration for modern tap. Black dancers by the late 1830s were performing step dances on stage. One of the most renowned was William Henry Lane ("Juba"). These black performers in the early 19th century were coming ingo cotact with European immigrants and their traditions--especially the Irish.
Irish immigrants began coming to America in increasing numbers in the 1830s and the Potato Famine of the 1840s increased immigration numbers to record levels. About the same time black performers began dancing on American stages, Irish, Scottish, and Lancashire step dances performing on hard wooden clogs were also becoming popular. These two forms of step dancing evolved into modern tap dancing and clog dancing. By the end of the 19th century, clog dancing had declined in popularity, but continues today as a folk dance.
Clog dancing devloped as a popular form folk dance in England. It was clearly related to the step dancing which developed in Ireland and Scotland. The tradition of clog dancing developed as early as the 18th centuy in Apalachia is clearly related to British clog dancing. We are less sure as to the extent to which English, Irish, or Scottish influences were important. Clog dancing eventually became a standard in English musical theater. It was normally performed to Celtic music like jigs and reels. English performers by the 1840s were performing in America. Clog dancing continued to be performed on the English stage until after World war (1914-18). At that time it was qyuckly replace by American tap dancing set to jazz music. One of the first groups to adopt the new style was the
five Sherry brothers who had grown up with clog dancing, but shifted to tap after the War. Cloging did not disappear inEngland. We note clog dancing being taight at English scools in the 1950s.
It was in the boisterous American cities that true tapdancing first emerged. America's growing cities were a fusion of cultures, constantly being enriched by new waves of immigrants. It was in the 1840s that clog dancers from the English musical theater, black Juba dancer performing in minstrals, and Irish stepdancers (fleeing the Potato Famine) colided in America's cities. The outcome of that collision proved to be tap dancing, the first truly American dance form. Some daance experts stress the noises and rhythms of city as an important element in the development of tap. The earliest references to tap dancing as a destintive type of dance involves "challenges" and "stealing steps." Noted tap dancer and historain Jane Goldberg explains that modern tap danmcing evolved from the "lower classes, developed in competitive 'battles' on street corners by Irish immigrants and African American slaves." [ITA Newsletter] It was in New York and other American cities that dancers of difrent traditions came in contact with dancers of other tradition. The resulting was a mixing of their rich, varied dance styles. A sharing occurrd in the process of competing and borrowing from each other. Famed Irish step dancer Jack Diamond challenged Lane to a series of famed challenges in Boston and New York. To this day there is no agreement has to who was the victor. Many black dancers like Fayad Nichols argues that tap dancing is an essentially black art form, strssing the toe and heel rythm and cynopathion. Others like Leonard Reed emphasize the European immigrant influence. Others like Gregoty Hines emphasize the blend that has created modern tap.
While initially considered a slave dance it eventually was accepted by main-stream America. A noted producer in 1902 introduced a blackface reviewm Minstrel Misses. They wore clogs with split wooden soles and their routein was called "tap and step dancing"--the first use of the term. Tap dances increased in popularity throughout the early 20th century. Soon tap dancing was a regular feature of Vaudeville. Dancers in 1912 began putting metal cleats on their beels and toes. Routiens began to resemble modern tap dancing.
Tap dancing before World War I (1914-18) was associated with Black Americans and jazz music. For this reason, it was unacceptable to many White Americans who did not consider it real culture. Americans were, however, changing. Night clubs like the Cotton Club in Harlem attracted the interest of many white performers. Here the irst great modern tap dancers performed. The Cotton Club and similar night clubs made tap the most fashionable dance in America. All the great black performers appeared there. Fred Astaire and other aspiring dancers went there to learn these stps. Soon performers like Fred Astaire were introducing tap to White audiences. One of the most renowned Black dancers, the phenomenal Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (1878-1949), gave classic performances of course with Shirley Temple who was the greatest bbox office sensation in movie dance history. White Americans watched them dance together and suddently children all over America were learning to tap dance. With Shirley tapping her little heart out, the Black image of tap dancing instantly disappeared. Tap dancing was further main streamed by a series of white dancers--all male, Fred Astaire, Ray Bolger, Gene Kellym and Paul Draper. Despite all these wonderful dancers, one compared to the extrodinary Nicholas Brothers. No screen dancers matched their amaxing aleticism and almost inconceivable elasiticticty. Because the were black, however, their movie roles were limited to dance routiens.
After World War II (1939-45), tap dancing declined sharply in populaity. The principal factor was television acording to dancer luke Fayad Nichols and Leonard Reed. Fewer people went out to musical theaters and night clubs with televisiin entertaiment available at home. With fewer places to work, tap dancer had trouble making a living. Nicholas Hines believe that televison at up material. Dancers had only so many routiens an once they were done on teleision, there was nothing new. Tap dancing became seen as old fashioned. When tap dancing was used, according to Gregory Hines, it was normally presentd as a retrospective. Tap and other dancing also became increasingly unpopular with boys. Here I am not entirely sure why. Tis only began to change in the mid-1980s. Dancers like Hines developed a more modern look. He put aside suits and tuxedos and created a more comtemporary style. Hines and other dancers helped to make tap hip. In turn more and more buys have begun to take up dance. One factor her is the relationship with hip hop.
The current evolution of tap dancing consists of a performance in syncopated rhythms and executed with lud audible foot work--including tapping with both the toes and heels in specially designed shoes. Vaudevill dancers tended to keep the upper body relax and emphasize the rhyymic suncopation in the feet.
Mothers in the early 20th century became increasingly concerned that their children be exposed to the fine arts, including music and dance. Many Americans benefitted by the country's expanding industrial economy. Mothers who had humble beginnings wre determined thatvtheir sons learn the social graces, Few boys, especially white boys, however, studied tap dancing which was considered rather vulgar. This did not change until the 1930s when Shirley Temple danced with Bill Robinson. It was further popularized in the 1930s and 40s by film stars, especually Fred Estaire, and epic Hollywood musical productions.
Tap dancing became one of the more acceptable dance styles for boys. Despite the fact that Shirley Temple tapped, tap dancing was generally considered a man's routien which was furher conformed by the great male dance and film stars of the 1930s. Another factor was that the noise appealed to them. Tap dancing was also popular with boys because elaborate, fancy costumes were not required.
Figure 2.--These boys are dresses as clowns. Notice that these boys wears similar costumes, except for the color of their sleeves and tights. HBC had thought they were in a balet, but an astute HBC contributor points out that the boys wear tap shoes and not balet dance shoes. He also believes that the dancers are probably girls with their hair tied back. He reports that he has done quite a bit of dancing and honestly can't imagine getting that many boys to wear what are considered girls' tap shoes. HBC simply does not know the identity of the dancers here, but they certainly look like boys.
The only special clothing item needed for tap fancing was a dance shoe with metal cleats. The early buck dancers used shoes with wooden soles and heels. There were also 'split clog' tap shoes. These shoes were used as early as 1920. Capezio has a patent on them. They were used by Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson, Eleanor Powell and Ann Miller. Split clogs are hardwood beechwood soles in three sections with beveled edges and honeycomb hollow wood heels. When split clogs are used there are no aftertones but a solid tone, thereby enhancing one's tapping technique." These are still available and can be heard on the cassette of "My One and Only" danced by Tommy Tune.) Metal taps were employed later and aluminum became the standard. There were also jingle taps used earlier which were metal taps with a washer loose under the tap for more sounds. There are both boy and girl style dancing shoes. The girls' style are made like a Mary Jane strap shoe. Boys' styles more like an oxford. In both cases they are usually black.
Men and boys usually danced in suits. Some performances, however involved costuming. Just costuming could vary widely. One performance pictured here shows boys peforming a tap dance in clown costumes.
HBC is unsure about the identity of the clown dancers pictured here (figure 2). They certainly appear to be boys. Notice that they wear similar costumes, except for the color of their sleeves and tights. HBC had thought they were in a ballet, but an astute HBC contributor points out that the boys wear tap shoes and not ballet dance shoes. He also believes that the dancers are probably girls with their hair tied back. He reports that he has done quite a bit of dancing and honestly can't imagine getting that many boys to wear what are considered girls' tap shoes. HBC simply does not know the identity of the dancers here, but they certainly look like boys. A teacher tells us, "Regarding the picture of the five tap dancing clowns, being an elementary teacher and having a son who taps, I am
almost certain that the student in the center is a BOY-- notice the shoe style is more "oxford" looking and the pants are more like "leggings" rather than tights AND they are a dark color--BUT I feel certain that the OTHER FOUR are girls--bright tights, more non-clown make-up and, most importantly they are the same age as the center clown, but significantly taller!!!" Here HBC simply does not know. Most of the dancers certainly look like boys, but our readers well may be correct. A HBC reader observes, "The child on the left with dark blue tights seems to be wearing oxford style tap shoes rather than the strap style that the other children are wearing." This rather suggests that this child is a boy.
There are numerous movies in which tap dancers have appeared. In contrasrt to ballet, we know of few films that are about tap dancing, only films in which there are tap dancing roureins. In addition, most of these films present the talents of adult tap dancers. The films of Fred Astraire and Ginger Rogers diring the 1930s are some of the best examples. The ome child that was primarily showcased performiong tap dancing routeins was of course Shirly Temple. We recall many films with Shiley Temple tap dancing and several film come to mind. There are virtually no films with boys tap dancing that come to mind at the moment. HBC knows of almost no films dealing with boys tap dancing. The only boys wgich come to mind are the Nicholas brothers. They did some black films while still children, but by the time they reached mainstream Hollywood films they were adults. The number of boys who did tap dancing, especially in America during the 1920s-40s, were larger than other dance forms. Thus one would think there must be some films with boys doing tap dance numbers. The one film we can think of is the ground braeking film Pennies from Heaven.
A HBC reader reports, "In terms of my own experience, I haven't really taken formal lessons, but I've borrowed my cousin's tap shoes and done some tapping based on what she's shown me. Even though she's a girl, she wears oxford tap shoes, which I've heard many girls do even though oxfords are meant for boys. I wasn't really inspired by anyone to do it. I just like it."
Adam Garcia describes how he landed the lead role in the film Bootmen (1999?):
"So I've been tap dancing and dancing since I was about eight. I just did it for the money, really, and then I got bored of dancing a little bit and thought, 'I'll do the musical thing,' and I did a few plays." Interviewer Annlee Ellingson tells it a little differently, "What really happened is this: Garcia, with remarkably no sort of egging on from his mum, started taking ballet lessons at the age of 8 and turned to tap at 11. After graduating from high school, he attended university, resigned to retiring his tap shoes and majoring in biology. Adam then explains, "For some reason, in Newcastle in Australia, there was this tap school [that produced] mainly boys -- really good boy tap dancers. And of course, once you hit 15 or 16, you win all the championships or whatever, and you finish school, and you either go and get a normal trade job or that's it. There's no future in tap dance. [The boys] did dance in terms of going to ballet school or taking violin when
you're a kid. And, of course, you think, 'Well, I'm not going to be a violinist.
That's unreasonable to think that, so I'll go and do my normal job that everyone
else does.' And then Dein basically invited them back and said, 'I've got a tap
dancing show. You're going to earn about 20 bucks a week.' Um...oh...all right. And that was the thing." [Annlee Ellingson, "Dancer Down Under," Box Office Cover Story, undated probably 1999.
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