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History of Tap Dance

Sourabh Gupta
Tap dance is an American theatrical dance, that is often called 'Second American Pastime'. No one knows when and how it was created, and who created it, but if you want to know more about it, read on...
"I would imagine that if you could understand Morse code, a tap dancer would drive you crazy." - Mitch Hedberg
The statement stands absolutely true, because this is a form of dance where hearing the dance is as important as watching it. Tap dancers create rhythms or a pattern of beats, using shoes that have metal taps under the toe and heel.
In simple words, tap dance is a form of dance in which a tapping sound is produced when metal plates under the shoe hit against the hard surface. Tap dancers are considered to be percussionists because they make sound while doing the dance.
The styles of tap dancing are:
  • 'Hoofing', emphasizing on complex footwork.
  • 'Class acts', emphasizing whole body movement.
  • 'Flash acts', a combined form of tap and acrobatics.
The dance has its roots from the time when slavery was introduced in America. Slaves brought for plantation work were forbidden to use drums, therefore, they developed to beat out rhythms out of their feet and hands. The dancers were called 'levee dancers'.
Plantation masters developed a liking for it and introduced clogs, jigs, and reels from their Irish and English backgrounds. 'Clog' is a dance where almost whole of the upper body is kept motionless, leaving only the part below hips for movement (dancing).
Tap continued to develop in theater in the 1800s, in the form of minstrel shows, where Master Juba was the most famous dancer. In the 1830s, in New York city, different immigrant groups would gather and show off their skills. Tap was a regular form of dance then. The result was a style called 'buck and wing', which became the modern tap dance. Irish tap dancer John 'Jack' Diamond (1828 - 1850) was considered to be the greatest 'Jig dancer' of all time.
During the 1930s and 1940s, tap dancing was at its peak. Many African-American performers were the best in the world. Tap dancing was introduced into movies, and it became quite famous. During 1930s to 1950s, Ann Miller was one of America's top female dancers.
She claimed her fame because of her unbelievable speed. She was listed in Ripley's Believe It or Not as the world's fastest tap dancer, when a speedometer attached to her feet recorded 598 taps per minute in 1942. She even danced in few movies like Kiss Me Kate (1953).
After the 1940s, the dance somehow lost its charm. People were losing interest, until, several tap companies (mostly by women), were formed at college level, to draw young audience. Broadway musicals like 42nd Street found huge success. But, it was the 1989 film Tap that helped this style get back. The film was a huge success, and there was no turning back since then.
The best known contemporary tap dancer is Savion Glover, who has choreographed Broadway shows like Bring in da Noise and Bring in da Funk, for which he won a Tony award in 1996. He made his Broadway debut at a young age of 12. The recent animated movie Happy Feet, which was a hit, highlighted tap dancing.
America is still the breeding ground for tap dance innovations. Many young students are taking classes, and many are eager to learn. Though, it is less popular in other parts of the world, it has surely become an international dance form.