Tap History 101
We embody the culturally rich heritage of tap by endorsing some key figures like Derick Grant and Aaron Tolson. This duo has and continues to work closely together on a variety of tremendous projects. Derick is a staple Só Dança ambassador that rose to prominence in 1996. Grant’s success as a tap dancer and choreographer has lead him to work all around the world with esteemed artists gracing the stage with his rhythm, swag, and style. Aaron Tolson, too, is an admired tap dancer. Tolson has been mastering his craft since 1986 and is currently the assistant choreographer, co-creator and assistant producer of Imagine Tap! Both Grant and Tolson have played an immense role in the creation of Imagine Tap!
We, as a company are thrilled to have these two incredible men a part of our family. We love the diversity of dance and are always working to perfect and support all the variety styles. From the connections we have made, to the colorful art and style of the dance, we are incredibly passionate about its roots and want to honor the legacy of this dance.
IN THE BEGINNING
Tap dancing has a rich and powerful history. It is believed that tap dancing originated in the mid to late nineteenth century with a variety of tap dance forms, including Buck dancing, which is similar to clog-dancing, soft-shoe dancing, popular in vaudeville, and buck and wing dancing which was performed in wooden soled shoes.
Cultural influences, particularly from African and Irish dance, were highly influential in the establishment of early tap. William Henry Lane, nicknamed Master Juba, is an African-American pioneer of the tap art form. He invented what became known as the “Juba Dance” which mixed European jig, reel, clog, and African dance and was popular around 1845.
William Henry Lane, also known as “Master Juba”
Bill Robinson, also known as “Bojangles”
The tap dance that most people are familiar with today emerged in the 1920s when metal taps were added to the soles of dancers’ shoes. Tap also became a vital part of the jazz musical culture, complimenting its improvisational tendencies. In the early 1900s, vaudeville acts often featured tap dancing routines and tap artists like Fred Astaire rose to the spotlight on Broadway. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was the first African-American tap dancer on Broadway and is known especially for his performances with Shirley Temple and his role in Stormy Weather.
- Bill Robinson was the first African-American tap dancer on Broadway
As the popularity of tap developed, it forced tap dancers to think of unique ways to become noticed. For example, Bojangles’ signature move was tapping up and down stairs. In addition, dance competitions occurring in the mid to late 1800s aided early tap dancers in learning new skills in more traditional settings. New theatrical styles developed including flash, novelty, eccentric, legomania, comedy, swing tap or classical tap, class, military, rhythm, close floor, and paddle and roll.
Tap dancing performances were famous in night clubs and on film. In the 1930’s Broadway stars such as Bojangles, Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, Shirley Temple, and Ginger Rogers, lit up Hollywood. Musical films that these dancers appeared gave Americans a distraction from the grim events occurring in the 1930s and 1940s.
It is interesting yet unfortunate to note that a general decline of tap dancing started in the 1940s and 1950s. Television and variety shows, such as those in Las Vegas featuring tap dancing acts have helped to keep tap dancing alive. Moreover, Broadway shows in the 1980s like 42ndStreet have also inspired the legacy of this culturally rich dance to continue on. Gregory Hines and Derick Grant are two current tap names that have modernized tap dancing to fit the music trends of this modern day.
Tap dancing is defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary as “a dance performed wearing shoes fitted with metal taps, characterized by rhythmical tapping of the toes and heels.” Nevertheless, the history of tap dancing shows us that it is an incredibly rich form of dance that mixes personalized and sometimes improvised rhythmic movements. In summation, its past shows that it is much more than a dance with metal tap shoes, it is a historical dance passed down from generation to generation.
Só Dança thrives on the evolution of dance. We innovate to keep dancers doing what they love.
WE KNOW DANCE
Written for Só Dança by Hannah Keene