The Tap dance

Tap dance is unusual, as it provides both a visual entertainment and also gives out a percussion sound. The performers wear shoes that have metal “tap” on both the toe and the heel of the shoe. As the dance has evolved, it has split between the rhythm tap and the Broadway tap.

The rhythm tap focuses on the percussion sound of the dance and they are considered to being part of the Jazz tradition. Many jazz groups would be accompanied by a tap dancer with the sounds of the feet making an important contribution to the quality of the music that was being played. Broadway tap was more focused on the quality of the choreography of the dance. Many of the dancers would be involved in large theatrical shows, and while the sound was important, it was the visual aspect of the performance that was most appreciated by the audience.

The emergence of the tap dance occurred in the mid-19th century in the minstrel shows that were being performed in the United States. These shows contained people dressed up as Afro-Caribbean’s and producing musical, comedy and dance acts. The tap dances were influenced by traditional dances that were being performed in Africa, Ireland and England.

The Irish step dance was particularly popular and has been re-energized since the 1994 song contest. During the interval of the Eurovision song contest, an Irish dance group performed “Riverdance” which completely overshadowed the main event.

“Buck and Bubbles” performing

Its success led to the producer of the show Bill Whelan, taking it into the theatre the following year. It has since visited 450 venues across the world and has been seen by over 25 million people. The dance is performed with very stiff upper bodies but the sound of the shoes accompanies the music.  As the minstrel shows declined at the end of the 19th century, tap dancing started to appear on the Vaudeville shows. These were entertainment performances made up of different acts that were being performed in the USA and Canada.

One of the earliest performers were “Buck and Bubbles” which consisted of John “Bubbles” Sublett dancing and Ford Buck Washington playing on the piano. This was during the period of the two-colored rule which forbade black artists from performing on their own. Washington is associated with popularizing rhythm tap with the lower heel movements.

During this time, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson first appeared with George W. Cooper, but after an altercation they both went their separate ways, with Robinson ignoring the two-colored rule to pursue a solo career.

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson

His style of dancing on his toes set a trend and he was copied by many others. He appeared in a number of films, including four with Shirley Temple. One of this most famous scenes was when he performed the stair case dance. This involved him tap dancing up and down the stairs both front ways and backwards.

As the tap dance evolved, more and more performers became associated with it. They would comprise of either specialist tap dancers or just very good dancers who could tap. Sammy Davis Jr had a great career in Hollywood in a variety of roles, but he started performing in the Will Mastin Trio. This was a dance group consisting of Davis, his father and his uncle. They tap danced and first started appearing in the Vaudeville shows. Later in life his performances in films would often include the moves that he had learned on these earlier occasions.

Fred Astaire was renowned ballroom dancer who could produce special performances because he had the ability to tap dance. One of the most famous tap dancing scenes in films occurred in the 1952 film “Singin in the Rain”, which saw Gene Kelly bring elements of ballet into his tap dance performance during the film’s title song. Tap dance now plays an important role as a major component in modern dance. All of the world’s top dancers will have had some experience in tap dancing.