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Neil Cathro

Julie Bubalo

DAN 125: Tap Fundamentals

12 May 2017

A Brief Timeline of Tap in America

1650-1900: Tap dancing has its roots in the blending of clog dancing from the British Isles and
step dancing from West African colonies, both of which were brought to the US through
immigration and slavery. Scottish and Irish immigrants brought their folk dances to America. In
the South of the United States, slaves put their own spin on the Irish jig by pairing it with step
dance from West Africa known as Juba. This is what would eventually become what we know as
American Tap Dance. Tap wasnt brought to the stage until the 1800s when minstrel shows
became popular. Minstrel shows were variety shows put on by white people in black face. They
would perform their versions of the African American dance, imitating the slaves, and compete
with other groups to see who could do the most authentic dance.

1900-1920: It was in 1902 that the term tap began being used to describe the style of dance.
Up until then it had been known as buck-and-wing, buck dancing, or flat-footed dancing.
But despite the name being the same as the present style of dancing, there were still major
differences. For example, metal taps were not used to make the sounds until 1910. Instead, the
shoes had leather uppers, wooden soles, or even pennies stuck to the toe and heel. With the
theatrical art form of Vaudeville increasing in popularity, opportunities for tap dancers increased.
Unfortunately, racism was still prevalent in the style.

1920-1935: During this time, tap dance was the most popular style used on stage. The most
prominent tap dancer of the time was Bill Robinson. He was known for his clean sounds and
graceful dancing and it was his phrasing that created what we know to be the structure of modern
tap. Robinson toured as a solo act, which was then out of the ordinary as he was African
American. But while Robinson tapped mostly on his toes, John W. Bubbles was the one who
brought heel sounds to the table. He made tap more syncopated and added more options for
rhythm. This came along with the spread of jazz music. Tap was evolving as film was gaining
ground and vaudeville was losing its footing. With prohibition laws, speakeasy clubs started
popping up and gave African American performers work to perform for white audiences. As the
speakeasy clubs grew more popular, rivalries between the clubs began to form and tap became
more athletic and flashy because everyone wanted to have the most exciting act.

1935-1970: Some of the worlds best tap dancing was seen on screens across the country
performed by classic movie stars such as Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers. The American public
was desperate for bright and cheery entertainment because of the war that was going on at the
same time. Films had big sets and production value and so the tap style, which became known as
Broadway tap, was much more extravagant and acrobatic. Gene Kelly took moves from modern
dance and ballet and combined them with his own tap phrases. The most famous tap dancer in
America is Fred Astaire. But the popularity of tap dancing died down in the 60s and 70s.

1970-1983: Tap had a resurgence in the late 70s and the 80s thanks to Broadway musicals such
as 42nd Street. President George Bush signed into law in 1989 that National Tap Dance Day
would be May 25th, the birthday of Bill Robinson. It also started being performed in dance halls
and people began to consider it an art form, not just entertainment.

1985-Present: Tap has finally found its place in the world and is taught at dance institutions all
around the world and is recognized as a prominent style of dancing. Its prominence is largely due
to Broadway and youd be hard pressed to find a musical that doesnt involve tap, at least in
some way. It is continuously evolving and reincarnating itself in new and exciting ways, as it will
inevitably continue to do for many years to come.