Tap dance is a style of dance in which a dancer wearing shoes fitted with heel and toe taps sounds out audible beats by rhythmically striking the floor or any other hard surface. Tap dancing originated with African dancers in early America. When dancing, they would articulate rhythmic patterns through chugging, scooping, brushing and shuffling movements of the feet.
These dancers came to be called Levee Dancers throughout the south. White performers copied many of these intricate steps and eventually the Shuffle Dance style found fame within the minstrel shows.
Tapping vs Clogging
Clog dances were often performed in wooden soled shoes. In Irish clog dancing, no thought is given to upper body movements. Almost rigid the shoulders and arms are kept motionless. This trait is also evident in the early, Black “Buck and Wing” style. The early slave trade in America resulted in a rhythmic collision of cultures.
Slave-holders, already fearful of revolt, began to panic when it was discovered that African Americans could communicate with each other — over long distances and in code — through the use of drums. All over the South, slave-holders moved to severely restrict African Americans’ use of drums and other native instruments in religious ceremonies.
But, African Americans held on to their traditional rhythms — by transferring them to their feet. The skill of tapping out complex rhythmic passages was widely developed, and a subtle, intricate and vital physical code of expression was born. By the mid-nineteenth century, African Americans had combined their footwork with Irish and British clogging steps to create a style called “Buck and Wing,” which would eventually became Modern Tap Dance.
A Rhythmic Collision of Cultures
The early slave trade in America resulted in a rhythmic collision of cultures. Slave-holders, already fearful of revolt, began to panic when it was discovered that African Americans could communicate with each other — over long distances and in code — through the use of drums. All over the South, slave-holders moved to severely restrict African Americans’ use of drums and other native instruments in religious ceremonies.
Tap dancing costumes vary, but performers generally wear formal attire—men often wear three-piece suits. What really distinguishes tap dancing outfits are the special tap shoes. Some dancers prefer regular flat shoes whereas others prefer shoes with heels. Whatever the shoe looks like, it’s usually made out of a combination of leather, wood, canvas, and plastic. The most common colors of tap shoes are white, black, and beige. Tap shoes often have adjustable screws on the sole so that different sounds can be made.
Multicultural Dance Style
Sometimes in tap dancing, the only instruments used are the dancer’s own two feet! But when tap dancing is accompanied by a jazz orchestra, common instruments include the piano, guitar, bass, trumpet, saxophone, trombone, drums, and vibes. In recent years, tap dancing has experienced a revival in the United States. In the computer-animated 2006 film Happy Feet, a penguin named Mumble is an exceptional tap dancer whose dancing sets him apart from the crowd. Modern flamenco dancers often perfect foot and heel beats. And a relatively recent Broadway play entitled Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk interpreted African and African American history through tap. Today, tap dancing is viewed as a multicultural dance style that expresses any number of legacies.