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Home > Dance History

The Roots of Tap

For those who don't already know, tap dancing is a dance step tapped out audibly with the feet. Rhythm is sounded out by the clicking taps on the heels and toes of a dancer’s shoes. Tap dancing is like no other, it's making music with your feet! This is why it stands out as unique to all dance styles. Tap dancing has evolved into quite an art form today.

Early forms of tap include an Irish Solo Step dance, an English clog dance and an African dance movement, which all sort of morphed into folk styles by the early 1900s. Folk styles included Buck-and-wing dancing (a flat footed dance style emphasizing sharp taps) and United States clogging (heavy stamping steps), both done in leather shoes. Metal plates were not added to tap shoes until the 1920’s

One of the most famous American tap dancers early on, was Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who was in various dance troupes and vaudeville teams in the early 1900’s. He went on within the next 25 years to become a Broadway star. Bojangles was known as a hoofer; a professional stepper from Harlem's creative period. He was in four films with child actress and tap dancer Shirley Temple.

Bojangles Shirley Temple tap dancers
Shirley Temple and Bojangles

Tap became more popular in the thirties and forties in the television musicals being aired. One of the most well known tap dancers Fred Astaire, performed famous tap solos in films such as 'Swing Time' (which has a tribute number called Bojangles of Harlem) and 'Top Hat'. Astaire also originally performed as a hoofer in a vaudeville team with his sister in his early years. He paired up with Ginger Rogers during the forties, and they became one of the most well known tap duos of all time.

Fred Astaire
Fred Astaire

Gene Kelly added ballet and modern dance moves to tap in the fifties. Gene also grew up in vaudeville and choreographed films before becoming a star of such films as 'An American in Paris' and 'Singin’ in the Rain'.

In the late seventies and early eighties tap dance became popular again with Tony Award-winning tap dancers such as Gregory Hines, who starred on Broadway as well as in many films, including Francis Ford Coppola’s 'The Cotton Club', which was a film about a Harlem Hoofers Club.

Gregory Hines Tap Dancer
Gregory Hines

In the thirties and forties, when tap dancers were common on Broadway, as well as in nightclubs and on vaudeville stages, even the greatest tap acts were rarely allowed for more than eight consecutive minutes. These days, performers such as 'Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk’s' Savion Glover, taps through two-hour shows. Glover’s tap is more hoofing and rhythm tap (i.e. step dancing, where the steps are more important than the postures.)

Tap dancing has come a long way and still continues to be a popular form of art. We see it's evolving through time and have come to value this as an elite art form of dancing. All the tap greats made tap dancing what it is today, these pioneers kept this art evolving and today we see quite a beautiful product of their creativity.





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