Introduction to American Tap (04:03)
Choreographers, performance artists, and theologians discuss dance as an art form. Tap is undergoing a revival in New York City and expanding into other dance genres. Meet dancers like MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Michelle Dorrance and Joseph Wiggan.
Tap Origins (02:56)
Hear an overview of historical and cultural influences on the early twentieth century art form. Violent struggle for cultural supremacy also inspired U.S. entertainment traditions.
The African Drum Circle (02:39)
Traditional African drumming occurred in a circle, inspiring the democratic call and response phenomenon. After the 1739 insurrection in South Carolina, legislation banned drums in slave communities. Circles evolved to include physical and vocal substitutions.
Ring Shout (02:23)
Baptist preachers converted slaves to Christianity in the 18th century. Christian spirituality blended with African dance traditions, inspiring spirituals, gospel, blues, jazz, rock and roll, and tap dance.
Congo Square (03:43)
Early 19th century New Orleans was Catholic, permitted drumming, and allowed slave communities to rest on Sundays. They gathered in public to sing and dance, drawing tourists. Cultural hybridization led to jazz and tap.
In 1832, white actor Thomas Rice popularized "Jump Jim Crow," a song and dance he learned from an elderly African slave. Minstrelsy became the dominant entertainment of the century. Blackface makeup perpetuated racial stereotypes but Irish dancers preserved African-American dance forms.
The Five Points (05:22)
Nineteenth century newspaper ads for domestic workers discouraged Irish people from applying. New York City's first slum was home to immigrants and freed slaves struggling to survive. These groups were work and leisure companions, exchanging music and dance forms.
Master Juba (03:32)
Five Points resident William Henry Lane developed tap by combining heel moves, improvisation, and syncopation with traditional Irish steps. Hear Charles Dickens' description of his innovative style. He beat rivalry dancer John Diamond in competitions and performed with white minstrels in London.
Greenwich Village dancer Aida Overton Walker joined the Williams and Walker Company, performing a dance form satirizing plantation owner mannerisms. She championed African-American empowerment, presenting herself as deserving equal social status to whites.
Harlem Renaissance and Jazz Age (04:32)
During the 1920s, African-American musicians flocked to New York City, further developing jazz and tap. "Shuffle Along" pioneered African-American Broadway musicals and launched Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's career. He broke color barriers by appearing in interracial shows and co-starring with Shirley Temple.
Rhythm Tap and Broadway Tap (05:37)
George M. Cohan and Jimmy Cagney represented Broadway tap's Irish roots; it went mainstream during the 1930s and 1940s. Rhythm tap evolved to jazz music. John Bubbles performed with the Buck and Bubbles duo; learn about his stylistic and educational contributions.
The Cabaret Tax and End of an Era (01:55)
In 1943, Tennessee congressman Jere Cooper proposed increasing taxes on nightclubs to help fund the war—putting tap dancers out of work. Television and rock 'n' roll began replacing big bands.
During the 1940s and 1950s, rapid social changes replaced swing with a jazz style featuring long improvisational phrases. Tap dancers were at a loss without "three and a break" phrasing. Jazz became a musical genre for listening, rather than dancing.
Baby Laurence (05:36)
Learn about the dancer who adapted his style to Bebop and created the concept of a tap dance musician. Dancers now share percussion roles with jazz drummers. New York dancer and choreographer Michela Marino Lerman studied with Copasetics member Buster Brown.
The Copasetics (02:53)
Inspired by Robinson, Honi Coles, Phace Roberts, Bubba Gaines, Cookie Cook, and Buster Brown formed a group in 1949 and kept tap alive until its revival in the 1960s. They also taught the dance form to younger generations.
Tap Jams (04:35)
Mentored by Bubbles, Chuck Green led informal sessions for improving skills at the Harlem Jazz Museum in 1969. Lerman continues the tradition at a Greenwich Village club. Musicians see dancers as fellow musicians; dancers contribute to the group ensemble.
I Am the Music (05:38)
Actor, dancer and choreographer Gregory Hines transitioned tap from jazz to funk and helped popularize tap during its revival. He pioneered dancing "a capella;" his brother Maurice Hines recalls their performance partnership. Students describe his style and commitment to mentorship.
Ladies of Tap (04:01)
Female dancers emerged in the 1980s. Hollywood musicals captured white dancers like Betty Grable, Ginger Rogers, and Eleanor Powell. Ayodele Casel trained with Savion Glover and was inspired by earlier African-American women like Louise Madison, Florence Hill, and Cora LaRedd.
Concert Dance Tap (02:13)
After Hollywood stopped producing musicals, female tap dancers went silent for a generation. In the 1980s, Brenda Bufalino found a new outlet. North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms cut NEA funding in 1989; Glover's musical kept tap alive.
The Revival...Again (03:36)
In 1996, Glover premiered his hit musical "Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk" that expressed African-American history through tap. He made the dance form relevant, introduced hip hop elements, and inspired young people.
Tap Now! (04:13)
"Bring in da Noise" launched several careers, including those of technical innovator Jason Samuel Smith, choreographer Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, and Derick Grant. Dorrance's choreography combines tap with modern dance, making musical aspects visual.
An Evolving Art Form (04:19)
Many associate tap with classic Hollywood musicals. Contemporary dancers are finding ways to build on its legacy while making it relevant. Dancers discuss the influence of "Stomp" and the spiritual connection to music.
Tap's Legacy (02:34)
Tap and jazz are living art forms reflecting American history and democracy.
Credits: American Tap (02:33)
Credits: American Tap
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