When And Where Did Tap Dance First Develop?

A group of performers tap-dancing.
A group of performers tap-dancing.

In the 19th Century, tap dance developed from traditional dances from Africa, the British Isles, and elsewhere. Originating in the US, tap dance is a reflection of different ethnic collisions. The dance has evolved over time from informal slave performances to the world stage and is even formally taught in a modern day dancing schools.

5. Overview and Characteristics -

Tap Dance is characterized by a rhythmical clicking of the small metal plates attached to a dancer’s shoes against the floor. The metal plates are connected to the heel and the toe of the shoe to make audible beats as the dancer taps their feet. Tap dancers often use syncopation and improvisation, and the dance can either be done with music or without music accompaniment. One of the earliest forms of tap dancing is rhythm tap, where dancers mainly concentrate on foot without much body movement. Show tap evolved from rhythm tap and involves arm movement. The soft shoe form of tap dance is performed with soft-soled shoes in place of shoes with metal taps.

4. Origins -

The slave trade is credited with the development of the tap dance. African slaves, once shipped to the US, were not allowed to practice their culture. Slaveholders were especially skeptical that such traditions as the use of drums would enable the slaves to communicate with each other and instigate revolts. In a bid to preserve their musical culture, African slaves began using their feet to dance to traditional rhythms. Starting the 19th century, Africans-American borrowed from Irish and British clog dances, Scottish step dances and their native dances to develop the Buck and Wing dance. The dance laid the foundation for the development of the modern tap dance

3. Spread and Development -

By the mid-19th century, vaudeville shows were growing in popularity, where mostly Irish dancers would wear blackface and imitate slave’s doing tap dance as a show of comedy. As the vaudeville shows developed, black dancers doing the tap dance began to be featured. Tap dance subsequently spread across the US, from vaudeville shows to nightclubs and finally to musicals. Tap dancers became many as a result of the dancer’s popularity, and the dancers had to develop unique variations to be recognized. Innovations such as the use of acrobatics, special props such as stairs and comedy gained ground and facilitated the evolution of the dance. The swing tap and rhythm tap were developed during this period. The tap dance was further popularized through film and television and enrollment to tap dance schools soared across the nation. From the 1950s however, tap dance declined in popularity until its re-emergence in the late 20th century. From the US, the dance has spread and been integrated with other dances around the world.

2. Notable Practitioners -

One of the most renowned tap practitioners is Bill Robinson, who was one of the first African Americans to travel the country as a tap dance solo act. Early tappers credited with the popularity of tap dance include Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, George White, Covan brothers, John Bubbles and Clayton Bates. Tap dance film stars such as Hermes Pan, Nick Castle, Ruby Keeler, Betty Grable and Donald O’Connor are also notable for their contributions to the dance.

1. Greater Significance and Legacy -

Tap dance is an outstanding example of integration of different ethnic influences. Tap dance is a cultural element in the US and has helped promote a sense of community over decades. Tap Dance also represents various musical elements such as ballet, jazz dance, step dances, and modern dance.


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