Tap dancing is the fusion of British Isles clog & Step dancing with the rhythms of West African drumming.
In the mid 1600’s, Scottish and Irish laborers brought social dances to America. Slaves in the southern United States imitated the rapid toe and heel action of the Irish Jig and the Lancashire Clog, and combined them with West African step dances. As a result, African dance styles became more formal and diluted, while European elements became more fluid and rhythmic, eventually resulting in a uniquely American Tap hybrid.
The term “Tap” came into popular use as late as 1902. In late 19th century two techniques were popularized: a fast style in wooden-sole shoes (also called Buck-and-Wing) and Soft-Shoe, a smooth, leather-sole style.
These styles gradually coalesced, and by the 1920s metal plates, or taps, attached to shoe bottoms, had been added to leather-soled shoes.
Tap dance is a form of dance characterized by a tapping sound that is created from metal plates that are attached to both the ball and heel of the dancer’s shoe. These metal plates, when tapped against a hard surface, create a percussive sound and as such the dancers are considered to be musicians.
Tap dancers make frequent use of syncopation starting choreography on the first or the 8th beat count. Improvisation is another form of tap. With music following the beats provided or without musical accompaniment, otherwise known as a cappella dancing.
Hoofers are tap dancers who dance primarily with their legs, making a louder, more grounded sound. This kind of tap dancing, also called “rhythm tap”.
Steve Condos was the master in rhythmic tap. His innovative style influenced the work of famous hoofers Sammy Davis, Jr., Gregory Hines, & Savion Glover. Early tappers like Fred Astaire provided a more ballroom look to tap dancing, while Gene Kelly used his extensive ballet training to make tap dancing incorporate all the parts of the ballet.
This style of tap led to what is today known as “Broadway style,” which is more mainstream in American culture. It often involves high heeled tap shoes and show music, and is usually the type of tap first taught to beginners. The best examples of this style are found in Broadway musicals such as 42nd Street.
National Tap Day is May 25th.