Tap is a unique style of dance involving specific and rapid footwork. The dancer's foot and shoe essentially act as a drum, and each part of the shoe makes a particular beat and sound. "Riverdance" is perhaps the most famous tap dance. Gregory Hines, Fred Astaire, and Bojangles Robinson are some of the most famous tap dancers.
History of Tap Dancing
Like many things American, tap dancing evolved from a mixture of cultures and peoples, specifically African American slaves and Irish indentured servants. In the mid 1600s, in cotton fields and bunkhouses of the present day U.S. "deep south," West African drumming and dance traditions merged with Irish clog and step dancing to create a new and unique style of dance.
Tap dancing, as it would come to be called, began to be formally performed on stage in the mid 1800s. By the later part of the century, wooden shoes were the norm. The most famous tap dancer of the era was William Henry Lane, known as Master Juba. An African American performing alongside European Americans, Master Juba was an anomaly during this era of racial strife.
Tap dancing reached its peak of popularity in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. It was during these decades that exceptional dancers such as Fred Astaire and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson regularly performed in movies and in Vaudeville. But like blues and jazz, tap dancing began to lose popularity in the 1950s when rock 'n' roll hit Main Street.
Tap dancers are typically accompanied by jazz musicians. Sometimes, tap dancers perform solo, with only the rhythmic tapping of their shoes for music.
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.
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.
Like all forms of dancing, tap dancing is an expression of one's self. Tap dancing is often performed as a form of high-speed entertainment, specifically during dramatic performances such as on Broadway.
Different countries and regions have different tap "flare". For example, in Ireland, step dancing is a variant of tap dancing involving numerous hops, skips, and jumps. Irish step dancing is often accompanied by hornpipes. Another variant can be found in Mexican ballet folklórico. In this form of dance, tap dancing is performed when dancers click their shoes to the floor; shoes often have nails on the bottom to produce different sounds.
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.
When Can I See Tap Dancing at Chamizal National Memorial?
Chamizal National Memorial regularly hosts tap dancing performances and recitals for area high schools and organizations. El Paso's Tip Tap Toe Dance Studio presents youth tap dancing performances, typically during the month of April. Check the Calendar of Events to see when the next performance will occur.