We celebrate National Tap Dance Day on May 25 with a look at dancers who make ‘visible music’. Plus a very brief history of the art form.
Today is National Tap Dance Day. May 25 wasn’t simply chosen by tap dancers to celebrate this American art form – the date was officially declared such by the United States Congress in 1989. Today, it is an international event which is commemorated by tappers around the world, often with street performances. Last year, Rhythm Tappers Malaysia performed a flash mob at four locations in the Klang Valley.
The group of about 20 tappers performed a 10-minute routine, including the national anthem of tap, the Shim Sham (click here). The Star’s SwitchUp.TV also did a news segment at one of the locations (click here).
One of the dances during the flash mob was choreography by the legendary entertainer, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
It is his birthday, May 25, that was chosen as National Tap Dance Day. Although he may be most remembered as the stereotypical genial black servant in many Shirley Temple films, Robinson made an outstanding contribution to the art of tap dancing. He died in 1949, at the age of 71 and penniless, but he was certainly not forgotten by his fans – thousands paid their respects as his body lay in state in Harlem, New York, and thousands more lined the streets for his cortege.
Tap dance is the result of a collision in history. It resulted from the English clog dancing, Irish reels and African stomping dances that were thrown together when slavery and immigration took place in early 19th century America.
However, tap really developed during the early 20th century when dancers added thin metal plates to their leather-soled shoes. They danced to the pop music of the time – jazz.
But by the 1950s, jazz was overshadowed by rock ‘n’ roll. Many of the masters of the time – and they have generally been men – who had been in film and on stage found themselves without work and sadly had to take on odd jobs to make ends meet.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that tap saw a revival. The leaders of the renaissance happened to be a couple of women, Brenda Bufalino and Lynn Dally, who went to look for these old-timers and got them to teach. The classes were small and informal at first, but later grew and today, tap in the US is on the move again.
Tap is often considered a man’s dance, but as with most dance classes, there is a disproportionate number of female students. Women are increasingly making their own names in the tap dance world and showcasing highly honed skills with a feminine flair.
At its heart, tap is a street dance. Today’s tappers dance to whatever is playing on the radio, like the group tapping to the "Cups" song from the movie Pitch Perfect in the video at the top of the page. Even hip hop music – as incongruous as it may seem – is used in tap. Savion Glover, the man behind the computer-generated tapping Mumble of Happy Feet, is the most common figure associated with this new movement, and is said to have re-ignited interest in tap in the United States.
Out of his motion-capture suit, however, the 30-something is famous in his own right for his award-winning Broadway show Bring In da Noise, Bring In da Funk. He has tapped in commercials, at the 2002 Winter Olympics and was a regular on children’s educational show Sesame Street, which made him a household name outside the tap fraternity.
It goes without saying that sound is the essence of tap dance and a tapper is primarily a percussive musician. What tap does is it makes sound visible. A masterful tapper doesn't just produce clicks and clacks with his or her feet – listen, and you will hear pain, joy, playfulness and even sensuality.
Here's a look at some improvisation by tap students of various levels during a jam session held last night (May 24) at Havana Estudio in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, to celebrate National Tap Dance Day 2014.
For enquiries about tap dance classes in Kuala Lumpur, contact Bryan Foo at 016-341 7005.