jazz music tap dance is about the only international coproduction in culture on
our planet. Almost every nation had a hand in the development of this dance
Irish folk dances, the so-called ‚Jigs and Reels‘, which most recently were
presented in such brilliant shows as ”Riverdance”, ”Lord of the Dance”
and ”Feet of Flames”, are for example astonishingly similar to tap dance.
The dancers wear shoes with metal or wooden taps that produce audible sounds.
Strictly speaking the Irish folk dances are one of the ‚Grandfathers‘ of
today’s modern tap dance or ,Stepdance’ as it is called in Great Britain.
European ancestor of tap dance is the clog dance from the Netherlands, in which
the sounds are produced with wooden shoes called ‚clogs‘. The Spaniards
while dancing the flamenco are also ‚making music’ with their feet. In the
case of flamenco the characteristic sound is produced with shoes that have
dozens of little nails in their soles. Even the German ‚Schuhplattler‘ from
Bavaria can be seen as a distant relative of tap. In all European dance forms,
however, one vital element of tap dance is missing: the ‚Swing‘.
you examine carefully what exactly ‚Swing‘ is and where its roots are, the
answer can be found in the dances and rites of the African continent. They
contain an essential element totally missing in all European dance forms and in
the music: playing with rhythm and moving the stress of a bar to an usually
unstressed position. Through this special kind of syncopation and the blending
of European and African cultures a totally new dance form could develop.
did ‚Swing‘ enter the dance?
different cultures and dances of all parts of the world met during the time of
immigration to America, in particular the USA. For the Europeans, however, dance
and music was just one of many traditions they could take to the ‚New
World‘. But the Africans had no choice. They were brought to the new continent
and forced into slavery. Their entire cultural heritage was stolen from them.
They were not allowed to take anything with them except their bodies so that
dance and music were the only connection to their native country. Dance, being
the most immediate expression of emotions, became part of their cultural
course the Africans saw the strange European dances and blended the steps and
movements with their own styles. The most important African influence, as
mentioned above, was of rhythmical nature. They ‚invented‘ the ‚Swing‘
both in music and dance and with it tap dance and swinging, syncopated jazz
music were born. Only the name ,Tap’ did not yet exist at that time.
did the name ‚Tap Dance‘ appear?
new dance of the Africans was at first considered to be just a special form of
Irish-Dance. Later it was called ‚Buck and Wing‘. This name originates from a certain
step that was called ‚wing‘. The step and the entire dance form it belonged
to was called ‚Buck and Wing‘. because it is characterized by the movement
of the arms being similar to a bird beating its wings. This step was modified
and is today called ‚Three Tap Wing‘. The word ,Buck’ at that time was a
slang-word for a male black person.
The golden age of ‚Buck and Wing‘ was around 1880 - 1920. Today this period
can be seen as the ‚Stone-Age‘ of tap.
name ‚Tap Dance‘ only appeared in the late twenties when around 1928 tap
dancing for the first time was also featured in films.
to the fifties it developed into dance form no. 1 and was presented in countless
movies, shows and musicals in a most surprising range of different styles.
were the stars of ‚Tap Dance‘?
became famous through the movie industry,
e. g. Fred Astaire whose elegance and ease is still unrivaled today.
Later on dancers such as Gene Kelly, Donald O‘Connor and Gene Nelson
presented different athletic styles in big Hollywood productions. Women
like Eleanor Powell and Ann Miller, whose specialty were the
miraculously fast sounds, became the first female tap stars in the
the Afro-Americans, however, Hollywood was out of reach. Due to strong race
restrictions at that time, only a few of them could make it to the movies. The
most prominent was Bill ‚Bojangles‘ Robinson. With his incredibly fast feet,
the clear and precise sounds and his winning personality he became the most
famous tap dancer ever. Every year on 25 May, the date of Bill Robinson’s
birth, tap dancers worldwide celebrate ‚Tap Dance Day‘. Besides Bill
Robinson the Nicholas-Brothers, who included wild and breathtaking acrobatics
into their tap routines, could make the big time in the movies. All three of
them starred in a movie called ”Stormy Weather” (Twentieth Century Fox,
1943). Make sure you watch it; it is a must!
with his partner Buck, John W. Bubbles, who only appeared in a small number of
movies in small supporting roles, played at the theater with the world famous
show ”Ziegfeld Follies”. They appeared as the duo ‚Buck & Bubbles‘.
Buck sang and played the piano while Bubbles tap-danced and sang as well.
W. Bubbles is regarded as the inventor of ‚Rhythm Tap‘, a new and different
style of tap. He reduced the very fast tempo played by bands at that time by
almost half and achieved a much bigger rhythmic freedom for the dancer. Bubbles
did like the sounds coming from the heels and developed a much more rhythmic
complexity that only became possible with the strong reduction in tempo.
of the most prominent tap dancers of all time came from ‚Rhythm Tap‘.
Dancers such as Baby Laurence, Charles ‚Honi‘ Coles and the Condos-Brothers
were the most important innovators in the development of tap.
How did tap
come to Germany?
1930 Egon Bier wrote the first German article on the topic of tap. A few years
later Marika Rökk, inspired by the movies of Eleanor Powell, became the first
German tap dance star. In the thirties she tapped and danced in dozens of movies
and introduced tap to the general film-going public in Germany.
the fifties Caterina Valente and her brother Silvio Francesco became famous
entertainers and tap dancers all over Europe. They danced, sang, and tapped in
movies like ”Und abends in die Scala” (An Evening at the Scala) or ”Liebe,
Jazz und tausend Schlager” (Love, Jazz and a Thousand Songs) in which
sometimes even their teacher appeared - it
was John W. Bubbles, the above-mentioned ‚Father of Rhythm Tap‘.
Goes” - the famous song best describes today’s situation of tap, because
literally anything is possible: From the old classical musical piece like
”Singin’ in the Rain” up to modern jazz music or even tap to techno beats
- no limits are set on the ingenuity of the tap dancer. Even the music from
Mozart, Bach and Beethoven is used for tap dance performances. Besides this tap
has boomed heavily within the last decade, it hasn’t been that popular since
the late 40s. After it almost died in the sixties and seventies, it was
remembered in the late 70s. First of all the old dancers and legends were mainly
imitated, young tap dancers went to the old and already legendary hoofers to
take lessons and to learn their old routines again.
breakthrough, however, was a movie released in 1989: The best tap dancers for
ever were united for the first time in a movie called ”Tap”. The word of
this movie set the story. Led by Gregory Hines, who during the nineties almost
on his own made tap famous worldwide again, Sammy Davis Jr., Jimmy Slide, Steve
Condos, Arthur Duncan, Fayard Nicholas, Sandman Sims and the very young Savion
Glover for the first time for years appeared in this tap dance movie. The movie
was followed by a show of the same name on American TV and the art of tap began
to flourish again.
final breakthrough, even for the normal audience uninterested in tap, came with
the famous Irish shows which, since 1994, show that percussive dancing is much
more than just a small cross-section and can play the major role in a big
entertaining show. In any case it will be very exciting what we – the tap
dancers – will come up with in the 21st century....