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According to Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, “ tap dance [is a] style of American theatrical dance, distinguished by percussive footwork, [which] marks out precise rhythmic patterns on the floor.” Also, “Tap is an exciting form of dance in which dancers wear special shoes equipped with metal taps. Tap dancers use their feet like drums to create rhythmic patterns and timely beats,” Treva Bedinghaus, graduated from Holli Barron’s School of Performing Arts and The Ballet Academy, writes in Tap for beginner, “The term “tap dancing” is derived from the tapping sound produced when the small metal plates on the dancer’s shoes touch a hard floor or surface.
” In 125 Years of Tap, Jane Goldberg, a dancer-writer who is considered as one of the most prolific voices in the filed of tap dancing, writes: “What distinguishes tap [dancing] from most other dance forms is that it is two arts in one: music and dance. The dancers are ‘playing their feet’ and moving at the same time.
” In another article – The Art of Tap Dancing, Amy Brinkman-Sustache, artistic director of Dance-works on Tap (DOT), describes, “A step is a word.
You put steps together to make a sentence. Questions are raised and answered through rhythm. It’s like listening to a conversation.” Literally, tap is America’s unique contribution to dance. “Tap history is mostly an oral tradition,” Kikelly, performer/scholars from Virginia Tech, says, “and a single definitive history has not yet been written.” Still, Kikelly and many other people like her are working hard to reveal the truth about how this art form developed.
Tap is believed the double of diversity. “The history of tap has been a story of survival, revival, renaissance and innovation,” Jane Goldberg indicates in her 125 Years of Tap article, “the controversial roots of which arc still being debated, though the primary sources are usually considered to be Irish and African-American.” According to Constance Valis Hill, Ph.D. in Performance Studies from New York University, “tap dance is an indigenous American dance genre that evolved over a period of some three hundred years. Initially a fusion of British and West African musical and step-dance traditions in America, tap emerged in the southern United States in the 1700s.
The Irish jig (a musical and dance form) and West African gioube (sacred and secular stepping dances) mutated into the American jig and juba. These in turn became juxtaposed and fused into a form of dancing called “jigging” which, in the 1800s, was taken up by white and black minstrel-show dancers who developed tap into a popular nineteenth-century stage entertainment.” Furthermore, “early styles of tapping utilized hard-soled shoes, clogs, or hobnailed boots. It was not until the early decades of the twentieth century that metal plates (or taps) appeared on shoes of dancers on the Broadway musical stage,” Hill summarizes, “in the late twentieth century, tap dance evolved into a concertized performance on the musical and concert hall stage. Its absorption of Latin American and Afro- Caribbean rhythms in the forties has furthered its rhythmic complexity. In the eighties and nineties, tap’s absorption of hip-hop rhythms has attracted a fierce and multi-ethnic new breed of male and female dancers who continue to challenge and evolve the dance form, making tap the most cutting-edge dance expression in America today.”
Yet, according to theatredance.com, “no one really knows when the phrase ‘tap dance’ was first used – perhaps as early as 1900 – but it didn’t appeared in print until around 1928.” “Unlike ballet with its codification of formal technique, tap dance developed from people listening to and watching each other dance in the street, dance hall, or social club where steps were shared, stolen and reinvented. ‘Technique’ is transmitted visually, aurally, and corporeally, in a rhythmic exchange between dancers and musicians. Mimicry is necessary for the mastery of form,” Hill points out. Moreover, she continues indicating, “The dynamic and synergistic process of copying the other to invent something new is most important to tap’s development and has perpetuated its key features, such as the tap challenge. […] The oral and written histories of tap dance are replete with challenge dances, from jigging competitions on the plantation that were staged by white masters for their slaves, and challenge dances in the walk-around finale of the minstrel show, to showdowns in the street, displays of one-upsmanship in the social club, and juried buck-and wing-contests on the vaudeville stage.”
Indeed, Jane Goldberg also writes, “one documented fact is that many tap legends began performing any place they could — especially street corners — before the discipline Invaded vaudeville shows and, eventually, the silver screen. In a contest by the performers to outdo one another, tap kept evolving, transforming into an art form of self-expression as well as highly stylized production numbers.” For such a long time, tap was considered “a man’s game” or even “a largely black, male-dominated form.” People easily notice various famous male tap dancers in history like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (1878-1949), John W. Bubbles (1902-1986), or Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990). Female dancers, in contrast, were not very honored in history books. Yet, Jane Golden presents, “a number of young white women got into the act starting in the mid-1970s. These women studied and often performed with their male mentors,” even though the fact Stacie Strong has noted in History, Herstory, OUR STORY article: “While male tap dancers acted as headliners, women tappers filled out the chorus lines.
Though many of their names have been lost, these women were incredibly versatile and talented. Headliners often did the same act week after week (or even year after year), but the chorus had to learn a new routine every few weeks, often working with props and in outlandish costumes, performing as many as four shows a day.” Professor Constance Valis Hill’s inclusive history is the first to also highlight the outstanding female dancers, she wrote in Tap Dance in America: A Very Short History, “In 1986, La Mama presented Sole Sisters an all woman, multi-generational tap dance show directed by Constance Valis Hill that brought together high-heeled steppers and low-heeled hoofers, the veteran grande dames of tap and younger prima taperinas.” Next, she indicates, “Soul Sisters was not the only production to open the door for the recognition of female jazz tap dancers. On the West Coast Lynn Dally, who founded the Jazz Tap Ensemble in 1979, combined her extensive experience in modern dance with jazz tap to organize a group of dancers that insisted on performing and interacting with a live jazz ensemble.
On the East Coast, singer, jazz and tap dancer Brenda Bufalino, formerly a partner of Honi Coles, founded the American Tap Orchestra, and set about experimenting with how to layer and orchestrate rhythmic groups of dancers on the concert stage.” “Today the type of tap that mostly closely resembles the style current during Robinson’s era is jazz or rhythm tap. These dancers concentrate on improvisation and choreography that incorporate the complicated rhythms of classic jazz music. Often they look crouched over, listening to their feet — and that’s exactly what they’re doing. While some rhythm tappers have begun choreographing for their upper bodies, the emphasis is still on the dancers hearing themselves. The mentors of today’s leading rhythm tappers have often been called ‘hoofers’,” writes Jane Goldberg.
In addition, The Basic Characteristics of Tap Dancing shows, “Tap dancers make frequent use of syncopation. Choreography typically starts on the eighth or first beatcount. Another aspect of tap dancing is improvisation. This can either be done with music and follow the beats provided or without musical accompaniment, otherwise known as acappella dancing.” This article also points out another major variations on tap dance, besides rhythm tap: “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.” Specially, the article give some examples of common tap steps and how professional tap dancers make their new steps: Common tap steps include the shuffle, shuffle ball change, flap, flap heel, cramp roll, buffalo, Maxi Ford, single and double pullbacks, wings, Cincinnati, the shim sham shimmy (also called the Lindy), Irish, Waltz Clog, the paddle and roll, the paradiddle, stomp, brushes, scuffs, and single and double toe punches, hot steps, heel clicks, single, double and triple time steps, riffs, over-the-tops, military time step, New Yorkers, and chugs. In advanced tap dancing, basic steps are often combined together to create new steps.
Timesteps are widely used in tap and can vary in different areas. These consist of a rhythm that is changed to make new timesteps by adding or removing steps. The images of tap dancer and their shoes has also changed, especially for female dancers: “Boundaries have shifted dramatically since the 1970s, when high-heeled tap shoes were reserved for Broadway-style tap and flat oxford-style shoes were associated with rhythm tap,” according to Darrah Carr – MFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Additionally, Carr notes that “Introductory high-heeled taps range from 1″ to 1½″ high, while more advanced heels can be up to 3″ high. […] Dancing in heels also forces you to hold your body more upright, which can change your stage presence. […] ‘Heels encourage you to incorporate your hips and your shoulders into your dancing and wearing heels makes you think about extending the line of your leg’.” In contrast, “many tap dancers find that nothing beats the comfort of flats,” Carr reveals, “Flat tap shoes are made in the same oxford style for women and men, and many dancers feel that the shoe looks best when paired with pants or jeans.
And flats have larger metal taps than heels, so the sound produced is a deeper, heavier bass tone. (The smaller metal taps on high-heeled shoes create sounds that are higher in tone.)” Another ideas showed by Carr are: “A dancer’s body placement in flat tap shoes is centered between the toes and heels. [And] certain steps, such as side shuffles and toe stands, are easier to execute in flats because your weight is more evenly distributed.” Still, “Whether you’re a heels lover or forever committed to flats, it’s important that you become comfortable with both shoe styles,” she advises. Indeed, according to Elena North-Kelly, “High heeled, low heeled, soft leather, hard leather, split soled, and full soled–all tap shoes are not created equal. Different styles of tap shoes facilitate different styles of tap dancing. When shopping for a shoe, you need to consider comfort, flexibility, aesthetic, shape, and, of course, sound.”
Also, North-Kelly quotes a statement from Lynn Schwab, who teaches tap at New York City’s Steps on Broadway, to help people with choosing tap shoes: “While part of a tap dancer’s sound is a product of technique, it also relates to the material of the shoe. For rhythm tapping, the best sound comes from a harder shoe with a wider heel.” Finally, North-Kelly says, “Dancers hoping for a career on Broadway, however, have a little more leeway, partly because most Broadway dancers use different tap shoes for performance, classes, and auditions.” Briefly, with a relatively brief but rich history, the tap tradition is growing bigger, better and broader every year. In fact, holding an enormous respect for the past, Jason Samuels Smith, the first tapper to win an Emmy award for choreography since Hermes Pan in 1958, used to say: “Tap culture is all about celebrating the past and accumulating its vocabulary over time.
If we don’t maintain our history, we lose what’s valuable about tap.” He is not the only person who thinks that way, Donna-Marie Peters – professor at Temple University, also express her ideas in Passing On: The Old Head/Younger Dancer Mentoring Relationship in the Cultural Shpere of Rhythm Tap: “Respect for the artistic tradition” of tap is the value that humbles even the most seasoned performers. This value demands subservience to the art that is seen as bigger than the individual and takes a lifetime to master. By honoring the art over the individual, the tap dancers become servants to the art, working to the best of their ability to execute it well. The long-term survival of this struggling art form is dependent on a cot munity of individuals with a sense of purpose, dedicated to keeping the art form alive and moving forward.
“TAP DANCE.” (n.d.): Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. EBSCO. Web. 26 Oct. 2011. Bedinghaus, Treva. “Tap for Beginners.” About.com n. pag. Web. 26 Oct 2011. <http://dance.about.com/bio/Treva-Bedinghaus-32821.htm> Carr, Darrah. “Heels vs. Flats.” Dance Spirit 14.8 (2010): 98. MAS Ultra – School Edition. EBSCO. Web. 26 Oct. 2011. Hill, Constance. “Tap Dance in America: A Very Short History.” (2002): n. pag. Web 26 Oct 2011. <http://www.nypl.org/locations/tid/55/node/70581> Holmes, Vance. “All ABout Tap Dance.” TheatreDance.com n. pag. Web. 26 Oct 2011. <http://www.theatredance.com/tap/>. Goldberg, Jane. “125 Years of tap.” Dance Spirit 7.5 (2003): 34. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 26 Oct. 2011. North-Kelly, Elena. “Tap Shoes Meet These Dancing Feet.” Dance Magazine 79.3 (2005): 68. MAS Ultra – School Edition. EBSCO. Web. 26 Oct. 2011. Peters, Donna-Marie. “Passing On: The Old Head/Younger Dancer Mentoring Relationship in the Cultural Shpere of Rhythm Tap.” Western Journal of Black Studies 34.4 (2010): 438-436. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 26.Oct.2011. Schneider, John. “The Art of Tap Dancing.” n. pag. Web. 26 Oct 2011. < http://www.expressmilwaukee.com/article-11832-the-art-of-tap-dancing.html> Strong, Stacie. “History, Herstory, OUR STORY,” Dance Spirit 11.10 (2007): 62. MAS Ultra – School Edition. EBSCO. Web. 26 Oct 2011. “The basic characteristics of tap dancing.” Ballet Shoes n. pag. Web. 26 Oct 2011. <http://shoes-collection.net/2011/10/05/tap-shoes-capezio/>.
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