We started the month with learning about the history of African dance, so let’s end the month with learning about the history of Tap dance. Tap dance has an influence of a variety of different cultures. It has a very interesting history and it might not be what you think.
Slavery came over to America during the 15th century. With it came a variety of different cultures. One thing African’s loved to do was to dance. As you learned from the blog about African Dancing, African people incorporate dance into their everyday life. When they came over to America, they were banned from dancing. This didn’t stop them though. They would dance low to the ground so they couldn’t be seen behind bushes and trees when they worked in the field. However, their owners caught onto what they were doing and punished them. They would have parties with their neighbors and force the slaves to dance. Doesn’t seem like a punishment right? Well, the men would then take their guns and shoot at their feet. The slaves would then be forced to jump around in order to make sure they didn’t get shot. This is where Tap dancing originated. The slaves realized that their feet were making sounds from jumping around trying not to get shot.
Therefore, they started to communicate with their feet. They used the different rhythms to create a morse code so that their owners couldn’t understand what was being said. Now, what most people don’t realize is that Irish people were indentured servants at this time. It is believed that the slaves and indentured servants would watch each other dance. The slaves would then take some of the same movement that the indentured servants were using in their dance styles called Jigs. Combining these movements is what created the Tap dance style we all know and love today.
It wouldn’t become popular like it is today until the 1900s, when jazz music originated. Today, there are two different types of tap. They are rhythm tap and Broadway tap. These two types can be further broken down into three forms; classical, hoofers, and cloggers.
One of the most famous tap dancers around today is Savion Glover. I have had the privilege of meeting him twice and being able to see him perform twice as well. He is considered to be the best Tap dancer that has ever lived. He has been performing on Broadway since the 80s, has been in multiple films (including the Movie Happy Feet and Happy Feet 2), he’s been on Sesame Street, SNL, and has performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I have had the honor of being able to see him perform at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts (which is where Rhythmology’s Student Showcase will be on July 16th). He is truly a down to Earth type of guy and is very approachable. If it wasn’t for slavery and the Irish influence Tap dancing might not be around today.
Check out this video of Savion Glover on an episode of Seseame Street