We're all familiar with tap dance. The tapping noises, the smooth footwork, and the synchronization of the taps with the music is mind-boggling. It is performed with the help of special shoes made for this dance, that consist of metal plates on the heel and the balls of the shoe, marked by percussive footwork, to a precise rhythmic pattern. Tap dance was made popular by several American movies and its popularity continues up to this day. However, how did it originate and evolve into what it is today? Let's take a look.
The Evolution of Tap Dance
The history of tap dance goes back in time, into the 1600s, where it was brought into the limelight by Scottish and Irish laborers. This dance was imitated by slaves in the United States of America, who tried to catch up with the rapid footwork that was required of this dance. Slowly they combined these steps with their own African dance steps, and created the American tap dance. In this dance, the African elements become more formal, while the European elements became fluid.
The Clog Dance
As has been mentioned before, the clog itself is one of the components of tap dance. It is of Irish origin, and was performed with wooden shoes. It was the footwear that belonged to the most poor people of the time. It is out of this that newer styles evolved.
Buck and Wing
Tap dance became popular only in the mid-nineteenth century, when the African dance fused with the clog dance steps from Britain. This resulted in the style known as 'buck and wing'. At this time, however, the metal hoofs on the shoes were still not introduced, which came into being only in the beginning of the twentieth century. The steps, however, continued to evolve. This dance was popular in minstrel and vaudeville shows, and persons who performed it came to be known as Bucks.
Juba Tap Dance
The Juba dance was a culmination of the clog dance, the African dance, and the European jig. Popularized by William Henry Lane, around the year 1845, tap dance, then also known as jazz dance, made its first entry into American theater, and soon became an integral part of several theatrical performances.
An important and prominent step in this dance form, that involved shaking the foot in the air, comprised the 'wing' part of the dance, and soon became a variation on its own, that involved shooting out of a leg, and forming a wing.
This Juba dance was then copied by white performers, resulting in the creation of the Shuffle, which became their own unique style, and became popular in Minstrel Shows. These shuffle steps are part of the Shim Sham tap routine, that is part of tap dance now, and is taught in various classes even today.
The Soft Shoe or Sand Dance
In this type, the metal hoofs on the shoes are missing, while the dance is performed with shoes that are made of soft soles. The dance not only includes delicate taps made by the soft shoes, but also elements such as wit and humor. It is a smooth dance to be performed in a manner that is easygoing.
Tap dance was further popularized by theater, and soon found its place in Broadway musicals and movies, such as All that Jazz (1979), West Side Story (1961), and Buffalo '66 (1998). Some of the famous dancers who helped in its evolution are Fred Astaire, Paul Draper, and Gene Kelly, who introduced some ballet moves into this dance style, to make it graceful and elegant. Thus, tap dance has come a long way to become the pleasure it is now, and several people have developed an interest in this agile and unique dance style.