The purely American art form of Tap Dance was originally associated with
the names Master Juba, George H. Primrose, King Rastus Brown and Bill Robinson.
William Henry Lane (1825 - 1852) was known as Master Juba and the "Juba dance," also known
as "Pattin' Juba," was a mix of European Jig, Reel Steps, Clog and African
Rhythms. It became popular around 1845. This was, some say, the creation
of Tap in America as a theatrical art form and American Jazz dance.
Tap dancing started with the Africans in early America who would beat out
rhythms in their dances with brushing and shuffling movements of the feet.
These dancers came to be called Levee Dancers throughout the south. White
performers copied many of these intricate steps and the Shuffle Dance style
would eventually find fame within the minstrel shows around 1830.
Tap Dance and Irish Clogging share deep roots. The most difficult of the
Irish clogs are the Irish Jigs and Hornpipes. In some of these the feet can
tap the floor more than seventy times in fifteen seconds. Irish clog dancer, John "Jack" Diamond (1828 - 1850) was considered one of the greatest "Jig dancers" of all time.
In clog dancing,
no thought is given to the upper body. Almost rigid -- the shoulders and
the arms are kept motionless. This trait is evident in the early, Black "Buck
and Wing" style tap dancing. The Irish clog dance all but disappeared by
the end of the 19th century because of the mixing of the Clog and the
African-American tap dances. Modern tap dancing evolved though the years
1900 to 1920.
Irish dancer - 1905
The Hornpipe of England was a elaborate pantomime of English sailors, mimicking
their duties while patting the feet to a tune.
The Lancashire Clog is a complicated Irish dance associated with George Primrose who danced the clog without the wooden soles and is said to have invented the
Soft-Shoe routine. Barney Williams in 1840, was the first professional clog
dancer to come to the U.S . The first professional dancer troupe in the U.S.
were the Irish Clog Dancers.
The Soft Shoe is a form of tap only done with soft soled shoes without metal
taps attached. Performers originally wore all kinds of shoes to perform the
Soft Shoe and as time went on the term soft shoe was applied to many eccentric
styles of tap. The characteristics of the soft shoe however was the humor,
wit, and delicate nature of the tapping performed with a very smooth and
leisure cadence. Occasionally this is referred to as the Sand Dance.
Clog contests in the 19th century would have the
judges sit behind a screen or under the dance floor, judging the sounds rather
than the body movements of the dancers. Clog dances were often performed in wooden
For several decades tap and clog would flourish successfully.
In 1866 "THE BLACK CROOK," considered to be the first musical, featured Minstrel
and Clog dancers who danced very stiffly and gave rise to the term "Pedestal
dancer". The Pedestal dancer would climb upon a marbled pedestal with a 24
inch base, and tap out a routine while posing as motionless as a statue.
In 1902, Ned Wayburn who created a show called Minstrel Misses, coined the
term "Tap and Step dance" in this musical play. This was the first time these
names had been used professionally. Wayburn's dancers wore light clogs with
split wodden soles.
Aluminum heel and toe taps did not appear until after
Buck and Wing
The origin of the Buck and Wing (Buck Dance and Pigeon Wing) or Buck dancing
is a mystery. It is known to have been an early tap dance routine and was done by Minstrel and Vaudeville performers
in the 19th Century portraying a character-style taken from of African-American males, known as "Bucks."
It is said that the Buck and Wing routine was invented by James McIntyre
Pigeon Wing is also known as "Pistolets" and the "Ailes De Pigeon" in Ballet.
In the Can-Can the "Pigeon Wing" was kicking high and throwing the shoulders
back while "carrying on the arm" (holding one leg up against the cheek while
hopping lightly on the other leg).
Bring the bust into play by leaping forward, lifting of the leg and move
the leg to beat the back calf of other foot. Can also be done in front of
other leg as in Michael Jackson's modern version.
The "Shout" or Ring-Shout was a union of dance and song which gave birth
to what were called camp meeting hymns and work hollers in the old south.
The Cakewalk became a very popular group dance because it had "attitude" wherein the dancing couples made fun of people who think themselves important and superior.
The Shim Sham or Shim-Sham Shimmy was a Tap dance routine done by Vaudeville
performers in the early 1900's and is still taught in most tap dance classes
today. (Shuffle-Step, Shuffle-Step, Shuffle Ball-Change, Shuffle-Step) The
Sham's basic is the "Time Step" that is done by tap dancers -- except the dancers
use a more shuffled rhythm than lifting of the feet. The Sham also incorporates
The Shim Sham Shimmy can be done as a solo, couple or group dance with each
person's arms around the next, and originally was done at the Savoy ballroom
to a song entitled "The Song of the Freaks," written by Luis Russell. Cab
Calloway's "Jittering Jitterbugs" musical short has this form of shim sham
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson
The dance known as the Black Bottom started in New Orleans and later worked
its way to New York. Some say the Black Bottom was introduced by blues singer,
Alberta Hunter, however -- it has been reported that the Black Bottom was
derived from "The Echo," an earlier dance.
The Black Bottom was formally introduced by Perry Bradford in Nashville,
Tennessee in 1919 when he wrote the song "The Black Bottom Dance." Bradford's
sheet music had the music as well as the dance instructions printed on them.
In 1926, the stage play "Dinah" featured the Black Bottom and almost overnight the dance became as popular as the Charleston.
The Black bottom was basically a solo challenge dance, predominately danced
on the "Off Beat." It is thought to be the rhythmic prototype for modern
tap dance phrasing. The dance featured the slapping of the backside while
hopping forward and backward, stamping the feet, and gyrations of the torso
while making arm movements to music with an occasional Heel-Toe scoop.
Basic Step: (from Dance Magazine -- September 1927): This, as with all other
dances, is a mixture of Jazz steps. The Basic step, however, is one dependent
entirely on rhythm. This step is 2 long stamps, first right, then left, followed
by 4 short ones; they are done off the regular beat of the music. Accompanying
this, the index finger on both hands is pointing up, and the eyes are rolling.
Any other steps may be done to lengthen the dance.
Black Bottom Lyric's: (from George White Scandals -1927)
Hop Down front and then you doodle (Slide) back,
Mooch to your left and then you mooch to your right,
Hands on your hips and do the mess around,
Break a Leg (Wobble) until you're near the ground
"The two elements the traveler first captures in the big city are extra human architecture and furious rhythm. Geometry and anguish. . .
At first glance, the rhythm may be confused with gaiety, but when you look more closely at the mechanism of social life and the painful slavery of both men and machines, you see that it is nothing but a kind of typical, empty anguish that makes even crime and gangs forgivable means of escape."
Federico Garcia Lorca
The Malagueña (Flamenco) shares with the Fandango the rank of the
principal dance of Andalusia. The Flamenco is a Spanish-Sevillian gypsy,
also known as Sevillian or Sevillinas. The dance is a non-formal folk dance from Andalucía,
Spain. The Flamenco is rich in rhythm and refined technique.
The Baile flamenco was originated by the gypsies of southern Spain and may
be of some Indian origin, however the gypsies believe they are descendents
from the Moors (the Moors invaded Spain).
The Granada gypsy calls himself gitano and the Sevillian gypsy calls himself
a flamenco. Spain has 47 provinces and they each have their own style of
The Flamenco has strict rhythmic rules one must follow to achieve the correct
look. Rhythm forms include Alegrias, Soleares, Bulerias, Farruca, Zapateado,
Tango and the Zambra. The foot and heel beats that the dancers perfect are
called Zapateado while the heel work done in Flamenco is called Taconeo.
La Argentina was one of the first to put Flamenco on stage.
The Guiness World Book Records holder lists Roy Castle on January 14, 1973
- at 1,440 Taps Per Minute (24 per second).
Tap Dance has it's own language which may give some clues to the nature of
the art. The following are terms commonly associated with tap:
Shuffle ,Bojangles, Buck 'n Wing, Irish Clog, Buck Irish, Appalacian Clogging
,Black Face ,Minstrel, Vaudeville, Time Step, Riffs, Riffle, Ball Change,
Pearl Rolls, Patter, Keith Circuit, Tip-Tap, Steppen, Steppin, Claquettes,
Here are some associated names:
Juba, Eddie Cantor, Carlos,Hess, Eddie Leonard,
Buck and Bubbles, Patty Hughes, Barney Williams, Clarence Williams, Barney
Fagan, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Eddie Foy, Berry Brothers, Charles Shelton,
George Cohen, Nicholas Brothers, Sammy Dyer, George H. Primrose, Pat Rooney
Sr., Ray Bolger, Sammy Davis Jr., Jim Diamond, Paul Draper, Fred Astaire,
Buddy Ebsen, Nick Castle, Ann Miller, Marilyn Miller, Martha Raye, Carmen
Miranda, George Murphy, Eleanor Powell, Ritz Brothers, Condos Brothers, James
Cagney, Shirley Temple, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Maurice and Gregory Hines, Wayburn, Donahue,
Bob Barron, Matt Daugherty, Vance Holmes!