Sunday, March 9, 2008

Tap (When Cultures Collide .)

Deep with in the coal mines of South Africa during the early 1800’s . The form of dance was called Welly Boot Dance. The minors would mimic the guards who patrolled the work camps and barracks. It was also called Gumboots. The dancers would stomp and sometimes use bells around their boots to create different sounds as they danced. Gumboot dancing is still a marvel for on lookers in the streets of Cape Town. Thousands of miles to the north in the Gaelic regions of Britain Ireland and Scotland the form of singing and dance was called Sean nós The term Sean nós meant old style. The dance and singing was a celebration and expression among the Gaelic's. Most songs are not gender specific, although the lyrics may suggest it is being sung from a woman's or man's point of view. However there are a few songs that men tend not to sing. Women however do not seem to have the same compunction. In Spain the word for shoe is zapato and the word zapatear. simply means strike with the shoe. zapateado was the dance that had been celebrated throughout Latin America. In the factories of England during the Industrial Revolution workers in the Lancaster cotton mills to keep their feet warm would stomp in place to the rhythm of the machines. During their breaks they would have competitions. This form of dance was called Clogging.

During the middle of the 19th century the Five Points neighborhood the fist beginning of fusion between the dance styles began. The Irish Jig dancing and the combination of the African shuffle was the 1st emergence of Tap Dancing. New York was the center of immigration and the vibrations of dance were copied from one nationality to another.

The most famous dancer of this period was Boz Juba (William Henry Lane). He gained world acclaim for his work in dance troupes and performance throughout Europe. He as also been credited with performing with the Ethiopian Serenaders world wide. 1947 an article by Marian Hannah Winter in 1947 resurrected his legacy. Marian’s article would bring his history of Tap in its rightful place.

From 1900 to 1955 Vaudeville and Broadway were the biggest entertainment attractions before the advent of Television. The big screen was the way the masses found their love affair with dance. The mention of name of Shirley Temple is synonymous with dance. Her locks and girl next door looks combined with the accomplished steps of Bill Robinson AKA Mr. Bojangles were a joy for audiences. Her films were credited with emergence of African Americans finding there way into film in positive rolls. Bill Bojangles was a fixture on the base paths of Negro League Baseball. The entire theme of those Negro league games were a source of pride and sense of belonging with there white peers of the period as well as entertainment. One of Bojangles most noted performances took place on the dugout of Yankee stadium during integrated all star games.
Many dancers over the years have made a contribution to Tap from there unique styles. Gene Kelly had made many movies most notable Singing In The Rain. He combined his steps with Tap and Ballet and created a grace to Tap unseen before. His biggest competition in film was non other than Fred Astaire who combined Tap with Ballroom Dancing. He always managed to swoon the main character in his movies with his debonair moves. Both of them throughout their lives paid homage to the two men that they were influenced by the most. The Nicholas Brothers were more than dancers the were acrobats there highflying moves were the awe of anyone who saw them. During the Harlem Renaissance they stood head and shoulders above all others. Faynard and Harold Nicholas grew up in Philadelphia during the early 1900’s. They were a fixture at Philadelphia’s Standard Theatre. In New York they became the staple of the Cotton Club. The Nicholas Brothers were the biggest headliners and their audiences were never disappointed. They were the only known act to frequently mingle with the white audiences. In 1932 one of the most notable dance competitions in history took place at the Cotton Club. The Berry Brothers of New York danced against the famous Nicholas Brothers in what was described as masterful. The Berry brothers were more acrobatic but the Nicholas brothers simply outperformed them.

Sammy Davis carried the torch of dance from the 1950's and was best know as a card carrying member of the Rat Pack. He would dance in his movies and on stage with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He also would be a influence on a young dancer, singer and actor Gregory Hines. He combined with Mikhail Baryshnikov the accomplished Russian ballet dancer. The movie White Nights was never the box office hit he had hoped but was credited with cold war stereotypes of the people of the Soviet Union. He was a dancer at heart and the son of a hoofer and partnered with his brother to for the dance team the Hines Brothers.The list of famous tap dancers is endless but include names such asJohn W. Bubbles, Charles "Honi" Coles, Vera-Ellen, Ruby Keeler, Jeni LeGon, Ann Miller,, Donald O'Connor, Eleanor Powell, Prince Spencer,, Ginger Rogers, and Jimmy Slyde. The beauty here is that they are all from different backgrounds and when cultures colide we can enjoy the results Art in its truest form.