photo by Joe Lambie - DancePlug Inc.

With National Tap Dance Day approaching (mark your calendar for May 25!), we thought it was about time we talked tap. In many studios - mine included - ballet, jazz, and even hip-hop were all emphasized. I've noticed that it's not uncommon for studio owners to require their students to take a certain amount of classes and dance styles in order to compete. You have to slip on your ballet shoes, pull on those jazz shoes, and lace up your sneakers… but what about tap shoes? Is this timeless style of dance being sidestepped?

In many ways, tap dancing is doing well in the performance sector, bolstering tours by hoofers such as Michelle Dorrance and Savion Glover. However, there are definitely signs that it is underappreciated. In a recent interview with Dance Magazine, tap dancing pros Derick K. Grant, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, and Jason Samuels Smith sat down to chat as they were preparing for the first annual Tap Family Reunion, a three-day celebration they've organized in NYC. They want to bring tap back to its purest form, without any other dance styles like contemporary or hip-hop mixed in. Says Grant: "Tap as it is, for what it is, doesn't seem to be enough" to get funded or supported nowadays.

I feel it's true that styles like contemporary have taken over with a sense of dominance that is undeniable, particularly in studios and universities around the country. But why is this happening? Tap is one of the oldest most well-known dance styles in the world… should it not get the rep it deserves?

Here's one possible explanation - mmm, it’s crazy difficult! Think about it; you start when you’re four or five, develop some of the fundamentals, and the minute it gets challenging, half of us bounce. I know I quit somewhere between 'off to Buffalo' and the 'time step'. Let’s be honest, this style is not for the faint of heart, or the easily defeated. You need to acquire spot-on timing, laid-back coordination, and a natural sense of rhythm that only a few of us are blessed with! The good news is, this can all be learned, and it's important for us to find ways to encourage the younger generation to stick it out. Perhaps educating our friends and students on the history of tap, and showing them classic films featuring powerhouses Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ann Miller, Eleanor Powell, Sammy Davis Jr., Gregory Hines, and so many more, might help?

"Some of these young tap dancers I see, they have the potential to be leaders beyond tap dance in the world in general," Smith told Dance Magazine. "I think tap is one of the ways these positive messages of enlightenment are going to be carried on." Hopefully, if we all work together to prioritize keeping this important dance form alive, more strong-willed young-ins will bring their talents to the table, and be the next unstoppable generation of tappers.

photo by Joe Lambie - © DancePlug, Inc.

About the author

Keira Whitaker is a dedicated teacher, performer, and choreographer, who has been dancing for the past 21 years. She recently graduated from the University of California Irvine with a BFA in Dance performance and a minor in English.