What is Tap dance?

Tap dance

Tap dance is an example of a non-partnered dance that is generally choreographed, with one or more participating dancers. A rhythmical tapping sound is attained by the dancer from the small metal plates on the dancer's shoes. It is in his way that the dancer also becomes a percussive musician. Tap dance is often characterized by syncopation and improvisation. Tap can also be performed without music, known as ‘Capella’ dancing. Another type of Tap dance is the ‘soft-shoe’ form, which is a style that is performed in soft-soled shoes without metal taps. The nature of the tapping in this style of Tap is more leisurely and smooth, and there is generally an element of humour within the dance routines. In contrast, the ‘buck-and-wing’ Tap technique is danced much more vigorously in wooden soled shoes.

Tap dance became popular from mistrel shows in the 19th century. It essentially derives from a number of sources, including the traditional clog dance of northern England, which requires no accompanying music, traditional Irish and Scottish step dances, and even African dances, which involve much rhythmic foot stamping to drumming. Even Spanish flamenco is thought to be a precursor to Tap, where the sound of the rhythm of the dancers’ steps is essential to the performance.

During the first half of the 20the century, Tap dance flourished throughout the US. It was at this time that Tap was performed mainly to jazz music, earning it the alternative name ‘Jazz dance’. However, from the 1950s, jazz music and Tap dance saw a decline in popularity. Rock and Roll music became popular and at the same time a new form of Jazz dance emerged. Although this new Jazz dance, as we know it today, may have emerged from Tap, it has since evolved separately, and so even though there may be some similar moves, Jazz dance is a dance form independent from Tap.
Editor: Nichola Manning