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This is a three-component story: written, audio and graphic to commemorate the tradition of tap dancing and look brightly towards the future.

Tap dancing has been engrained in American culture for hundreds of years. On Broadway, in musicals, in movies and on stage, tappers continue to stun audiences with their rhythm and beat. To honor this well-known form of dance, National Tap Dancing Day is May 25. Get your tap shoes on and get ready to celebrate.

Origin of tap dancing

“The history of tap is an ongoing struggle,” said Joan Stone, a history of dance professor at the University of Kansas. It has a similar history to jazz music and became a prominent art form when it entered Broadway and the movies in the 1920s.

“The old tappers picked up on each other’s rhythms and danced with a jazz band — not like today’s tappers who are all commercial,” said Stone. The old tap dancers were similar to jazz dancers, who danced to blues and jazz music.

Stone said that tap emerged in the 1800s and finally became public in the 1900s. Tap is a blend of many styles of dancing, including African barefoot dancing, Irish jig, clog and a few others, according to Feetbeats.com.

Many dancers from different backgrounds, including Scottish, Irish, African and English met in cities and saw the other forms of dance. They were street forms and therefore borrowed from what they saw around them. “Tap is very rich, it’s not restricted like classical forms like ballet, so it was okay to borrow steps,” Stone said.

Well-known tappers from Lawrence and Kansas City

“Tap can talk. Tap does talk. And the great tappers make it talk,” said Stone.

Kansas City, Mo., and Lawrence, Kan., are home to a few famous tap dancers. Some of these dancers include:

Carnell Lyons
According to vaudeville.org, Lyons tapped in Kansas City, Mo. He later taught tap dancing in Germany in the 1920s.

Leonard Reed
Reed grew up in Kansas City, Mo. In 1925, Reed tap danced for Silas B. Williams Show. He was also the co-creator of the Shim Sham. (Jazz Dance)

Whitman Sisters
The Whitman Sisters, Essie and May, are best known as impresarios of black performers. They grew up in Lawrence, Kan. Their father was a pastor at a Bishop of the Methodist Church in Lawrence and he taught them their first tap step, the “Double Shuffle,” but only for exercise. He later disapproved of their dancing and eventually disowned them from the family. They set up tours for black performers and often gave them their big break to Broadway. (Jazz Dance)

George Walker
He became famous for his duet of Walker and Williams. Along with Bert Williams, they were the first blacks to have a show on Broadway around 1898. Walker was also a neighbor of the Whitmans in Lawrence. He is most famous for the Cakewalk. (Jazz Dance)

Future of tap dancing

While tap has had its struggles in the past, dance teachers like Shannon Augubright remain hopeful that tap will remain an important part of dance curriculum.

“I hope it continues to be popular. Not only is it fun to teach and to dance, but it helps develop a dancer’s rhythm and sense of beat,” said Augubright, a dance teacher at The Dance Center in LaSalle, Ill.

Tap is not a required class at The Dance Center, like ballet is, but Augubright strongly encourages her students to take it.

Vicky Benac, a dance teacher in Peru, Ill., also encourages a tap curriculum. She said she sees a drop in the enrollment of her tap classes, but hopes that will change.

“Popular dance shows like So You Think You Can Dance have incorporated some tap into their show,” Benac said. Benac hopes that this will increase dancers’ curiosity in tap if they aren’t already tapping.

Missy Wujek is a professional dancer in New York City, says tap helped her form her love of dancing when she was little. Wujek, 26, dances with Beings Dance Company.

Wujek tapped a lot when she was younger, but since her move to New York from Illinois five years ago, she has stopped taking tap classes.

“I miss tap a lot, but it’s just not a big part of my job here in New York,” said Wujek. Her classes mostly focus on modern, lyrical and contemporary dancing.

“I will be celebrating National Tap Dancing day whether I’m in a class or not,” Wujek said. “It was my favorite when I was little and I still enjoy watching others perform it.”

Book Sources: Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance by Marshall and Jean Stearns.

 

Listen to this audio of Hannah Fahler, a tap student at Dance Gallery in Lawrence, Kan., about her experience with tap dancing.

Transcript:

HAYLEY JOZWIAK: Hannah Fahler, a student at Dance Gallery in Lawrence, Kan., talks about her experience with tap dancing.

HANNAH FAHLER: I have been tapping for 5 or 6 years now. It’s hard at first, but when you get the hang of it, it’s fun to learn new steps.

HAYLEY JOZWIAK: Fahler talks about the basics of learning tap.

HANNAH FAHLER: You have your basic steps, like shuffle, flap and ball change. And then you combine them to make different combinations like time steps.

HAYLEY JOZWIAK: Fahler talks about her favorite tap step.

HANNAH FAHLER: My favorite step is probably a wing. It took me a while to get it, but it’s really fun to do.

HAYLEY JOZWIAK: This is Hayley Jozwiak, with Get to the Pointe.

 

Are you interested in celebrating National Tap Dance Day by taking a tap class? Check out this infographic with a list of studios that offer tap classes near Lawrence, Kan.

Tap Dancing near Lawrence, Kan.

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