The Art of Tap Dancing: My Art Argument

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Finnley Thorp

Mr. Miller


For the first time in about 3 years I will hopefully start up tap dancing again. I started when I was 5 years old. I instantly fell in love with the noise I could make by stamping my feet on the floor and the rhythm I could create by tapping my toes. I stopped tap dancing because I had to choose between playing basketball or dancing and I chose playing basketball. But this year, the musical Anything Goes, involves a lot of tap dancing so I decided to give it a shot.

Tap dance is a form of dance characterized by the sounds of tap shoes hitting the floor to make rhythmic beats. When most people think of tap dance they probably think of the shoes that go with the dance and think that’s all there is to it. In reality tap dancing is all about footwork, rhythm, and then the shoes. It can take years to master this art. To master the facial expression that go along with certain dances along with synchronized arm and leg movements. When you dance it’s also important to clear your mind of all obstructions and just focus on the moves at hand. When I dance I most enjoy the sound of the taps on the floor resonating throughout your whole body. It’s like a wave of power coursing through you in the form of sound. I love tap because it has made me notice the sounds and rhythm around me and how almost every sound can be made into a beat or a song.

When you look at the history of how tap was formed you realize how much it was formed with the idea of freedom of expression and a way to express people’s culture and what they perceived as art. Tap was formed by African Americans while they were slaves. Slaveholders already feared a revolt, and began to panic when they realized africans could communicate over long distances with

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drum beats. From then on the slave-holders restricted the Africans from any form of percussion or drum communication that could start a revolution. But the slaves found a new way to incorporate their communication thru their feet. The skill of tapping out complex rhythmic passages was widely developed, and a subtle, intricate and vital physical code of expression was born.  By the mid-nineteenth century, African Americans had combined their footwork with Irish and British clogging steps to create a style  called “Buck and Wing,” which would eventually became Modern Tap Dance. So when I tap dance today I try to imagine what it was like working in those fields and getting a rush of adrenaline when you almost got caught celebrating who you were and where you were from thru your feet. The concept they came up with and why they came up with it amazes me every time I think about it.

When I first started to tap dance competitively, I noticed a change in my body. When I first started, I couldn’t keep my balance, there were blisters all over my feet from the shoes, and my legs and feet would ache. It took a few months for my legs and my feet to get used to what I was doing. I had to develop calluses, muscles, and a better sense of balance. When that finally happened the art came into the dance. The grace, the beauty, everything came into play. It was very hard to see the art in tap dance during the transformation of my body but after my body got used to the movements it was easier to see the art in tap dancing.

Juliana’s Academy of Dance was where I danced most of my life. That place was a home to me for almost 9 years. It’s where I learned most of what I know about the art of tap dancing. The teachers were my second mothers and the other dancers were my sisters. They had so much to teach me. The biggest thing that I learned was improvisation. Dance improvisation is the

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process of spontaneously creating movement. Development of improvised movement material is facilitated through a variety of creative explorations including body mapping through levels, shape and dynamics schema. It’s said by many people to be the hardest part of being a dancer is improvisation as well as dancing with no music. When you dance with no music you have to rely on yours and others sense of rhythm and that’s it. The art of dancing and tap dancing involves your feet, your hands, your legs, your arms, your ears, your eyes, and your brain.

In my opinion, the hardest thing that needs to be done is matching music to moves. Only certain moves go with certain tempos and beats in songs. In some cases songs can’t be turned into a tap dance. In most cases it’s because the song has a tempo that is to slow and wouldn’t sound good. Having an ear for what songs can and cannot be turned into a tap dance is also an art. Then you have to decide what type of tap dance would go with the song. There  are many different types of tap dance including hoofing, hip hop tap, and ballroom type tap dancing. Hoofing involves tap dancing with mostly footwork and not very much upper body movement. Hip hop tap involves modern hip hop like locking, breaking, and popping. Ballroom tap dancing was created by Fred Astaire when he wanted to incorporate a sense of ballet and jazz into tap. It all depends on the syncopation of the music and the skill of the people dancing.

Attitude is one of the main components of dancing. Having a good attitude helps sell the story you’re trying to tell with the dance you’re dancing as well as put judges on your side in dancing competitions. Smiling is the main facial expression when talking about tap dancing because it’s such an upbeat and hype type of dance. But it is sometimes very hard to smile while you dance because you are so focused on what moves come next and what would happen if you

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mess up. But once you conquer these fears and you get to a place where you don’t even think about the next move, it’s a magical experience.

Tap dancing has been apart of my life since I was 5 years old. Even when I was taking breaks from dancing in a studio or dancing competitively because of another sport, tap dancing would just come back to me. It would show up when I would be listening to a song and my feet would just start executing moves that had been etched into my brain without me having to think about it. The way that some tappers, like Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, George Murphy, Sammy Davis Jr, and many more, move when they dance is like nothing else you have ever seen. To me, it’s equivalent to getting the wind taken away from you when you hear such a beautiful piece of music that there aren’t words to describe it. It has been around for decades and has been a symbol of art and freedom for just as long. This is why I perceive tap dancing as an art.

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