National Tap Dance Day – 25 May 2023

National Tap Dance Day was first celebrated on 25 May 1989 after being passed by the U.S. Congress followed by President George H.W. Bush signing it into the U.S. American Law. The date picked to celebrate this day is actually the birthday of Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, a significant contributor to tap dance.

It is believed tap dancing originated in the 19th century in the USA when slave owners confiscated their percussion instruments. To allow the slaves to express themselves they turned to using percussive dance instead. This style of dance along with clog dancing from the British Isles created a unique style combining rhythm and movement. 

Tap dancing continued to evolve at the start of the 20th century with the first tap shoes made with metal plates being invented in 1920. Dancers began to include complex syncopated rhythms into the tap movements leading to it becoming a regular feature in popular Vaudeville variety shows. Followed by tap making its Hollywood debut in 1930, where tap dancing became a regular feature in movies and on television. 

Talented tap dancers that helped make tap dancing popular include Fred Astaire, Gregory Hines, Ginger Rogers and Shirley Temple, who in fact, made her tap dance film debut at the age of six.

Keep reading for some tap facts and a bit more about Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson.

Facts About Tap Dancing Facts:

  1. Using soles of feet

When tap dancing originated, African American slaves would use the soles of their feet to tap dance.

  1. Early tap dance shoes

Before the proper shoes were invented for tap dancing, people stuck pennies on their shoes to make the tapping sound and the term “tap” started being used around 1902

  1. Musical instrument

Tap shoes can be considered musical instruments.

  1. Secret language

Tap dancing can be used as a secret language to communicate with Morse code.

  1. Tap dance styles

This dance form has various styles to it such as Broadway, classical, rhythm, funk, and jazz.

  1. The first rule of tap …

Keep your knees loose and your weight on the balls of your feet, Tap dancing takes a great deal of work and dedication

  1. Some popular Tap movies include: 

Singing in the Rain

Tap

Happy Feet

White Nights

Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson

An iconic African American actor and tap dancer born in 1878, best known for his film and Broadway performances. He began dancing for a living from the age of 5 in local beer gardens, moving on to a touring company and later having great success as a nightclub and musical comedy performer. 

In 1928 he starred in the successful musical ‘Blackbirds of 1928’, which featured is famous ‘stair dance’ (see link below to view this dance). The popular show led to him earning is stage name, ‘Bojangles’, reflecting his cheerful and happy-go-lucky demeanour. 

Bojangles success continued with him starring in 14 Hollywood films, mostly musicals, including a role opposite Shirley Temple as a child star. To celebrate his 61st birthday he danced down 61 blocks of Broadway, whist he was performing in ‘The Hot Mikado, a Gilbert and Sullivan jazz inspired musical.

He sadly passed away in 1949 aged 71, to this day he remains a well-known figure in the dance world.

https://youtu.be/vj1KYaCIA5o

Here are some other videos of well known tap dancers and iconic dances:

Gregory Hines – https://youtu.be/VbxI3K8GnpU 

Shirley Temple – https://youtu.be/wtHvetGnOdM

Tap Dance History film – https://youtu.be/Tz3az94XYlQ

Gene Kelly – https://youtu.be/swloMVFALXw 

Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers – https://youtu.be/R970ZgFlFsM