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into the heart of Tap Dance

born on the streets . .

Some of the greatest tap dancers of all time never had a formal dance lesson.  Many danced for years without ever owning a pair of tap dance shoes.  Though these kids never had formal training, they studied with some of the finest teachers around and became the top artists in the field.  Their training was right off the street from other dancers. 

Dancing on street corners was an integral part of many a dancer's schooling, and it was not, by any means, casual.  There a dancer had to demonstrate bona fide skill to "survive".  If a dancer could not "cut it", there was just no staying on that particular corner.  Corners were ranked, and a dancer's goal was to move up to the top corner.  It was not easy.  There was a tremendous amount of competition.

[Excerpts from "Tap!" by Rusty E. Frank]

into the heart of Rhythm Tap
born on the streets . .


      Rhythm tap is closely related to the origins of tap itself. Springing out of the dancing of slaves in Southern America in the early twentieth century, rhythm tap has always remained true to a representation of the every day and an expression of something universally familiar. It remained separate from the high art associated with the Harlem Renaissance, though it shared close ties with jazz music as the rhythm tapper (or hoofer) often set the tempo for the band in American jazz clubs. Although hoofers were rarely aiming for a clear narrative in their dances, they always sought to tell a story. They communicated with audience members and musicians using sound and as a result, improvisation was a crucial skill. Dancers such as John Bubbles and ‘Bojangles’ Robinson were the pioneers of rhythm tap as we know it today. However, after the Second World War, tap fell to the wayside.


Hoofers are tap dancers who dance primarily with their legs, making a louder, more grounded sound. This kind of tap dancing, also called "rhythm tap", came primarily from cities or poor areas. Today this is not the case, especially with such a wide variety of styles spreading throughout the world. Steve Condos rose out of his humble beginnings in Pittsburgh, PA to become a master in rhythmic tap. His innovative style influenced the work of Gregory Hines, Savion Glover and Marshall Davis, Jr. The majority of hoofers, such as Sammy Davis Jr., Savion Glover, Gregory Hines, and LaVaughn Robinson are African American men, although today the art form transcends racial and gender stereotypes. Savion Glover is the best-known living hoofer, who helped bring tap dance into mainstream media by choreographing and dancing for the major motion picture Happy Feet, a film about a tap dancing penguin. Another well-known tap film is 1989's Tap, starring the late Gregory Hines and many of the old-time hoofers.

The Resurgence of Rhythm

        Rhythm tap resurfaced in the 1980’s when Gregory Hines and a young Savion Glover reintroduced tap to popular culture. Hines, an actor, director, and choreographer, had both finesse and grace, making him commercially successful as a dancer. His feet, though, were the thing really worth watching and people slowly began to take notice. Glover, on the other hand, sprang onto the scene at only ten years old, starring on Broadway as ‘The Tap Dance Kid’. By his teens, however, his urban look and his laid back style had given way to an incredible and unique talent. Glover’s ‘hard core’ style of tapping, which featured rapid, changing, and complex rhythms, spread to other young dancers. When his own creation ‘Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk’ became a Tony-award winner on Broadway in the 1990’s, rhythm tap finally began to receive the international attention it deserved.

Tap dancers make frequent use of syncopation.  Choreography typically starts on the eighth or first beat count. Another aspect of tap dancing is improvisation. This can either be done with music and follow the beats provided or without musical accompaniment, otherwise known as a cappella dancing.

          Debbie Allen, Olivia Cameo Lewis                Joseph Webb, Olivia & Jason Samuels Smith

Common tap steps include the shuffle, shuffle ball change, flap, flap heel,
cramproll, buffalo, Maxi Ford, single and double pullbacks, wings,
Cincinnati, the shim sham shimmy (also called the Lindy), Irish,
Waltz Clog, the paddle and roll, stomp, brushes, scuffs,
and single and double toe punches, hot steps, heel clicks, single,
double and triple time steps, riffs, over-the-tops, military time step,
new yorkers, and chugs. In advanced tap dancing, basic steps are
often combined together to create new steps.
                                                                             Arthur Duncan, 2014


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