Whether you are an aspiring Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, or Ginger Rogers, or whether you simply enjoy celebrating dance, National Tap Dance Day makes a great annual celebration. It is a chance for you to put on your dancing shoes and enjoy this traditional form of dance, literally where you stand.
History Of National Tap Dance Day
National Tap Dance Day officially began in 1989 and celebrates the heritage and origins of the dance genre, along with the notable tap dancing greats, including Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the Mark Brothers, and more.
Tap dance first appeared in the 19th century as dancers from across the world combined their ideas in the New World. At first, tap dancing was a marginal activity that began in slave communities. Owners would take instruments and drums away from slaves so they began improvising, using their feet instead to act as percussion.
Over the years, they developed their techniques and many began to wear clogs in an attempt to create better sounds when they tapped their feet on the floor. Before long, tap dancing developed into a distinct art form, separate from traditional dancing styles imported from overseas. Tap dancers developed a unique sense of timing and rhythm. They learned how to move and tap their feet at the same time, laying the foundation for the tradition we have today.
Slaves could afford little more than clogs. But as tap dancing slowly leaked out into the wider community over the following years, shoemakers began experimenting to make the best kind of shoes. They needed something light, stable, and that would make a loud, audible sound when their foot hit the floor.
Eventually, they came up with the idea of attaching wooden soles to shoes, but many of the early designs failed to provide tap dancers with enough stability. Dancers would slide all over the place onstage. It wasn’t ideal. Others experimented by sticking pennies to the heels of shoes so that the dancer could make a tapping sound but still keep a grip.
During the Civil War, tap dancing became increasingly popular. Traveling showmen would tour around the country, often with slaves in tow. By the turn of the 20th century, it had become a major component of the creative output of various communities. Tap dancers, for instance, would often support jazz musicians, thanks to their ability to keep time to complex rhythms. Many made appearances at Broadway and Vaudeville shows.
Hollywood soon took up tap and began incorporating it into films, starting in the 1930s. Gene Kelly and Shirley Temple both became overnight tap sensations, inspiring generations of people to begin experimenting with the dance style. Likewise, Fred Astaire became famous for combining tap with traditional ballroom motifs. His sensational “single-take” dance performances soon entered the public consciousness, and we’ve been living with the aftermath ever since.
The purpose of National Tap Dance Day is to celebrate tap as an artform. Representatives of the tap communities lobbied the government to create a day in the calendar dedicated to the dance in February 1987. Just a few months later, George H. W. Bush signed the day into law and we’ve been observing it ever since.
National Tap Dance Day is a global phenomenon that inspires cultures all over the world. Over the years, it has grown in popularity, and by the time of the 2016 celebrations, the event generated more than 27 million mentions on social media.
How To Celebrate National Tap Dance Day
When Congress was developing the law around National Tap Dance Day, they developed some interesting and flattering ways to describe it. Citations from the original senate text reveal how top lawmakers considered tap to be a joyful and powerful aesthetic and how it was a “manifestation of cultural heritage.”
There are all sorts of ways to celebrate tap. Some cities have celebratory tap dancing shows and displays to mark the occasion, so, if you want to join in the celebrations, go along and join in the fun. Here you can take part in big events designed to bring everyone in the local community together and learn a lot about the artform too. Instructors and enthusiasts will often provide free lessons and instructionals for anyone who wants to take part. There are also live performances from the good and the great on public stages, as well as the occasional lecture on the history of the dance.
Alternatively, take a beginner tap dancing class, and get your toes tapping. You can approach your local dance studio and encourage them to put on a performance, perhaps recreating a scene from an iconic movie or show.
Learning to tap dance can be a rewarding experience. Most people need around one hundred hours of practice to make progress and feel competent with doing it, but everyone learns at their own rate. It is incredibly good exercise, so after about 20 minutes, you’re already working up a sweat.
The trick for getting good is learning a few basic moves and then stringing them together. Drills, therefore, are an important part of the training. You want to feel confident doing certain moves. Once you learn the fundamentals, it is easy to improvise on the dance floor and show off to your friends. The best approach is to keep repeating the basics and then add a new move each time you do a practice session.
You can even combine the celebration of National Tap Dance Day with healthy living and family bonding, getting everyone involved. Tap Dance, therefore, can easily become a part of a sustained health kick. It helps with coordination, rhythm, cardiovascular endurance, and even flexibility.
Another fun way to celebrate National Tap Dance Day is to make costumes, practice your routine, and amaze and thrill onlookers with your skills. Tap dancing costumes were traditionally quite reserved. But in recent years, they’ve taken on a certain degree of flair. It is not unusual for women to wear frilly outfits, complete with cane and top-hat. Men traditionally wore long trench suits with and without hats.
In recent years, many people have turned to social media as their outlet for celebrating National Tap Dance Day. You could create a video showing off your tap dancing skills or just having fun. You could even host a tap dancing live stream allowing everyone to join in. Your instructional video might encourage even more people to take part in this interesting and exceptional day.
Tap Dancing is a genuine cultural phenomenon and deeply entwined with major events in history. For generations, people have used the artform to escape some of the hardships of life and enjoy themselves, even under dire circumstances. National Tap Dance Day, therefore, is a chance to celebrate not only the aesthetic, but also the lives of the people who first made it popular. While legends like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson dominate the occasion, there’s also a need to reflect on the lives of the millions of people who helped the dance flourish throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
So, how will you celebrate National Tap Dance Day?