Sunday, May 19, 2013

Syncopation's Back in Sync

Ginger & Fred did it all!
Hear the beat... of tapping feet...

Dance fads wax and wane nearly as quickly as hemlines.  But a solid dance style weathers the storms of fashion and while occasionally down, is never really out.  So is the case with tap dancing.  Tap shoes have been sitting quietly and patiently at the bottom of the dance trunk in favor of Zumba trainers for years now.  Before Zumba it was step aerobics and before that, high-impact aerobics.  After all, those activities offer vigorous workouts.  And so the Mary Janes roll their eyelits, narrowly escaping the thrift store bin, in great part because they are still good shoes to wear to costume parties.

Thankfully, the tide is beginning to turn and the sun again once shine over the world of tap.  About.com's dance section has this to say about the benefits of tap dance:
Tap dancing is a fun style of dance that anyone can learn, regardless of previous dance experience. Tap dancing is beneficial in many ways. Benefits of tap dance include increasing cardiovascular conditioning, strength, flexibility and coordination. Tap builds strength in the legs and feet in addition to increasing flexibility in the hips, knees and ankles. Cognitive abilities are also enhanced, as tap dancers must develop both mental and muscle memory to become proficient at tapping. 
Tap dancing also develops a great sense of rhythm and timing. Tap instructors help students focus on music awareness while incorporating tap steps and combinations. Best of all, tap dance is a solo dance style...you don't need a partner to do it, although that's fun, too.

Want legs like Gene Kelly's dance partner, Cyd Charisse? Tap can give 'em to you. 

Tapped in

If you're curious as to what tap is and where it came from, here's the downlow on the soft-shoe, excerpted from Wikipedia:
Tap dance is a form of dance characterized by using the sound of one's tap shoes hitting the floor as a percussive instrument. As such, it is also commonly considered to be a form of music. Two major variations on tap dance exist: rhythm (Jazz) tap and Broadway tap. Broadway tap focuses more on the dance. It is widely performed as a part of musical theater. Rhythm tap focuses more on musicality, and practitioners consider themselves to be a part of the Jazz tradition. 
"Soft-Shoe" is a rhythm form of tap dancing that doesn't require special shoes [those with taps affixed to the toe portion of the sole and heel], and while rhythm is generated by tapping of the feet, it also uses sliding of the feet (even sometimes using scattered sand on the stage to enhance the sound of the performer's sliding feet) more often than modern rhythm tap. It preceded what is currently considered to be modern tap.
Tap dance has roots in dancing such as the Juba Dance, English Lancashire Clog dancing, and probably most notably Irish stepdancing. It is believed to have begun in the mid-1800s during the rise of minstrel shows. As the minstrel shows began to decline in popularity, tap dance moved to the increasingly popular Vaudeville stage. Due to the two-colored rule, which forbade blacks from performing solo, the majority of Vaudeville tap acts were duets. This gave rise to the famous pair "Buck and Bubbles," which consisted of John "Bubbles" Sublett tap dancing and Ford "Buck" Washington on piano. The duo perfected the "Class Act", a routine in which the performers wore impeccable tuxedos, which has since become a common theme in tap dance. The move is seen by some as a rebuttal to the older minstrel show idea of the tap dancer as a "grinning-and-dancing clown." 
Another notable figure to emerge during this period is Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Well versed in both Buck and Wing dancing and Irish Step dancing, Bill Robinson joined the Vaudeville circuit in 1902. He went on to have a leading role in many films, notably in the Shirley Temple franchise.  During the 1930s tap dance mixed with Lindy Hop. In the 1950s, the style of entertainment changed. Jazz music and tap dance declined, while rock and roll and pop music and the new jazz dance emerged.  
What is now called jazz dance evolved out of tap dance, so both dances have many moves in common. But jazz evolved separately from tap dance to become a new form in its own right. No Maps on My Taps, the Emmy award winning PBS documentary of 1979, helped begin the recent revival of tap dance. The outstanding success of the animated film, Happy Feet, has further reinforced the popular appeal. National Tap Dance Day in the United States, now celebrated May 25, was signed into law by President George Bush on November 7, 1989 with May 25 chosen because it is Bojangles' birthday.

Think modern men don't tap?  Think tap is outdated, stuffy, stiff and formal?  Thing again!  Think Tap Dogs!!  I've been a fan of the original Thunder from Down Under since the '90's, when I first saw those hubba hubba hunks, then wearing jeans, work boots and tight white Ts over muscled torsos, sloshing through construction site sets in beguiling syncopation.  Here is a representative clip, showing the dogs just sort of kicking back nonchalantly, while in essence they are traversing balance beams, tapping in sync all the while.