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What happened to tap?

Is there enough publicity for tap? It is nearly impossible to find shows, college dance majors, auditions, dance companies, or workshops geared towards tap dancing. During the Harlem Renaissance, tap was one of the most popular forms of entertainment, favored highly over ballet and modern. There was a large group of tappers that hit it big during the Harlem Renaissance: Bill Bojangles Robinson, John Bubbles, and the Nicholas brothers, just to name a few. Now, just about the only tap dancer “hitting it really big” is Savion Glover.

Why?

Why has there been a huge fallout in the publics’ interest for tap dancing? Although there is no definitive, correct answer, I will attempt to dig into the current status of tap publicity verses the Harlem Renaissance to offer some explanations.

The Harlem Renaissance

During the 1920's and 1930's, films and entertainment began to increase in popularity. The public had not been so easily exposed to forms of entertainment such as tap dancing previously. When they were exposed, they loved it! Places like the Cotton Club and the Apollo began to flourish and bloom. The wealthy class would go there for evening entertainment. The Cotton Club was for white people only. Wealthy individuals would come from all over the country to visit the Cotton Club and have a good time. For tap dancers back then, the money and the interest of the wealthy class was there. The owner of the Cotton Club, Owney Madden made millions during this time. Tap dancers and performers got increasingly competitive in order to please the crowd and increase their own popularity. At the end of the 1930's, tap dancing got flashier and even included acrobatics, with the rise of the Nicholas brothers.

A Short Tap Rebirth

From the 1930's through the 1970's tap pretty much disappeared altogether. Public interest was directed toward new things and new kinds of entertainment. Fortunately though, tap did experience a short rebirth during the 1970's and 1980's. Broadway was increasing in popularity at that time. Shows such as 42nd Street and the Tap Dance Kid, performed by Savion Glover, appeared. More white individuals also got involved in tap dancing during the 1970's. Dance studios opened up and opportunities for children to take tap lessons were available. Increasingly, more performers began to make a living off of teaching, rather than performing at this time. Fortunately, shows like 42nd Street and the Tap Dance Kid peaked the public's interest at this time, but did not keep it for long enough.

Tap Enthusiasm Today

The International Tap Association currently only has “800 members in 22 countries and 47 States plus the District of Columbia.” Are people truly that apathetic about tap dancing or are they just uneducated?

While there are tap advocacy programs out there, they are relatively unheard of. For example, the International Tap Association currently has “800 members in 22 countries and 47 States plus the District of Columbia.” Are people truly that apathetic about tap dancing or are they just uneducated? It does not appear that the International Tap Association does much advertising beyond their website. If you are an everyday person interested in joining, you are going to have to seek them out. While this may be an attempt to keep membership selective, it may also be due to a lack of funding. The International Tap Association is funded for by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEA is on a limited budget, provided by the government. Therefore, the International Tap Association, along with other tap groups funded by the government may simply not have the money to do extra advertising. Advertisement and recruitment are needed in order to make tap dancing go public! With more advertisement, involvement and participation in tap events will increase. With increased involvement, increased skill levels and creative work should follow. Tap will not sit in a stagnant place. Collaborative websites, Broadway shows, newspaper advertisements, and TV commercials are all great ways to reach the public, but also require money.

What you can do to help

In order to gain more tap publicity, funding is needed. It is not something that can happen overnight. Instead, groups such as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) and Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) will need to provide more funding to tap dancers and advocates. All three of these sites include further grant information. Because all three of these groups receive their funding from the government, it is important to voice your concerns there also. You can write to US Congress Representatives or to newspapers to propose ideas and let them know about the current lack of tap!

Works Cited International Tap Association. 25. Jan. 2005 < http://www.tapdance.org/tap/ita/>.
NEA. Ed. webmgr@arts.endow.gov. 13. Feb. 2005 < http://arts.endow.gov>.
Juba. 25 April 2005. http://www.itvs.org/juba/tap.html#1650.
Scholastic. 25 April 2005. http://teacher.scholastic.com/researchtools/articlearchives/honormlk/harlem.htm.
42nd Street. 25 April 2005. http://www.42nd-street-musical.de/42ndstreet_logo.jpg.