Tap Dance in America: A Twentieth-Century Chronology of
Tap Performance on Stage, Film, and Media by Constance Valis Hill
About this Collection
Tap Dance in America: A Twentieth-Century Chronology of Tap Performance on Stage, Film, and Media documents, factually and with minimal editorial flourish, twentieth-century tap performance. The collection is searchable by the title, date, and venue of performance; dancer, choreographer, director, producer; and performance medium (film, television, radio, stage, club); as well as by the names of “tap numbers” and tap choreographies. Though the database is not complete in any way, it is the most exhaustive and detailed collection of materials on record.
This collection of historical records on tap dance performance comprises ten years of research for Tap Dancing America, A Cultural History, published by Oxford University Press in 2010. This book was the first comprehensive and fully documented history of a uniquely American art form that explored all aspects of the intricate musical and social exchange that evolved from Afro-Irish percussive step dances like the jig, gioube, buck-and-wing, and juba to the work of contemporary tap dance artists. In order to write a history of tap in America, there needed to be an accurate historical record of names, dates, and venues; and so began the laborious and painstaking task of constructing a chronology, drawing from a multitude of sources. In 2000, I joined the Five College Dance Department at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, where Stephanie Willen Brown, the database librarian at Johnson Library, designed a database that would comprise a chronology of tap dance in print and performance, film and video, film and video, festival and social history. By 2005, armed with the tap chronology that would serve as the basis upon which to write the book, I continued to gather dozens of dance reviews and features as a dance critic (the first written in 1978 for the Albany Arts Magazine KITE of Jane Goldberg and the Copasetics at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival); and to transcribe dozens of interviews with tap dancers (one of the earliest, a 1991 telephone interview with Charles “Honi” Coles and Marion Coles).
To be a tap historian is to be a sleuth, to revel in newly found bits of information as if they ere nuggets of gold. At the New York State Library in Albany, for instance, I found the premiere for Darktown Follies (November 3, 1913, Lafayette Theater), a date that has eluded tap historians for many years. At the State University of New York Albany Library, where I viewed microfilms of the weekly issues of ten years’ worth of The New York Amsterdam News, I reconstructed the roster of tap dance acts that played the Harlem Opera House, Lafayette Theater, and Apollo Theater in the 1930s. At the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City, I located the television specials in which John Bubbles, the “Father of Rhythm Tap,” had appeared. The New York Public Library and its staff, especially the Dance and Theater Collection of the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (housing the Gregory Hines Collection of American Tap Dance) and the Schomburg Center for Black Research and Culture, were indispensible in the construction of this tap dance chronology.
For an abbreviated history of tap dance, you can read “Tap Dance in America: A Short History” for an overview of tap’s musical styles and steps—from buck-and-wing and ragtime stepping at the turn of the century; jazz tapping to the rhythms of hot jazz, swing, and bebop in the twenties, thirties, and forties; to hip-hop-inflected hitting and hoofing in heels (high and low) from the nineties right up to today.
In addition to the 2800 records of tap performance, I have contributed 180 biographies of twentieth-century tap dancers-- from the eldest of dancers, Bill Robinson (1878-1949) and Fred Astaire (1899-1987), to contemporary young bloods who have become international touring artists and who have performed on Broadway, won Emmy and Tony Awards, and received the prestigious Dance Magazine, Adele and Fred Astaire, and Jacob’s Pillow Dance awards.
My wish, in gifting this rich treasure trove of tap dance materials to the Library of Congress, is to enlighten all who interested in the historiography of tap dance; and inspire continued research into America’s earliest vernacular dance form.