Tap dance is a lively and rhythmic style of dancing, characterized by the percussive sounds produced by the tap shoes worn by the dancer. It is rooted in African, Irish, and English dance traditions. This art has a captivating expression, highlighting footwork, syncopation, and improvisation. Dancers use metal plates affixed to their shoes to produce unique and intricate rhythmic patterns that characterize tap as a unique dance style.
Let's uncover the influence of the 12 distinguished tap dancers as we explore their contributions to the world of percussion dance.
1. Bill Robinson
Bill Robinson, commonly known as Bojangles, was a pioneering tap dancer born on May 25, 1878, in Richmond, Virginia. Celebrated as the best-known and highest-paid African-American entertainer in the United States during the first half of the 20th century, Robinson made a lasting impact on the performing arts. His talent in tap dancing endeared him to audiences. Renowned for his incredible speed, he famously claimed to run backward faster than most men could go forward. In addition to his contributions to dance, Robinson excelled as an actor and activist, showcasing the power of talent, resilience, and advocacy in the face of adversity.
BILL ROBINSON (BOJANGLES
2. Sammy Davis Jr.
Born on December 8, 1925, in Harlem, New York, Sammy Davis was a dynamic force in entertainment, with his career gaining momentum in the 1940s through unwavering determination, innate talent, and the support of friends like Frank Sinatra. As a key member of the Rat Pack alongside Sinatra and Dean Martin, Davis made a lasting impact with films such as Ocean's 11 and Sergeants 3. Beyond his acting, he excelled as a singer, comedian, and particularly as a tap dancer, showcasing quick-fired precision, crystal clarity, and rhythmically swinging flourishes that contributed to his enduring legacy in the entertainment and performance realms.
3. Savion Glover
Savion Glover, born on November 19, 1973, in Newark, New Jersey, has emerged as a prominent figure in the world of tap dancing. He gained fame for his breakthrough role in the Broadway musical "The Tap Dance Kid." Glover's distinctive style is characterized by a blunt and driven approach, featuring a funk-driven, flat-heeled technique. He seldom gazes towards his audience but taps while facing offstage. His body style pays little attention to the carriage of the arms. Beyond his prowess as a tap dancer, Glover has diversified his career as an actor and choreographer, solidifying his influential presence in the performing arts.
4. Eleanor Powell
Eleanor Powell, born on November 21, 1912, in Springfield, Massachusetts, stands as a triumphant figure in the realm of tap dancing, particularly as a female rhythm-tap soloist. Her legacy is etched in the annals of entertainment history, with her memorable tap dance numbers in musical films solidifying her reputation. Powell is best known for her powerful and aggressive style of tap dancing, a distinctive approach that set her apart in a male-dominated field. Her contributions not only showcased her technical mastery but also broke gender barriers, making her an influential and celebrated figure in the world of dance.
5. Fred Astaire
Born on May 10, 1899, in Omaha, Nebraska, Fred Astaire is a legendary figure in entertainment, broadly acknowledged as the "greatest popular-music dancer of all time." He left an indelible mark on dance by seamlessly merging ballroom and tap dance, crafting a sophisticated and refined style that reshaped the dance landscape. In addition to his dance prowess, Astaire excelled as an actor, singer, choreographer, and presenter. His contributions have left a lasting legacy, establishing him as an iconic and influential figure in the history of entertainment.
6. Gregory Hines
Gregory Hines, born on February 14, 1946, in New York, New York, played a pivotal role in the resurgence of tap dancing during the late 20th century. He is recognized for his versatility as a dancer, actor, choreographer, and singer. His reputation soared as the innovator behind improvised tap choreography, highlighting his exceptional skill and creativity. Noteworthy among his contributions was the design of a miked portable stage that amplified tap sounds, ensuring the tap dancer's presence matched the intensity of accompanying loud music. Gregory Hines's creative achievements and unwavering commitment to tap dance have created a lasting and influential legacy.
7. Ginger Rogers
Ginger Rogers, born on July 16, 1911, in Independence, Missouri, was an iconic figure during the Golden Age of Hollywood, renowned for her versatility as an actress, dancer, and singer. She achieved widespread fame as the cherished partner of Fred Astaire in a series of timeless movie musicals. Rogers captivated audiences with her exceptional ability to mix sass, sophistication, and astonishing footwork, setting a standard for grace and style in the realm of dance. Her partnership with Astaire became famous and made a lasting impact in the entertainment world.
8. Ann Miller
Ann Miller, born on April 12, 1923, in Houston, Texas, was a dynamic actress and dancer best known for her contributions to classical Hollywood cinema musicals during the 1940s and 1950s. With a vibrant personality and remarkable tap dancing skills, Miller left an enduring impact on the entertainment industry. Her fame reached new heights when she secured a seven-year contract with RKO at the age of thirteen. Miller's legacy is not only marked by her great legs and lively presence but also by her significant role in the golden era of Hollywood musicals.
9. Gene Kelly
Gene Kelly, born on August 23, 1912, in East Liberty, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was a versatile artist, excelling as a dancer, actor, singer, director, and choreographer. His fame peaked in the 1940s and 1950s, primarily known for his energetic and athletic dancing style. Beyond performances, Kelly sought to create an accessible form of American dance, termed "dance for the common man," showcasing his commitment to inclusivity in the appreciation of dance.
10. The Nicholas Brothers
The Nicholas Brothers, Fayard and Harold Nicholas, hailing from Philadelphia, were widely acclaimed as the greatest tap dancers of their era. Excelling in a range of dance techniques, particularly during the 1930s and 1950s, they left an indelible mark on the world of dance. Renowned for their highly acrobatic technique, the brothers were celebrated for their extraordinary artistry and daring innovations. Their performances showcased not only technical precision but also a dynamic and engaging style that captivated audiences, solidifying their reputation as iconic figures in the history of tap dancing.
11. Sandman Sims
Sandman Sims, born on January 24, 1917, in Fort Smith, Arkansas, made a significant impact on the tap dancing scene. Launching his career in vaudeville, he became famous for his unique style, showcasing his skill in a dancing technique performed within a wooden sandbox of his own construction. The distinctive aspect of his performances was the sand he sprinkled, altering and amplifying the sound of his dance steps. This innovative use of sand not only added a rhythmic texture to his routines but also earned him his well-deserved nickname. Sandman Sims's contributions to tap dance were marked by his creativity and originality.
12. Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple, born on April 23, 1928, in Santa Monica, California, emerged as a multifaceted talent in the realms of acting, singing, and dancing. She rose to fame as Hollywood's number-one box-office draw during her childhood years from 1934 to 1938. Shirley Temple captivated audiences with her charming performances, showcasing her ability to sing and tap-dance her way to stardom. As the leading child actor of her time, Temple left an indelible mark on the entertainment industry, becoming a beloved and iconic figure whose talents transcended the silver screen.
As we conclude our exploration of the lives and artistry of these 12 famous tap dancers, we're left with a rhythmic tapestry that echoes the rich heritage of percussive dance. Their contributions have shaped the dance world, creating a lasting imprint that continues to inspire.