Among the host of days, weeks and months designated by various government officials, make room for one more: National Tap Dance Day, on May 25.
Thus Congress will recognize one of our most joyous indigenous arts. Few Americans have souls so dead that they have never tapped their toes in rhythm, or gasped in response to the incredible moves of a twinkle-toed virtuoso.Tap came in from the bayous and off the streets to highlight the vaudeville circuit, the Broadway show and the '30s screen musical. It fell into decline in the '50s and '60s, when jazz, ballet and creative dance took over the musical comedy stage, but tap is coming back.
Witness Broadway musicals such as "Anything Goes" and "Legs Diamond," and movies like "White Nights," "The Tap Dance Kid" and "Tap," starring Gregory Hines and featuring a host of America's finest tappers. Tap dancers are receiving awards; directors are calling for tap dancers.
But Hines is impatient with the puerile routines that grace present-day musicals, staged by choreographers who are not tap dancers. "They put together a basic tap dance that audiences like, but it doesn't dazzle," he said. Nonetheless, dazzling dancers are out there, studying with the old-timers and moving beyond the cut-and-dried into the improvisational territory that has always been the glory of the genre.
Tap can't remain a grandfather's art, and Hines applauds the artistry of such young dancers as Savion Glover, 14, and Chance Taylor, 19, who both danced in "Tap" and are learning the kind of moves that make their mentors great. "When Savion evolves into Savion, he'll have a sense of us inside him - and he'll be doing what nobody is doing," said Hines. "He is where tap dancing is going."
Janet Gray, Salt Lake jazz and tap teacher, wishes that the tap revolution were a little quicker in igniting Salt Lake City, where tap is still largely stagnant. Those who are interested in tapping generally prefer the more cut and dried buck-and-wing style to the intricacies of rhythm tap, and several other studios in the city teach tap.
Nonetheless, at her studio Gray teaches rhythm tap to some 60 to 70 students, in all age groups through beginning adults. She starts children in tap with its rhythmic emphasis as young as 31/2, but no ballet until age 7.
"These kids are different in one way," she said, looking around her class of intermediate tappers, ages 8-12. "They all love to practice at home! And tap makes them into show people who are seasoned and eager to perform."