Tap dancing is characterised by using the sounds of metal taps affixed to the heel and toe of shoes striking the floor as a form of percussion, coupled with both characteristic and interpretative body movements. Its roots were in minstrel shows, it gained prominence in Vaudeville and then emerged into an art form and means of expression alongside the evolution of jazz.
Before 1910 tap shoes used wooden soles to produce the distinct tapping sound. but most tap shoes since have had leather soles. Metallic taps were added to tap shoes in 1910. A tap’s “tone” is influenced by its weight as well as its surface shape, which may be concave or convex. The tonal quality of a tap can also be influenced by the material it is made from, the tightness or looseness of its screws, and the presence of a soundboard (though there is some debate whether this affects the sound).
There are a variety of styles of shoe: the Oxford is very common in jazz dance and the Mary Jane is common for younger girls in tap classes.Tap shoe makers include Bloch, Sansha and Capezio.
There are several styles of tap dance, including rhythm (jazz), classical, Broadway, and post-modern. Rhythm tap, the most celebrated and best known, focuses on musicality, and practitioners consider themselves to be a part of the jazz tradition and as such, improvisation is essential to their work.
There are many common tap steps including: the shuffle, shuffle ball change, double shuffle, leap shuffle, hop shuffle, flap, flap ball change, running flaps, flap heel, cramproll, buffalo, Maxi Ford, Maxi Ford with a pullback, pullbacks, wings, Cincinnati, the shim sham shimmy (also called the Lindy), Irish, waltz clog, the paddle roll, the paradiddle, stomp, brushes, scuffs, spanks, riffs, and single and double toe punches, hot steps, heel clicks, time steps, over-the-tops, military time step, New Yorkers, Shiggy Bops, drawbacks, and chugs.
Many influential rhythm tap dancers were members of the Hoofers Club. Hoofers are tap dancers who dance primarily ‘closer to the floor’ using mostly footwork and not showing very much arm or body movement. Early Tappers like Fred Astaire provided a more ballroom look to tap dancing, while Gene Kelly introduced ballet elements and style into tap. .
Soft-shoe is a close relative of rhythm tap dancing that does not require tap shoes. Rhythm is generated by tapping the feet, and also by sliding the feet (sometimes using scattered sand on the stage to enhance the sound of sliding feet).
During the 1930s tap dance mixed with Lindy Hop. “Flying swing outs” and “flying circles” are Lindy hop moves with tap footwork. In the mid- to late 1950s, the style of entertainment changed. Jazz music and tap dance declined, while rock and roll and the new jazz dance emerged. What is now called jazz dance evolved from tap dance.