The Remarkable Evolution and Influence of Black Tap Dancing: A Deep Dive


Tap Dancing: an incredibly expressive dance style with a significant history. This striking form of performance, born from the heart of various cultures, holds a special place in the realm of dance. Notably, Black tap dancers have shaped and defined the evolution of this art form, adding a significant layer of depth and soulfulness. This article explores the profound impact of Black tap dancers on the global stage, tracing their journey from humble beginnings to their current iconic status.

Origins and Evolution

Initially, tap dance rose to prominence through a blend of different dance forms brought by African slaves to the American South. Herein lies a symbiotic relationship between African rhythmic complexities and Irish jig dance steps. After the abolition of slavery, tap dance became one of the few platforms Black performers could utilize to introduce African cultural elements to American audiences.

The Influence of Minstrel Shows

The crude mockery of Black culture in minstrel shows was an irony that embraced and popularized the rhythm. Early Black tap dancers, performing in these shows, skillfully re-appropriated this medium to display their innate talent, thus demonstrating the potential of tap dance as a form of expression.

Emblematic Figures: Bill Robinson & John Bubbles

Trailblazers like Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and John "Bubbles" Bubbles challenged societal norms, breaking racial barriers with their infectious rhythm and unprecedented footwork. Their contributions steered tap dance through the Vaudeville era into Hollywood, paving the way for future Black artists.

Transition to Hollywood and Emergence of Jazz Tap

As tap dancing migrated to Hollywood, it underwent significant transformation, with Jazz-tap emerging as a result. Jazz-tap, a style prominently pursued by Black tap dancers, incorporated improvisation and complex syncopation, reflecting social dynamics of the time.

The Nicholas Brothers

Fayard and Harold Nicholas, famously known as the Nicholas Brothers, were undisputed masters of Jazz tap. Their integration of acrobatic stunts in dance routines, now referred to as ‘flash’ dance, galvanized the evolution of tap dance.

The Tap Renaissance

Post-World War II, tap dance hit a decline, largely overshadowed by emerging dance forms. However, in the mid-1970s, there was a resurgence termed the Tap Renaissance. Black tap dancers played a pivotal role in reviving the art form, infusing it with nuances from modern-day musical styles—hip-hop and funk.

Savion Glover and His Influence

Modern tap prodigy, Savion Glover, honed his art under the mentorship of older black tap dancers, carrying forward their legacy while adding his modernistic touch. Glover’s ‘freestyle’, raw-edged tap brought renewed interest in tap all over the world.

Modern Black Tap Dancing: A Legacy Continues

Presently, Black tap dancers are still pushing boundaries, exploring new rhythms, and amplifying the dance form. Whether in music videos or on Broadway, their presence endures as an ode to their forebears and a testament to the ongoing evolution of tap dance.


Black tap dancers have always been at the forefront, reinventing and evolving with the dance form. Their march reflects the resilience of a people, the adaptability of an art form, and a legacy that continues to reverberate throughout the global tapestry of dance. Undeniably, the history and development of tap dancing can’t be spoken without mentioning the indelible impact of Black tap dancers, who have poured their souls into the dance, one tap at a time.

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