As a tap dancer, you're a student of history—whether you know it or not. Tap technique today is intimately connected to the great hoofers of the past. "Tap is incredibly personal, because all of these individuals have added to the public domain, the pool of steps you draw from," says Brian Seibert, dance critic for The New York Times and author of What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing. "You're constantly giving shout-outs to dancers who came before you."
It's also important to recognize tap's pioneers because they repeatedly broke down barriers, making tap accessible to everyone. "You don't have to overcome something to be here," says Tony Waag, artistic executive director of the American Tap Dance Foundation. "You're not the first black person or woman, you don't have to carry a certain card or have a particular lineage to succeed at tap. Gregory Hines used to say, 'If you have the shoes, you're in.' "
Come meet the artists who've shaped tap history. Because if you're a tap dancer, they're your family, too.
Larry (left) and Laurent Bourgeois (by Erin Baiano)
Larry and Laurent Bourgeois—known in the dance industry as “Les Twins”—are easily recognizable by their big hair, chiseled jawlines and so-far-out-there style. They wear their pants backward and topped with kneepads down around their ankles, and rock enough bling, bracelets and accessories to arm an entire competition team. The youngest of 18 siblings, these 24-year-old French party boys don’t seem to take anything too seriously—and that includes their dancing. “I just freestyle,” Laurent says. “I have no talent.” Though Les Twins don’t boast a resumé filled with training credits—they’re self-taught hip hoppers—the “no talent” point is worth arguing against if you’ve seen them in action.
Beyoncé would certainly stand against Laurent’s claim: According to her choreographer since 1997, Frank Gatson Jr., it was Beyoncé herself who spotted the twins and told Gatson to bring them onto the team. “Beyoncé is a monster,” Laurent says. “That’s her name—I call her that all the time. I give her power when I don’t have any power left.” Larry and Laurent danced alongside Beyoncé at the Billboard Music Awards in 2011 and now they’ll join her on The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour as the only male dancers. “I want to bring everything onto the stage. I want to sleep on the stage,” Larry says. “I just want to go out there and kill the stage.”