Tap's Renaissance

During the 1980s, my tap education amounted to endless flaps and paradiddles, working with ballet-based arms and jazz hands. Although I learned a great deal from my teachers, we didn’t have any direct influence from a tap master or any real understanding of the artform. I had never heard of hoofin’, never experienced the magic of improvisation. I grew to love tap, but some part of me knew there was more to it than shuffling off to buffalo.


I got the chance to explore the artform further when I began attending festivals. I went to the Southern California Tap Festival in 1997 (where I first improvised and saw Brenda Bufalino teach class) and to the Detroit Tap Festival in 1999 (where Jimmy Slyde watched as Van Porter schooled a room full of us 20-somethings), and eventually began performing with Footnotes Tap Ensemble in North Carolina. I found myself becoming part of a community rich with historical awareness and generosity of spirit, and I began to see how what I’m doing now is the result of certain tappers’ hard work more than 25 years ago. In fact, the ’80s have emerged as one of the most important eras in tap’s history.

In a Nutshell
Tap suffered a serious drought in the middle of the 20th century; funds, support and promotions were almost nonexistent. By the late ’50s, work for tap dancers had completely dried up. Then, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, tap experienced a renaissance. Hoofers could once again find work hoofin’, instead of tapping underground while making a living with other skills. This work came thanks to two venues that were never before very welcoming of tap: dance festivals and the concert stage.


The movement to revive tap was driven by a handful of women who realized that the artform they loved could only survive and grow with the leadership and experience of the previous generation’s great masters. According to teacher and choreographer Brenda Bufalino, these women worked hard for little to no pay, for the love of their art. Tap historian Jane Goldberg adds that they sought out the masters, organized “tap happenings,” raised money, got grants, documented their history, produced new tap shows and started the first tap festivals.


By apprenticing themselves to the masters of tap, many of whom have since passed away, these female tappers ensured that the masters’ legacies would live on. The partnerships born in the 1980s led to new onstage possibilities and a lifetime of mutual respect. Among them: Bufalino and Charles “Honi” Coles, Dianne Walker and Leon Collins, Goldberg and Charles “Cookie” Cook, and Sarah Petronio and Jimmy Slyde.

The Rise of Festivals
Goldberg, assisted by Katherine Kramer, organized and produced one of the earliest tap festivals, By Word of Foot, held at the Village Gate in NYC in 1980. This festival was the gathering place of tap legends Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates, Bunny Briggs, Leon Collins, “Honi” Coles, John Bubbles and Gregory Hines (who at the time was filling in for Chuck Green).


The 1986 Colorado Mile High Tap Summit, created by International Tap Association executive director, Marda Kirn, and Sali Ann Kriegsman, evolved the festival format to include classes, performances with old masters, films and panels on various topics relevant to tap. This format is now seen all over the world.


Bufalino recalls that although Gregory Hines was getting work in nightclubs and as a dancer on Broadway during the 1980s, his style truly emerged at festivals. “A lot of dancers changed their style through festivals,” she says, perhaps because it was a space devoted to education and exchange. Festivals ensured a focused, intensive time for students to absorb tap’s rhythmic and artistic complexity while considering how to preserve and express traditions. These gatherings were vital to starting a multi-generational dialogue about what was, what is and what could be for the art of tap.


Gene Medler, artistic director of the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble, attended By Word of Foot and recalls the nightly “cocktail hour” with John Bubbles, where he heard stories from years past and how tap dance was redefined by each generation. Mark Yonally, artistic director of Chicago Tap Theatre, attended festivals as a teen and recalls learning the Walk Around from “Honi” Coles himself and witnessing the reunion between Coles and his longtime dance partner, Charles “Cholly” Atkins. At the St. Louis Tap Festival, Dianne “Lady Di” Walker let Yonally know that he had an obligation to give what he learned to others. “These festivals provided myriad opportunities to interact with artists,” Yonally explains. “We learned what the artform is and can be.”


Tap Onstage
The tap community was growing by leaps and bounds during the ’80s, exploring new frontiers in dance and music. And yet, says Bufalino, “Tap still wasn’t considered an artform.” Bufalino’s American Tap Dance Orchestra, founded in 1986, was one of the first tap companies to present works on the concert stage, previously the realm of modern and ballet companies. With innovative and sophisticated choreography and adventurous artistic direction, tap companies like ATDO, Lynn Dally’s Jazz Tap Ensemble and Acia Gray’s Tapestry Dance Company (to name just a few!) presented concerts and toured, engaging audiences and spreading awareness of their teachers, mentors and exceptional craft. Thanks to these efforts to get tap recognized, today’s tap soloists, companies, youth ensembles and even a few of the living legends perform with master musicians, jazz ensembles and full orchestras, transforming the eyes and ears of audiences everywhere.

Taking It All In
Do you know and appreciate all that you’re being given when you sign up for a festival? I didn’t realize the immense significance of learning about the Shim Sham Shimmy from Leonard Reed himself until years afterward, but now I recognize the history and tradition I’m a part of. So with the abundance of tap festivals, ensembles, jam sessions and concerts available, be picky—and be grateful!

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Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.


You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)


As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.


Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).


Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.


We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.


You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.


Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.


You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?


You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.


You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.


Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.


Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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