National Tap Dance Day is May 25. The date commemorates the birth of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, one of tap’s greatest practitioners. He may be best known for his stair dance routine with Shirley Temple in 1935’s The Little Colonel. But his career stretched back to vaudeville and minstrel shows and continued through Broadway, movies, radio and television.
The 1943 film Stormy Weather starred Robinson as a fictionalized version of himself. The film also featured Lena Horne, Fats Waller and a couple of brothers who created a tap sensation of their own.
If you’re skeptical about tap deserving its own day, watch this scene, the finale of Stormy Weather:
That routine deserves its own day.
The song is “Jumpin’ Jive,” performed by Cab Calloway and his orchestra. The dancers are The Nicholas Brothers – Fayard and Harold.
Fred Astaire, whose name is synonymous with dance, called it the greatest movie musical sequence he’d ever seen.
Mikhail Baryshnikov called the Nicholas Brothers the most amazing dancers he’d ever seen.
Gregory Hines played Baryshnikov’s frenemy/dance partner in Cold War buddy flick White Nights. When he and brother Maurice tap-danced as the Hines Kids (later Hines Brothers) they were called the next Nicholas Brothers.
Young Gregory agreed with that assessment until he saw Stormy Weather.
“That’s when I knew we were not going to be the next Nicholas Brothers,” Hines said. “They were unique.”
Hines called them “stunt dancers” because of their show-stopping leaps and splits. Actually, daredevils might be a better description, since stunt performers favor meticulous planning. The brothers performed their Stormy Weather sequence sans rehearsal and in one take.
The brothers toured worldwide and were seen by even more people through their movie appearances.
Broadway came calling as well, and the Nicholas Brothers were featured in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936. Choreographer George Balanchine sought them out for Rodgers and Hart’s Babes in Arms.
The Nicholas Brothers’ Broadway credits are impressive if brief. Tap, though, has a long history on Broadway, from 1934’s Anything Goes – featuring the songs of Cole Porter and the wit of playwright P.G. Wodehouse – to Gregory Hines’ 1992 tap showcase, Jelly’s Last Jam.
Savion Glover, the reigning king of tap, has done much to keep tap fresh and moving forward.
Glover made his Broadway debut as a pre-teen in 1984’s The Tap Dance Kid, scored his first Tony® nomination at 15 for Black and Blue and created a tap sensation with 1996’s Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk.
Tampa Bay audiences got to experience Bring in Da Noise in April 1999 when it was presented at The Straz, then known as the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
In 1998 and 2019, Tap Dogs came to our stage. The show, which originated in Australia, featured a half dozen buff male dancers clad in boots and work clothes – the shirts of which were doffed in the course of the performance. (Think of it as a PG-13 Magic Mike with tap dancing.)
Tap also was part of our inaugural season when Hines performed here in 1988. And we presented a taste of Manhattan-style holiday cheer in 2003 and 2013 when the always fabulous Rockettes kicked and tapped their way through the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.
Tap thrives at The Straz, though, even without a Broadway extravaganza on the schedule. Our Patel Conservatory offers tap classes for both youngsters and adults. Both classes welcome newcomers ready to learn how to make a little tap magic.
Please note, though, Patel’s tap classes do not cover leaps, splits or how to rise out of a split without using your hands. For that, you’re on your own.
Maybe best to not try this alone though.