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Culture Tuesdays: Juba Dance


William Henry Lane was known as “Master Juba”. The “Juba dance,” also known as “Pattin’ Juba,” was a mix of African rhythms, European Jig, Reel Steps, and Clog. It started becoming more popular around 1845. There are some who say that this was the creation of Tap dance in America as a theatrical art form. At a point before the civil war, African Americans and whites were not allowed to perform on the same state together with the exception of Master Juba.

Tap dancing originated with African dancers in early America, “they would articulate rhythmic patterns through chugging, scooping, brushing and shuffling movements of the feet.” These dancers were called “Levee Dancers” throughout the south.

The term “tap” became popular around the year 1902. In the 1800s, the dance was termed “buck-and-wing,” “buck dancing,” or “flat-footed dancing.” Metal taps attached to shoe bottoms became more common in 1910. Before then, most shoes were made of leather uppers and wooden soles; some had hobnails or pennies pounded into the toe and heel.

Tap was the most popular stage dance from 1920 to 1935, which was at the peak of the Harlem Renaissance. The most famous tap dancer during that time was Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who performed both on stage and film. His dance patterns set new standards, and is still considered the “classic structure of tap.” In the 1935 movie,The Little Colonel, with Mr. Bojangles performed the stair dance with such excellence that, it still remains linked to his name to this day.

John W. Bubbles aka John “Bubber” Sublett is known as the father of rhythm tap. “Bubbles brought tap down from the toes by slapping his heels against the floor like a drummer” (International Encyclopedia of Dance). He was known for freeing tap from the classic eight-bar phrase by hooking together longer non-repetitive phrases. This is a style style still widely used in tap dance performances today.

Harold and Fayard Nicholas, the Nicholas Brothers, were most respected for their use of flash techniques. Flash tap uses spectacular tricks incorporated into tap phrases. They would leap from platforms and stairs ten feet high, land in full splits, bounce up, and continue tapping. Flash and acrobatic tap entails precise timing so that the dance rhythms are uninterrupted.

Most recently, tap has experienced a revival. A Broadway play entitled “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk”, used tap to interpret African and African American history. Now considered an art form, it is being embraced in many societies and cultures.

Make sure to click the YouTube link to watch the Nicholas brothers put on a great tap show!

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