It’s Day Two of an intensive tap dancing workshop and there I am, in the back
row, trying to hide from eyes of our dance instructor, Saran. I’m not sure why
I’m hiding as Saran is warm, welcoming and easy to follow. Saran then asks us to
watch her while she moves her bum. Facing a large dance mirror, the Wellington
Footlights members all line up, ready to move our butts. On our feet is a selection
of black and tan tap shoes. We follow, rhythmically joining in, suppressing giggles
and snorts. After all, the dance does work better once our bums are fully
(Tap tap tippity tap tippity tippity tap. Tap.)
The dance studio fills with sound of 24 pairs of tap shoes. Amazingly, we tap at the same pace. Our formations are quick and we seem to meld as a company, marching at a constant pace. We’ve mastered the first part of Broadway Tap: synchronicity.
Either way, tap was born and it soon became a staple of travelling minstrel shows, vaudeville, nightclubs and later, films. Bo Jangles, Shirley Temple and Fred Astaire are some of tap’s most famous stars. Tap almost died out in the 1970s and 1980s but has been experiencing a renaissance since the early 1990s and is still a popular dance today.
The Charleston can be described as spastically moving your body in rhythm, with flailing jazz hands and legs akimbo. To do it well looks amazing, doing it poorly makes you look like you are out to injure someone. Like tap, the Charleston’s history started in the U.S., with its origins in the Roaring 1920s. It came from a musical, “Running Wild”, in 1923 and was quickly adopted into the night clubs. Its popularity coincided with a change in women’s clothing; the 1920s meant short skirts and sleeveless dresses. So the Charleston was a celebration dance of women who had free knees and elbows…and who could actually breathe without stays from corsets digging into their waists. And they would certainly need to breathe, as the Charleston is quite the workout!
A few company members rest on the floor when the Charleston is all over. I’m huffy and puffy myself. I’m a new member to the company and, I have to say, there is something bonding about dancing silly with a bunch of people you are just getting to know. When the class is over, I feel disappointed. After I catch my breath, I realise I want to dance again, which is a probably a good thing... because Taking the Millennium will have Tap AND Charleston.