What do you get when you combine fun music, fast feet and a good sense of rhythm? The clickety-clack and tappity-tap of tap dancing, that’s what!

Tap dancing mixes two beautiful arts — dancing and making music — into one mesmerizing act. Tap dancing can be recognized by the unique tapping sounds created by metal plates that are attached to the ball and heel of each dancer’s shoes.

When they’re tapped against a solid surface, such as a wooden floor, the plates create a signature sound. As tap dancers tap across the floor, they create music while they dance!

Many companies make special tap shoes that have custom tap plates attached to the bottom of the shoes with screws. Since each shoe has a tap plate near the toe and one on the heel, tap shoes are sometimes called “two shoes and four taps.” The screws that attach the taps to the shoes can be adjusted to change the sounds they make.

Of course, it’s also possible to make your own homemade tap shoes by taping quarters or screwing metal plates to the bottom of any pair of shoes. It’s also possible to tap dance in shoes that have a hard, solid sole. However, the sounds such shoes make is not the same as true tap shoes.

Tap dancing has roots in various dances from cultures all over the world. Some likely influencers of tap dancing include African Juba dancing, English clogging, Irish step dancing, Native American stomp dancing and Spanish flamenco dancing.

Tap dancers often improvise, making up their specific moves and beats as they go along. They also rely heavily on syncopation, which means they use an irregular rhythm to place stresses or accents where they usually wouldn’t occur.

Would you believe you can even tap dance without music? Just like singing without music, tap dancing can be done “a capella.”

Instead of dancing to music, tap dancers instead create their own unique rhythms using a variety of special steps.

Tap dancing was popular in America from the 1930s to the 1950s. The best tap dancers of the time moved from touring shows to Broadway to movies and eventually television.

Some of the famous tap dancers from this period were Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Shirley Temple, Gene Kelly, Rita Hayworth and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

With the birth of rock and roll, tap dance declined in popularity. A new form of dance — jazz dance — eventually evolved out of tap dance.

Although they were similar in the past, tap dance and jazz dance are considered separate forms of dance today.

Traditional tap dance is once again starting to become popular. Modern tap dancers include Gregory Hines and Savion Glover.

In fact, Savion Glover recently helped to bring tap dancing back into the mainstream when he choreographed and danced for the movie Happy Feet, which told the story of a tap dancing penguin.

 

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    • She’s a great dancer for someone her age, don’t you think, Jon? Have you ever tried to tap dance? It’s LOTS of fun! Thanks for hanging out in Wonderopolis today! :-)

  1. WOW!! I love the video about tap dancing!! That little girl is so cute and VERY good at that tap dancing!! I learned so many things I did not know about tap dancing before I read this Wonder of the Day!!

    • We’re super glad you liked this Wonder of the Day®, Hannah! Thank you for letting us know you learned some cool new things about tap dancing! :-)

  2. I really like this wonder because I am a tap dancer and it was very fun to know a little more about tap. I have a wonder about dance…who invented dance and the different types of dance?

    • That’s another GREAT idea for a future Wonder, Paige! You are really good at WONDERing! We think it’s cool that you are a tap dancer…we bet you are SUPER at it! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing your knowledge about tap dancing, Susan! We appreciate your comment and are SUPER happy you stopped by Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • We bet she would be super happy to hear you say that, Julie! Thanks for visiting this Wonder and leaving us a comment to let us know you liked it! :-)

    • We Wonder if you have shuffled or have step-hop-step-flap-ball-changed in tap shoes, Emma? We hope you have tried it out– tap dancing is a ton of fun! Thanks for sharing your comment with us, Wonder Friend! :)

    • Great point, Hannah! We love to dance around and enjoy the music, no matter what our level of talent is! Thanks for sharing your great comment, Wonder Friend Hannah! :)

    • We were quite impressed, too, Elizebath! We Wonder what your favorite kind of dance is, and if you enjoy dancing to certain types of music, too! :)

    • Hi there, Katherine! We’re so glad that you’re dancing! Keep up the great work and thanks for (…5, 6, 7, 8) WONDERing with us! :)

  3. I do pointe/ballet and I did do tap until I got relly involved with pointe, dance is my life if I lost dance it would be like losing a best friend it makes me soo happy when I dance it is like going to a different world to me I dance for hours every day. I’m in the Nutcracker I really want to be in the Rockettes I hope dancing stays in the universe until the end of the universe. Wonderopolis is a great website I really like the articles. I hope you get more dancing articles I really love this site I hope it gets REALLY big like youtube.

    • WOHOO, we’re so very excited that you enjoy dance so much, Pointgirl! Dancing of all kinds, from tap to ballet to modern, is lots of fun! It’s a great way to express yourself and work up a sweat, too! Thanks for sharing your cool comment with us– good luck in the Nutcracker! Say hi to the Sugar Plum Fairy for us! Have a WONDERful day! :)

    • We’re glad this Wonder made you happy, Sophia! We bet you’re an awesome tapper! Have a super day, Wonder Friend! :)

    • WOW, two years of dance– that’s really impressive, Wonder Friend Y! We hope you had a great time WONDERing with us… we need to brush up on our time-steps and ball-change steps! :)

    • We love to shuffle and ball-change in our tap shoes– we’re so glad you have been tapping, too, Chlo Chlo! HOORAY for dancing and WONDERing! :)

  4. I LOVE TAP DANCING!!!Tap dancing is almost HALF of my whole entire life! I have tap shoes too! Do yoy have tap shoes? Please answer me back!

    • HOORAY, we’re glad you’ve been timestepping with happiness as you Wonder about tap shoes, Katie! (Step-hop-step-flap-ball change!) It sounds like you’ve been tapping for a while and we’re glad to know how much you enjoy it! Some of our friends at Wonderopolis are tappers, too… sometimes they’re called hoofers! :)

  5. She is a good DANCER and is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO CUTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • We Wonder if you have tried tapping, Delaney? Sometimes tappers are also known as “hoofers”, too! Thanks for visiting us and sharing your comment! :)

    • Good afternoon, Wonder Friend Detective Jillian! We are thrilled that you’ve been WONDERing and dancing along with us today! We’ve been tapping away as we listen to the sounds of tap shoes on the ground– what a cool dance! While we’re not certain about the girl in the Wonder video’s lessons, we bet you and some friends can learn some tap steps on your own! Perhaps you can visit a local dance studio or you can teach yourself with the help of the Internet!

      Here are a few classic tap steps: the time step, the shuffle, the flap, and the chug! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Do you need special shoes to tap dance?
  • Who are some famous tap dancers?
  • Can you tap dance without music?

Wonder Gallery

tap_shutterstock_135762Vimeo Video

Try It Out

If today’s Wonder of the Day got your toes tapping, get up and get your groove on! You don’t need special tap shoes to learn some basic tap dance moves.

Make your own homemade tap shoes, grab a pair of dress shoes or just slip on a pair of old sneakers. Then get ready to dance!

Whether you’re a future ballerina or have two left feet, tap dancing is a fun activity that everyone can enjoy. Follow the links below to watch some instructional videos that will show you a range of tap dance moves. Get your friends and family to join you for some old-fashioned fun!

 

Still Wondering

Tap your way over to ArtsEdge’s Indonesian Dance feature to watch Indonesian dancers share their country’s traditional Javanese dancing with members of a Chicago dance company!

 

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