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The Preservation of Tap Dance is truly the preservation of American history…

This is a sponsored post.  The author – @EfabulousHB was given free admission to the films listed to complete her review. This is a full review of No Maps on my Taps & About Tap both directed by George T. Nierenberg.

…..


I first saw the Rockettes on the Muppets show when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. Now, here I was in New York. I’m 27 and I’m auditioning for the Rockettes.

My long sleek frame is still a good size 4/6. I have legs for days. My smile is electric and still filled with that “magical thing” that makes people want to move to New York and action their wildest dreams. I’m still young. Vibrant. I can still dance.

Inside my guts are bubbling.

“Please let me make it past 1st round. Please God. Please!” I’m literally screaming this inside my head. They are calling the girls to the 2nd round. Yes! Yes! They call my name.

I’m in the first group.

I made it through the 1st round.

Yes. I’m still a dancer at 27.

“Okay, ladies – let me see your time step!”

And there I was, frozen.

I didn’t have a time step.

…. Because I never learned how to tap.

I walked out of line, grabbed my bag and my eyes said thanks for the opportunity. I am now 44yrs old and I still regret that day, forever more.

 


I DID NOT KNOW HOW TO TAP.   SHUFFLE / BALL / CHANGE – YES.  TIMESTEP – NO.   LAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWD!



[Definition of the art form via Wikipedia] Tap dance is a form of dance characterized by using the sounds of tap shoes striking the floor as a form of percussion. Two major variations on tap dance exist: rhythm (jazz) tap and Broadway tap. Broadway tap focuses on dance; it is widely performed in musical theater. Rhythm tap focuses on musicality, and practitioners consider themselves to be a part of the jazz tradition.

The sound is made by shoes that have a metal “tap” on the heel and toe. There are different brands of shoes which sometimes differ in the way they sound.

“Soft-shoe” is a rhythm form of tap dancing that does not require special shoes, and though rhythm is generated by tapping of the feet, it also uses sliding of the feet (even sometimes using scattered sand on the stage to enhance the sound of sliding feet) more often than modern rhythm tap. It preceded what is currently considered to be modern tap, but has since declined in popularity.

Now that you have the framework for why I was so invested to see these films, let me get on with my review!

 

Labeled for reuse from No Maps on my Taps; Credit George T. Nierenberg, via Milestone Films

 

No Maps on My Taps is a Milestone Films restoration of the 1979 documentary that took a very intimate look at the great tap dancers: Howard “Sandman” Sims, Chuck Green and Bunny Briggs. It was not only a look at the great(s) from the perspective of their ascension to greatness in this dance genre; it gave a very raw and authentic look at how Black American life and being a second class citizen affected how they were connected to dance in the early days of Black Vaudeville.  Sadly, it showed the de-evolution of the art form and the dancers in their own right. It is a haunting story of raw talent, humanity, societal shifts and survival. As a former dancer, as a former Black American dancer with a deep connection to the stories behind the dance – internally I was deeply moved.

One of the most telling moments of the intentions of the director, George T. Nierenberg, was how he didn’t shy away from Chuck Green’s mental ailment. It was good to see that Mr. Nierenberg did not exploit Mr. Green’s condition – but rather he filmed it with respect and humanity. He filmed it with kindness and you see glimpses of it – not to shock you but it pulls you into connecting with Chuck Green in a way that is deeper than just watching the magic he makes with his feet. To Mr. Nierenberg I say kudos – thank you for filming the complexities of a Black American male talent with kindness and decency, but with the utmost respect and honesty.

 

Labeled for reuse from No Maps on my Taps; Credit George T. Nierenberg, via Milestone Films


When it came to the shots with Bunny Briggs, I found them more heart-wrenching because his hope was palatable. This was his “curriculum vitae” – tap was his life. His hope to keep doing it; for tap to find a newer generation and for it to have a renaissance leapt out at me through the film. And as his uncles talked so proudly and valiantly of how his talent supported his household, it was a connection made – because so many Black American families have been redline and pushed out of the job market that the sole provider is the talented kid, the talented athlete the talented dancer. Yet, his sole reason was dancing was to see his Mother happy. And it would be his Mother’s decision to not let him go on the road as a tap apprentice that would be the foundation of his biggest regret. His storyline was powerful. It was moving and unforgettable. There was a haunting of regret and hardship in his eyes that you see so many times on the faces of Black men that have been left behind. Again, for Nierenberg to capture this with respect and admiration is a credit to his talent as a director – for this is the true demonstration of him having honed his craft.

Last there was the “Sandman”. I remember hearing his name called by my Dad. He was a legend indeed. Years later, I would see a glimpse of him on “Showtime at the Apollo”.  Howard Sims seemed to be ethereal in his love of the dance. He was “in your face” and confident. In the film, he is giving lessons to his young son and there is a touching moment where this man who has worked so hard at his craft is simply trying to pass on a talent to his son – that for him could be seen as divine. Howard Sims is a trash talking, tap dancing, cool struttin Harlem cat with very little boundaries and a smile that lights up the room. He is the epitome of his character the Sandman.

It’s undeniable that I enjoyed No Maps on My Taps. This was indeed an amazing offering by the Houston Cinema Arts Festival in my opinion. I was happy to see this documentary and may purchase it for my personal library.

 

Jimmy Slyde in George Nierenberg’s newly restored documentary “About Tap.” Credit George T. Nierenberg, via Milestone Films

Next on the agenda is About Tap. Again, another Nierenberg film featuring (my pre-teen crush) Gregory Hines, Jimmy Slyde, Steve Condos and Chuck Green.

This documentary was a different “look-see” at the world of tap. This documentary seemed to focus on the dancer, their technique and how they crafted their style. It was a look at how the “masters” worked. To listen to each superstar breakdown how they perceived their style, how they pushed themselves to the outer edges of the genre to become legendary and how dance was embedded in their DNA was an absolute treat. It revealed a metaphysical mind map of each dancer that is an absolute treasure.

I – Me – the former dancer – enjoyed every minute. I was accompanied by my Future CEO. She loves tap, but there was a seemingly big disconnect because of the age of the documentary. She is an iGen, so the look back into that time frame seemed surreal to her. She was more intrigued in the quality of life of the tap dancers and their struggle with poverty, versus being enthralled in how they became these great tour-de-force(s). I had wanted so much for her to fall in love with tap for the Black American historical context, but this is her journey and not mine – she already loved the dance genre and had taken classes before – so she’s sold on the genre, she will have to find historical context and connection for herself.

Hats off to George Nierenberg for providing a visual preservation of a dance genre that has faded in the minds of Americans, except those obsessed with Broadway.

 

{FEATURE PHOTO credit to Stephen Kelly Photography >> https://www.flickr.com/photos/skellysf/  | License:  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/}

 


This review was written by @EfabulousHB, if you want to know more about the writer, her details are listed below:

#MommyFab [Project] >> EfabulousHB
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