Date of Degree

2-2021

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Biography and Memoir

Advisor

Sarah Covington

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Film Studies | American Popular Culture | Dance | Other American Studies | Other Music | Performance Studies

Keywords

Tap dance, American history, jazz music, New York City, Minstrelsy, vernacular art

Abstract

A uniquely American art form, tap dance has often been misrepresented and under-appreciated when positioned alongside other dance forms. This is largely due to the form’s racialized history, which builds upon contributions from African-American culture. Unlike other dance forms, which stem from white European traditions, tap dance evolved out of a necessity for cultural preservation as enslaved Africans adapted to life in America. As tap dance evolved, its association with slave culture led to it not being taken seriously; if anything, tap dancers were viewed simply as “entertainers” – certainly not as artists. Using a biographical lens, this work looks at the evolution of the genre by positioning it alongside the cultural landscape of the time. By looking at the relationship between dancer and environment, the story of how tap dance came to be is told through the dancers that pushed the form forward.

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