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As they said at the Hoofer's Club in Harlem in the 1930s, where tap dancers gathered to practice their steps and compete: "Thou Shalt Not Copy Anyone's Steps— Exactly!
" Opportunities for whites and blacks to watch each other dance may have begun as early as the 1500's when enslaved Africans shipped to the West Indies, during the infamous "middle passage" across the Atlantic Ocean, were brought up on deck after meals and forced to "exercise"—to dance for an hour or two to the accompaniment of bag-pipes, harps, and fiddles (Emery 1988: 6-9).
Fiercely competitive, the tap challenge sets the stage for a "performed" battle that engages dancers in a dialog of rhythm, motion, and witty repartee, while inviting the audience to respond with a whisper of kudos or roar of stomps.
The oral and written histories of tap dance are replete with challenge dances, from jigging competitions on the plantation that were staged by white masters for their slaves, and challenge dances in the walk-around finale of the minstrel show, to showdowns in the street, displays of one-upsmanship in the social club, and juried buck-and wing-contests on the vaudeville stage.
Its absorption of Latin American and Afro- Caribbean rhythms in the forties has furthered its rhythmic complexity.
In the eighties and nineties, tap's absorption of hip-hop rhythms has attracted a fierce and multi-ethnic new breed of male and female dancers who continue to challenge and evolve the dance form, making tap the most cutting-edge dance expression in America today.
Initially a fusion of British and West African musical and step-dance traditions in America, tap emerged in the southern United States in the 1700s.It was around that time that jazz tap dance developed as a musical form parallel to jazz music, sharing rhythmic motifs, polyrhythm, multiple meters, elements of swing, and structured improvisation.In the late twentieth century, tap dance evolved into a concertized performance on the musical and concert hall stage.In the absence of traditional drums, slaves danced to the music of upturned buckets and tubs.The rattle and restriction of chains may have been the first subtle changes in African dance as it evolved toward becoming an African-American style of dance.