More Than a Novelty
Tap artist Brenda Bufalino argues it’s time
to rethink the way we write about tap.
37 DANCE MAGAZINE
is stretching the
tap with their
rant + rave
Critics are always forecasting the next decline of tap dancing. In one
instance, a 2011 review in The New York Times stated, “Tap is unquestionably a great American art form. It is also unquestionably in dire
straits.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Never before have
dancers been so skilled in technique and capable of such tour de force
in a myriad of styles. Our concert theaters are filling up for the unique
choreography and ensemble tap of Dorrance Dance and Max Pol-lak’s RumbaTap in New York; Acia Gray’s Tapestry Dance Company
in Austin, Texas; Deborah Mitchell’s New Jersey Tap Ensemble; and
Mark Yonally’s Chicago Tap Theatre. Tony Waag’s “Tap City” in New
York hosts hundreds of dancers from around the world. Yet writers
and critics persist in approaching tap dance as a novelty, investigating
its origins as if it were a relic just discovered, a dying art soon to be
buried again—and this affects the way the public views the art form.
When writers cover other forms of dance they speak about the
particulars that make up a satisfying performance. They are equipped
to reference past works and compare specific dances from a choreogra-
pher’s repertory. In contrast, tap dance to date has been written about
as if it were a folk dance. Many critics have created a hierarchy of
authenticity that keeps tap dancers competing on the street corner.
Wouldn’t it be helpful to share the subtleties and techniques of tap
dance? For instance, a writer might reveal the composition of the band,
and how the dancer collaborated with their chosen musicians. Were the
taps clear and tonal? Could the dancer modulate between syncopated
phrasing, continuation 1/8-note triplets and 1/16 notes with ease?
Did the dancer phrase melodically, or have the hard punch and short
phrases of a drummer?
Dancers strive to create with their own unique voice. Can the
reviewer recognize and differentiate between the hard-hitting, hip-
swinging style of Syncopated Ladies, the high-flying slides and gleeful