Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Historical Note on the Origins of Tapdancing

"Tap dancing is the highest form of expression."
-Gene Kelly

The year was 1930, and Charles Grapewin was down on his luck, having lost his Vaudeville fortune in the Crash. His life no longer enriched with residual vibrance from the gay song-and-dance spectacles he once produced, Grapewin began to fill the now-silent minutes by thumping his feet in a percussive manner on the bare floor of his humble Manhattan loft as he struggled to think of his next big idea. One day, on Thursday, August 14, 1930, a nail on the bottom of his oxfords came loose, producing metallic “tapping” sound as his feet met the floor. Grapewin found the new sound especially pleasing, and he knew he’d soon return to the big time.

Grapewin quickly shared his discovery with dancer friend Frederick Austerlitz, who scrounged a couple of pieces of loose sheet metal lying in the street from the recently-finished Chrysler Building that he trimmed to fit the toes and heels of his shoes. Suddenly, Austerlitz found his dull ballet steps transformed into rhythmic dynamism that many would later consider music in its own right. Grapewin sold his new dance shoe to prominent Little Italy cobbler Salvatore Capezio for the handsome sum of $2,500, while Austerlitz promptly changed his surname to Astaire and founded the New York Tap Dance Society devoted to the dissemination of the percussive arts among children young and old. Since 1930, the NYTDS has buffaloed for six presidents, three prime ministers, four popes, and many convalescing elderly.

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