History of Tap Shoes
The beauty of tap dance cannot be fully presented without the presence of tap shoes. As an inseparable part of tap dancing, tap shoes originated from the African slaves during mid-1600s in America, who’s bare soles walking rhythmically across the wood decks of river boats combined with the energetic steps of the Irish jig and the Lancashire clog. These movements that originated worlds apart, merged and evolved into the tap dance beat.
It was not until the period between 1900 and 1920 that tap dance emerged as a dance form in its own right. With it, tap dance shoes were born. In the earliest days of tap dance, pennies or hobnails were hammered into the toe and heels of shoes, to create the tap sound as performers danced. Before 1910, tap dancers wore shoes made with leather uppers and wooden soles, so that the wood tapped out the beat. After 1910, it became the fashion to apply metal taps to the bottoms of tap dance shoes.
By the time that Bill Robinson (1878 – 1949) became famous as "Bojangles," tap dance shoes were part of the total package. Robinson wore tap shoes with wooden soles and heels. His dance partner in a memorable 1935 film called "The Little Colonel" was Shirley Temple, who popularized eyelet-style tap dance shoes, with large, laced-through bows. In the film, Robinson and Temple demonstrate the "stair step routine" invented by Robinson, which showcases them tapping up and down a staircase. Robinson and Temple would go on to show off their fancy tap footwork and shoes in three other films, "The Littlest Rebel" in 1935, and "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" and "Just Around The Corner" in 1938.
Tap dancing was featured often in movies made between 1935 and 1970, with the focus on glamorous costumes and shoes. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers tapped their way through the 1936 classic, "Swing Time." Astaire's standard of perfection included black patent leather shoes. Quite apart from the formidable dance routines, Rogers had to...