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Tap Shoes: Making Music, Step by Step
Before you shuffle off to your first tap class, you’ll want to secure the proper footwear. Use Groupon’s study of tap shoes to ensure your feet can keep the beat.
It’s hard to imagine Bill “Bojangles” Robinson dancing across the silver screen in 1935 with bottle caps nailed to his shoes, but that might have been the case if it weren’t for a breakthrough in dance just a decade earlier. Modern tap shoes—with their smooth, endlessly customizable metal plates in the toe and heel—made their mainstream debut in the 1925 show No, No Nanette, and within a few years, most Broadway-style dancers were amplifying their steps with the help of metal plates. The style known simply as tap existed before that, of course, but tappers had to practice their craft wearing clogs, boots, or hard-soled shoes outfitted with hobnails or bottle caps. Like many American styles, the moves were a fusion of different cultures, combining irish clog dancing and english step dancing with the improvisational, rhythmic dances passed down through generations of African Americans. The dance quickly spread throughout social clubs, street corners, and eventually traveling minstrel shows before hitting Broadway and, from there, Hollywood.
Today, men’s tap shoes echo the black, Oxford-style shoe worn by Robinson himself, while women’s tap shoes often mimic the girlish, Mary Jane flats of his frequent dance partner, Shirley Temple. Women’s shoes are also available in heels, though beginners may find them too difficult to use at first. Most tappers recommend leather shoes with metal plates, but more affordable options made of PVC or polyurethane make for a decent starter pair. Some vendors may sell the taps separately from the shoe; these require professional attachment, though they allow dancers to loosen or tighten the plates at will to customize their individual sound.