Tap Tap Tap: Self Care, Self Awareness and Cultural Sensitivity

A couple of years ago, my best friend gave me her tap shoes. They’re Capezios, which is not a small gesture! They have a great flex to them, a good tap tone and are made by one of the leading dance shoe makers of all time. 

Look at me, 60 minutes of beginning tap, and I’m already a pretentious evaluator of tap shoes.  Feel free to roll your eyes. I am. My Latin ballroom shoes are also Capezios.

Anyway, last Tuesday night, I decided that part of my new commitment to self care (which I apparently make every job-iverssary and then drop like a hot potato) will be a weekly Beginner’s Tap class. 

I have always, always wanted to learn how to tap dance. I had a great time in the class, and it was great to forget all my troubles and dance them away; and sweat them away too. You wouldn’t believe the workout even a beginner’s class will get ya. 

And also, dancing to the Newsies soundtrack is always a good idea. 

The reason I loved ballroom dance so much back when I was doing that, was because I could get my body to do what I wanted it to, felt graceful in my own skin, and had a creative outlet for all the nervous energy I carry around with me just because I’m high strung. 

Last week I discovered I love tap for the same reasons. 

After several “that’s exactly it, Sara!”s and lots of affirmation from the instructors, I was floating on happiness. 

I forgot how much dance communities love to be best friends with everyone in their immediate dance circle; simply because everyone is there together for love of the dance.

The origins of this dance, however, I do not love so much. Tap as we know it is a white appropriation of an African survival mechanism. 

During the African slave trade, African Americans were forced by white oppressors to suppress their culture; giving up their music and rhythmic drumming to name a few things.

To keep their culture alive, in the evenings, salves would gather together and combine native forms of African dance and the rhythms that were once banged out on the drums which were now tapped out with their feet. 

Through the years, white performers would emulate the steps, and they began showing up in Minstrel shows. Today’s version of tap is an evolution of the combination of early African American rhythmic dance and Irish Riverdance. 

While it’s not a comfortable thing for me to realize the oppressive roots of one of my favorite dance forms, it’s also not fair for me to ignore them. 

When I dance, it’s mostly for me; but hopefully with everything I learn I will be able to dance in a way that is sensitive and uplifting instead of oppressive; boosting my confidence to engage the hard conversations that make people uncomfortable but that need to be had. 

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