Sunday, May 31, 2009

Toetap History

Before we begin, I want to say toetapping is for both men and women, just as pointe was and is for both men and women. To know toetap we are going to explore some of the events leading up to this fusion style of dance.Toetap is a fusion of Toe Dancing and Tap Dance where the dancer male or female dances on pointe (using ballet pointe shoes with a metal tap on it's platform) tapping out a series of steps to music. I remember as Rosie Raditor said to me "Toe tap has very little to do with ballet and everything to do with tap!" A toetapper uses the same riffs, shuffles, and hops as a normal tap dancer, just does it on pointe. You can even do a coffee grinder. Buck and wing what ever you wish. Even before women dominated the stage, men were the first to go on pointe. In 1779 Gennaro Magri writes about a performance of a dancer who rises to a full pointe and , it is indeed a man. In his Theatrical Treatise of "The Art of Dancing", Margi relates how Antoine Pitrot raised " his whole body on the tip of his toe (extending) all the joints so, perfectly that the whole length and foot itself (fell) into one perpendicular line". It would be several decades before there would be a discussion of a women doing the same feat. (source article Setting the Stage) Ever since Marie Taglioni (1804-1884) raised herself on tip of her toe's ballet had a new style of dance sur les pointes.In 1735 Ballet arrived in America. An Englishman Henry Holt staged the first production for the amusement of the Charleston, South Carolina elite. The production was not well received. Also,in that year according to the Performing Arts timeline.John Hippisley’s Ballet/ Opera (Flora) Is performed in America. It is the first Ballet/ Opera to be presented to the elite of Charleston In truth if it was not for the elite Americans, ballet would not have survived in America. In 1751 the first professional theater company in the colonies.The Virginia Company of Comedians opens a temporary wooden playhouse in Williamsburg. It is important to note. In my opion, that without this group of performers, sewing the seeds of vaudville in America many of the things we hold dear would not have come to pass. It is also important to note that the play opened on October 9th of that year . It was attened by The emperor of the Cherokee Nation, his Empress and their son, the Prince. Also, several of princes warriors.Great men and their Ladies where present at the play.On February 6,1768, a group of players known as the Virginia Company of Comedians appeared in Norfork. Other Theathers were erected in Virginia during theses years.Among them the Theatre of Varieties in Richmond, introducing vaudville. Like all dances toetap needs a base to work from. While ballet was on a respirator, a storm was brewing. This storm started small with a man called "Master Juba", a young African-American performer named William Henry Lanes donned rags, covered his face with burnt cork, and danced a foot stomping, hand clapping ditty called "Juba". One awestruck critic marveling at Lanes's ability to maneuver his legs and feet in a series of steps with such speed and energy decided this performance reflected the dance style of an entire people, which was later labeled "Negro Dance" (Source Tap History "Juba"). This type of Minstrel Show was common place through much of the civil war. Juba successfully brought out another African-American dancer named Johnny Diamond who performed at the Vauxhall Garden in about 1840 when he was 17. In 1845, the Great Potato Famine struck Ireland . In my opinion, this event was a catalyst for toetap. It brought a people, the Irish with their love for rhythmic dances such as step, clogging, and the jig, to America. Even today clogging and tap dance share some of the same steps. The music halls of the day started to cater to the new influx of people. As this societal upheaval was taking place in America, a great force for tap and toetap, Bill Robinson ,was performing. This one person, in my opinion, was in part the father of toetap. I base this statement on a TV show called "To Tell The Truth" (1956-1967) where a woman who fooled the panel of judges said that she did Mr. Robinson's routine (right after him) as he did it step for step only on pointe. Then, to prove it, she performed the routine for the panel. Let's give a little "yeah" for one of America's tap masters. Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (1878-1949), famous for his soft shoe and tap routines and especially famous for his "Stair Dance", a variation of which was a toetapper's staple between 1920 and 1930. I read an article saying that he used wooden taps, and danced mostly on the front part of the foot doing shuffles and riffs. Ballet comes off the respirator. With a dancer By the name of Adeline Genée (1875-1955),Even before the great Ziegfield opened his follies in 1909.He produced a show called “The Soul Kiss”. Which opened on Jan.28,1909 at the New York Theater in New York City. Staring Prima Ballerina Anita Jensen (Adeline Genée).The Show was a huge success!Zeigfeld billed her as the world’s greast dancer. In two country’s she made people aware that ballet is a true art form. She is also,credited with the popularizing and, the reestablishment of ballet in Great Britian and in America. In 1931 the Genée Metal Awards were instituted in her honor. They remain the most important awards of excellence given to a young dancer. In 1950 was created Dame of the Order of the British Empire for her services to ballet. In my opion this is worth noting for keeping a dancer form alive, because without her,it surely would have died. You can read a little about her here Http:// You also, can see Ziegfeld comments and,a picture of Adeline Genée. Here . In Finishing all Ballet dancers worth their toeshoes should really thank this great dancer. For Ballet in America was dying, when Tap was becoming king. If toetap had a father it needed a mother. In my opion this woman was Bessie Clayton who laid the foundation for toetap. Bessie Clayton's family were Irish immigrants who settled in Philadelphia. She was trained by George W. Smith and made her debut in 1891 in "A Trip to Chinatown" as a specialty dancer. Miss Clayton became famous for her pique turns and pendulum kicks while going down a STAIRCASE, which she did in "The Passing Show of 1913". She also danced in unblockd pointe shoes. Now, we need a medium to fuse all theses elements together. That medium was Vaudeville. Vaudeville dance terms make it hard to determine who is toe dancing [dancing en pointe] and who is toetapping. Vaudeville's definition goes like this: anything outside the norm is called a "eccentric dance". In today's mind set, that is like when hip-hop first caught on in the 1970's. It was outside the normal dance style of the day, which was Disco. The catagories of "eccentric dance" are Eccentric Toe Dance, Specialty Dance, Eccentric Ballet dance, Toetap Dance, and Toe Drum Dance. You see what I mean? The first toetap ad I found was in a Dance Magazine from May 1929, which advertised Haney's Toe Dance Tappers. The ad also stated that Ethel Norris Berkshire wore them in a play called "Rain or Shine" which she performed in 1928. By 1929 there were 1000 toetap shoes on the market. America was so tap crazy they just could not get enough. Capezio jumped on the bandwagon too by making their own toetap shoe with a wood sole and taps. Freed of London made taps till 2007, stopping mainly due to libility law suits. I am the only one left that still makes toetaps for pointe shoes. Selva made toetap shoes with steel shanks. The problem with this idea was when the shanks broke, they could enter the person foot cutting into the peroneus longus tendon, ending many a dance career. These shoes made it possible to go on to pointe with very little experience or training which was an accident waiting to happen. I'm going to get off toetap history and talk about toetap's bad reputation. Toetap has gotten a bad reputation over the years, mainly due to people who where not ready to attempt even a toe-loop with regular shoes. Dancing on pointe , You need strong ankles, even for a basic toe-loop and stronger ones for a pointe shoes. The mind set at the time was to put small children up on pointe before they were ready because their moms wanted their little girl to be a star. This was madness! They made books for home courses promising if you did what was in the book you too could be on pointe in two weeks. A modern pointe shoe is a deceptively simple looking thing, yet it can harm you in unbelievable ways including black [bruised] toenails, bleeding feet, torn achilles tendons, popped hip, busted knees, stress fractures, to name a few. Yet, no parent will sue a pointe shoe maker from these injuries. [This is, if you go on pointe without the proper training and strength, or with ill fitting shoes. These things should NOT be happening and will need more than just bandaids and injury treatment to fix.] Now add a piece of metal to the toe and get the same injury... lawsuit. I saw a video clip where a ballerina slipped and fell flat on her face. Then and only then did the teacher from the side lines say "Be careful, the stage was just waxed". You can bet there were no law suits there; it was most likely put down to experince. Amazing! [You're going to fall. It's a fact of life for a dancer. Many, many studios have you sign a contract stating that you will not sue if you get injured while dancing there. Frankly, injuries are almost never "the shoe's fault". They are either a result of overuse, ill fitting shoes, bad training, an accident or any combinations of these.] I still feel that a toetap dancers need to be strong in pointe [and therefore ballet technique] and tap, and then still be guided by a teacher. Yes, there are still toetap teachers to learn from. Then, understand there are going to be mistakes. Learn from them and improve, just like the system for pointe and tap [and any other dance form].Here are just a few toetap dancers whom I have found:Addam Sisters: A three sister act that did singing, Specality Ballet (toetap), and Theatrical Dance. Errol Addison: English ballet and theatrical dancer. Addison and many American Cecchetti students were the innovators of eccentric ballet and tap techniques.La Petite Adelaide: Performed in many plays including "Up and Down Broadway". She danced on tables, inside hampers, and on drums.Edith Barstow: American theatrical ballet dancer and theatrical choreographer. Besides doing all that. she often paired up with her brother Richard for a toetapping and exhibition ballroom act.Richard Barstow: American theatrical dancer and Specialty Vaudeville adancer. Although born with a club foot, he became an Eccentric Toe Dancer, specializing in toetapping, long distance Toe Dancing, Russian pointe work and the down the staircase trick that was popularized by Bessie Clayton and Mazie King. In a old video clip, he jumps off a Baby Grand Piano, then lands standing on pointe.Lina Basquette: American theatrical ballet dancer and child-star. In 1922, she made her New York debut as a Ballet Specialty Dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies show.Ethel Norris Berkshire: American theatrical and ballet dancer and speciality Vaudville dancer; did a toetap act in the 1928 play "Rain or Shine".Bessie Clayton: American theatrical and ballet dancer. Was famous for doing pique turns on pointe while going down a staircase.Dorothy Datton: 1930's movie star ballet and theatrical dancer. Starred in "The Idol of the North". Did a toetap number and was introduced by Glen Ford! Lily Elsie: Music hall artist and Specality Ballet Dancer. She did a ballet tap routin and one with a drum (Toe Drumming).Harriet Hoctor: American theatrical ballet dancer. Miss Hoctor introduced the backbend on pointe sequence she became famous for while performing in The Bird Dance in "Topsy and Eva". You can see this sequence in the movie "Shall we Dance". She taught her students toetap until her death in 1977.Mazie King: American Eccentric Toe dancer. She danced the "staircase trick" and labeled herself as the greatest novelty dancer in the world.Iris Kirkwhite: English theatrical ballet dancer. Kirkwhite performed her specialty, a pizzicato waltz in a form of toetapping, in the London production of "The Blue Mazurka", ''Sunny", and "The Andre Charlot 1928 Revue" with Errol Addison. She also danced in the "Moonlight Ballet".Joyce Murry: American ballet and theatrical dancer. Did a toetap number in the movie "Broadway Melody of 1929" listed under cast member as a Specialty Dancer.Margret Turner: Movie and theater star. Toetapped on a wooden dru, on video.Rosie Radiator: American ballet, tap, and toetap dancer who still teaches toetap to her students today at Rose Lee: Flim ,TV, Vaudville and Burlesque star. Singer, ballet dancer, actress, and Specialty Dancer. In a play by the same name [Gypsy], a toetap routine is performed when Gypsy is a little girl. This has been switched to a regular tap dance routine in the modern version of the play.The editing of the article goes to Two very nice lady's: Selly of Jill L. my dearest friend

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