A low camera lingers in a single, steady shot. Narrow wooden floorboards run to the far wall. Mirrors catch and release the body moving across the room.
Even the lowest-ceilinged basement studio grows big with life when tappers dance across the floor to a music of their own making, falling off balance and righting themselves, again and again. Most come from the United States, where tap was invented. In Dean Hargrove’s documentary Tap World, the bodily rhythms of the dance are linked explicitly to the history that drives them.
Through a combination of interviews — sometimes spoken, sometimes danced — with tap luminaries, along with visits to studios, teachers, and dancers around the world, Hargrove elicits a conversation that quickly grows bigger than any one film can contain. Tap, a rhythmic full-body conversation, arose out of the musical traditions of enslaved black folks in the American South who often weren’t allowed to speak while working, wanted to communicate in secret, or needed a spiritual tool to carry on.
Hargrove draws connections between tap and other survival rhythms like the gumboot dancing of South Africa, while also exploring how dancers in India and Japan are incorporating tap into their own dance traditions, yet he never loses sight of individual journeys. The dancers Hargrove interviews are sometimes living precariously in order to find the time or money they need to do what makes them feel alive. Tap, a dance in which a single body becomes a self-contained performance, has space to honor unique styles and truths. It’s rare to find a film that portrays dancers of all shapes, colors, ages, and sizes as beautiful, which they are.
Directed by Dean Hargrove
Distributed by Vitagraph Films
Opens July 10, Village East
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 7, 2015