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A Response To

“Stamping Grounds”

The Development of Tap

Katrina Darden
Introduction to Dance
Catherine Schaeffer
October 16, 2001
Eric Neilson, the choreographer, of Stamping Grounds creates an interesting

juxtaposition between the four movements presented in the work. Despite the striking

contrasts of each piece, the lighting and costumes accentuate the similarities of the styles.

Each movement represents a separate, distinguished culture but simultaneously depicts

another stage in the development of flamenco and the tap dance.

Stamping Grounds begins with an African dance movement that is simply awe-

inspiring. The music begins and as the lights fade up a solo dancer moves rhythmically in

a single spotlight. I imagined an African tribal member dancing alone to thank the gods

for a plentiful harvest or the birth of a child. Then two other dancers appear, each one in

their own spotlight. The dancers join in the traditional lines and circling of group ritual

dancing. They move effortlessly and rhythmically to the beating drum, accenting the beats

with the stamping of their feet. The flamenco dance follows in which the same pattern of

foot stamping and rhythmical body movement occurs. However there is more emphasis

on the sound the foot makes; a hard shoe is worn instead of bare feet. The third

movement is the Irish Dance. In this piece there are once again three dancers in three

spotlights. Like the African dance they move circular patterns and dance in a line. As in

the Flamenco movement more importance lies in the sound of the feet hitting the ground.

The final movement is American Tap dance, which is the result of the previous


I was drawn into the African dance when the spotlight faded up to a single dancer,

dancing to release emotion and expression. The single spotlights for the three dancers in

movements one, three and four provided a similar element to the performance as a whole

and bring focus to the idea that these dances have strong common ties. The dancers in the

three movements dance in their separate lights and then together in a line inside a single

spotlight. Their costumes are all in bold, rich colors that express strong emotion. Red is
repeated in every movement to express the high vitality of the dances. I read the program

but until seeing each movement I could not understand the common links between these

four movements.

Tap emerged from competitive “battles” on the streets by African American

slaves and Irish immigrants.1 It is a combination and joining of “the Irish jig and the

African shuffle.”2 Several dancers aided in combining the styles. William Henry Lane, an

African American, combined the shuffle and slide of African dance with the jig steps. He

also added syncopation and improve to his dances in the 1840s. His style of dancing was

known as “Juba,” which is defined according to the Tap Reference Page as “a lively

dance accompanied by rhythmic hand clapping, developed by plantation slaves of the

US” and also as “a river in East Africa.” When the slaves were brought to the United

States from Africa, probably near the Juba River region, they were not allowed to practice

their own religion or the accompanying drumming which lead to a substitution of

handclaps and rhythmic dance on floorboards. 3

Lane toured New York and New England where a “champion” Irish step dancer,

Jack Diamond, challenged him. Diamond’s dancing later evolved to a dance performed

by Irish immigrants known as the James McIntyre in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The

dance was a “flat footed step dance where the foot of the free leg would rise and arc to the

side while the elbows moved outward in a wing pattern.” These dancers wore shoes with

wooden soles and heels to create a rhythmic sound with the dance. From these dance

forms, tap develops and eventually metal and then aluminum taps are added to the bottom

of shoes to further accentuate the rhythmical sound produced in the dance. 4

Corr, Paul. Tap Reference Page. 7 Oct. 2001. (13 Oct. 2001).
Ambrosio, Nora. Learning About Dance. 2nd ed. Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co. 1999, 116.
Corr, Paul. Tap Reference Page. 7 Oct 2001. (13 Oct. 2001).
Corr, Paul. Tap Reference Page. 7 Oct 2001. (13 Oct. 2001).
Flamenco dancing is very similar to tap in style. It also accentuates the sound the

foot makes and the rhythmical movements. It developed similar to tap except its roots are

in Spain. Flamenco, like tap, emerged from the lower classes and was often performed by

illiterate people who were unable to leave written records of their dances. Flamenco

evolved from a combination of folk music from southern Spain, gypsy music and

elements from North Africa and the Middle East. Similar to the African slaves gypsies

used hand clapping and finger snapping as rhythmic devices in their emotional music.

Later, when Spain began to explore Africa, a large African slave marked grew on the

coast of the country. The slaves brought their music and dance, which further influenced

Flamenco dance.5

Stamping Grounds reflects the development of flamenco and tap dancing. Both

began with the African dance elements of rhythm and “stamping” of the feet. Tap is

further influenced by Irish jig dancing hence the order: African movement, Flamenco

movement, Irish movement and American Tap Movement. Although the dances very in

time periods and locations, they pursue the importance of the movement of the feet and

the rhythm of the body with the music. The costumes may reflect the different cultures

but maintain the bright expressive colors and the lights bring similarities of the pieces

together to create a single dance that leaves the audience hanging on every move.

Savilla, Paco. Flamenco: The Early Years. 3 Jan. 1995. (13 Oct. 2001).
Works Cited

Ambrosia, Nora. Learning About Dance. 2nd Ed. Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co.

Corr, Paul. Tap Reference Page. 7 Oct 2001. 13 Oct. 2001.


Savilla, Paco. Flamenco: The Early Years. 3 Jan. 1995. 13 Oct. 2001.