SCHOOL DAY LIVE | RESOURCE GUIDE
Friday, April 5 at 11: 30 AM
From Bill “Bojangles” Robinson to Gregory and Maurice Hines, the legendary Apollo Chorus Girls and Savion Glover, the Apollo stage has been a home for tap dancers since it opened in 1934. Michigan-based arts organization, Tapology, pays tribute to the art of tap dancing with a show highlighting technique, style and history.
Click here to learn more about Tapology, Inc. and the Tapology Dance Festival.
(Most appropriate for Grades 3 - 12)
Take a look at this digital resource guide and find out about the history of tap dancing at the Apollo Theater!
TAPOLOGY: SCIENCE OF DANCE, ART OF RHYTHM
When Alfred Bruce Bradley first took up tap dancing nearly 40 years ago, he never imagined how positive an impact it would have on his life, his family, and his hometown of Flint, Michigan. Raising three daughters who learned to love and appreciate tap as much as he did, Bradley was inspired to teach more students about the artform’s rich history, and formed a youth dance group called the “Flintstone Hoofers.”
In 1999, Bradley brought his “hoofers” to New York City where they competed in the nationally televised talent contest, Showtime at the Apollo. Winning repeatedly, the experience empowered the young dancers (ages 7-20) to audition and perform in major Broadway productions such as STOMP and Savion Glover’s Bring in Da’ Noise, Bring in Da’ Funk.
Back in Flint in 2001, Bradley formed a dance festival that brought legendary tap dancers from around the world to work with underprivileged youth. With the community embracing the event, Bradley was encouraged to found Tapology, Inc. the following year, dedicating the non-profit dance company to the preservation of tap through performance and education.
Nowhere has Tapology’s work had a greater impact than in the company's own hometown which, since 2014, has endured heartbreaking tragedies caused by the Flint Water Crisis. Providing opportunities for students to express themselves through movement and music, Tapology continues to empower Flint youth to pursue their dreams and put their best foot forward.
Think About It
Flint Water Crisis
Beginning in 2014 in Flint, Michigan, nearly 100 people were tragically poisoned and 12 people died, due to the decision by city and state officials to pump the city’s water supply through pipes that were contaminated with lead.
Inquiry Question: How could you contribute to your community if it faced a tragedy? What could you do in school or with your classmates to help others in need? What roles do you think an arts organization like Tapology could serve in a community’s relief efforts?
THE LEGENDARY APOLLO CHORUS GIRLS
On January 26, 1934, a group of 16 all-black female dancers tapped onto the stage during the Apollo’s opening night. Described as “gorgeous hot steppers,” each dancer was so talented they could have been featured individually, while they were even more impressive performing together as a group.
As glamorous as their performances were, behind the scenes it took hard work to earn a spot in the Apollo’s legendary chorus line. Dancers typically had to devote 15 hours a day to keep up with the theater’s demanding schedule, getting paid a salary of just $22.50 a week.
Often in their 20s, chorus girls on average stood five and a half feet tall and were favored if they had light skin. Racial segregation was not only normal in the United States at the time, in some parts of the country, it remained lawfully enforced until the 1960s. Thankfully, the Apollo integrated its audiences and employed black performers and staff, dating back to its opening in 1934.
By the end of the 1930s, having to work so much for so little, “The Apollo Theater’s No. 1 Chorus Line” led a strike for higher wages, the first strike of its kind for African American entertainers. The dancers won the dispute, leading to their working conditions being improved and their salaries being increased to $25.00 a week. Their perseverance also helped found the American Guild of Variety Artists, a labor union that represents dancers and other entertainers to this day.
Because of their dedication, generations of young women have been empowered by the many chorus girls who have graced the Apollo’s stage over the years. Never too old to hit the dance floor, in 1985, five members of early Apollo chorus lines decided to dust off their tap shoes and perform together once again. Known as the Silver Belles, the veteran dancers, all in their 60s and 70s at the time, had each taken part in The Apollo labor strike 50 years before.
In so many ways, the history of tap at The Apollo is an important story to share, for it shows how strong female performers had to be nearly a century ago. Through their own hard work and perseverance, young women today continue to develop the art of tap dancing and ensure its future for generations to come.
In El Barrio, pianist and singer Joe Bataan felt this impact and expressed concerns for the suffering he saw in his community through songs like "What Good is a Castle?". Influenced by Soul music, Bataan's distinct brand of Latin Soul not only invited audiences to dance, it also moved listeners to think.
Think About It
Tapping to Equality
Women have been working hard to overcome challenges of sexism in the entertainment industry for some time. Inspired by early tap pioneers like Mable Lee and the legendary Apollo Chorus Girls, newer generations of dancers like Alexandria “Brinae Ali” Bradley and Ayodele Casel, continue to empower young women today.
Inquiry Question: In addition to the entertainment industry, what are some other examples in history where women have had to work hard to be treated equally? Are there any examples you can think of that exist today where women are not treated fairly?
MABEL LEE: AN APOLLO CHORUS GIRL
Born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1921, tap dancer and singer Mable Lee first started dancing when she was just four years old. She moved to New York City in 1940 to perform professionally, and before long, landed a spot in the Apollo’s famous chorus line.
By the end of the 1940s, she had developed a following for her work singing and dancing in short music videos called “soundies.” The “Queen of Soundies” as she was nicknamed, Lee continued to perform and teach younger generations of dancers until her death in February 2019 at the age of 97.
Take a look at Mabel Lee tearing up the dancefloor with Deryck Sampson and Stepin' Fetchit!
GENERATIONS OF TAP
Similar to the jazz big bands of the day, tap dancing began to fade from popularity in the 1940s. With 16 million Americans serving overseas during World War II (1939-45), and many more millions being impacted by their absence at home, theaters around the country saw a decline in audience attendance. Unfortunately, big productions like the Apollo’s variety shows became too expensive to present, and dancers and chorus lines were some of the first performers let go.
Tap dancers continued to work on a smaller scale in the 1950s and 60s, before seeing a resurgence in popularity in the 1970s, thanks to the dazzling footwork of tap dancer, singer, and actor Gregory Hines. Born in New York City in 1946, at just two years old Gregory’s parents sent him and his brother Maurice, to study with the renowned dance teacher, Henry LeTang. Growing up in Manhattan, they visited The Apollo Theater regularly, watching and learning from veteran “hoofers” like Howard “Sandman” Sims, Honi Coles, and the sensational
Not to live in the Nicholas’ shadow, the Hines Brothers choreographed their own sensational tap routines. Performing as a duo in the 1950s, then as a trio in the 1960s with their dad playing drums, Gregory started singing and acting in the 1970s. Appearing in movies, television, and Broadway plays, he regularly incorporated tap into his performances, and helped bring recognition for the art form back to mainstream audiences.
In the late 1980s, Hines began hearing about a talented young tap dancer by the name of Savion Glover, who was just 10 years old when he made his Broadway debut. Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1973, Glover belonged to yet another new generation of dancers who incorporated hip hop music into their performances. In 1996, he helped redefine tap with his role in the Broadway hit, Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk. The play was a breakout success and Glover won a Tony Award for choreographing the exciting hip hop tap routines.
A fellow Broadway performer and colleague of Savion Glover’s is tap dancer, choreographer, and Artistic Director of Tapology, Alexandria “Brinae Ali” Bradley. Dancing in major Broadway productions including George C. Wolfe’s adaptation of Shuffle Along, which Glover choreographed, “Brinae Ali” is also a celebrated singer, songwriter, playwright, educator, and community organizer.
Bradley was born in Flint, Michigan in 1982, where her father (Alfred Bruce Bradley) introduced her and her two sisters to tap when they were young. Growing up appreciating the importance of arts education, she is constantly teaching and inspiring future generation of performing artists around the world.
Another talented dancer who has carried the torch of tap into the 21st century, is Ayodele Casel. Named “one of the top young tap dancers in the world” by her mentor Gregory Hines, she was born in the Bronx in 1975 and raised in Puerto Rico from ages 9-15. A proud “Nuyorican,” she moved back to New York in 1990 and studied tap at New York University.
While in college, she was introduced to Savion Glover, who helped Ayodele break out onto the contemporary tap scene. The first female performer in Glover’s dance company, Not Your Ordinary Tappers, for over two decades Casel has been a strong advocate for the arts and empowerment of women in the entertainment industry.
WORDS TO KNOW
WORDS TO KNOW | A - Z
Chorus Line - Group of female dancers.
Chorus Girls - Female dancer from a chorus line.
Hoofer - Slang word for tap dancer.
Sexism - Discrimination based on one’s sex or preferred gender.
Soundies - Short music videos popular in the 1940s.
Variety Shows -A theater performance featuring a variety of acts, including musicians, singers, dancers, comedians, and more.
Think About It
Inquiry Question: How can you envision your generation impacting the future in positive ways? What are three actions you can take to bring your vision closer to reality?