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Most Famous Tap Dancers of All Time

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Famous Tap Dancers
31 May, 2024

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Are you interested in learning about famous tap dancers? Our guide delves into their careers, highlighting their profound impact and achievements while providing readers with a comprehensive understanding of their ability to inspire and motivate others.

Let’s look at the contributions of ten famous tap dancers to the world of percussion dance.

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10 Famous Tap Dancers

1: Bill Robinson

Bill Robinson
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Date of birth: May 25, 1878

Place of birth: Richmond, Virginia

Date of death: November 25, 1949

Best performance: The Littlest Rebel (1935), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938), and Just Around the Corner (1938)

It is best to begin with the king. Bill Robinson, also known as Bojangles, was a pioneering tap actor and among the famous tap dancers renowned for his incredible speed. He began dancing at age eight and worked as a stableboy. In 1908, he became a vaudeville circuit swinger and partnered with actor Marty Forkins. Robinson was also a successful activist who demonstrated the power of talent and resilience. He debuted professionally in 1892 and later worked on a Vaudeville routine with George Cooper. He is best known for his dancing roles alongside Shirley Temple in 1930s films. This rich background makes his contributions to tap dancing even more significant.

2: Sammy Davis Jr.

Sammy Davis Jr.
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Date of birth: December 8, 1925

Place of birth: Harlem, New York

Date of death: May 16, 1990

Best performance: He had a memorable performance in Bob Fosse’s 1969 musical Sweet Charity.

Sammy Davis, a member of the Rat Pack, gained fame in the 1940s with films like Ocean’s 11 and Sergeants 3. He was a talented singer, comedian, and tap dancer known for his precise movements and rhythmic swings. Davis began performing vaudeville at three and studied tap dancing with Bill Robinson, but he never finished his formal education. Following his service in the United States Army, he became the Mastin Trio’s focal point, playing various instruments and becoming one of the first African American famous tap dancers despite racial prejudice.

3: Savion Glover

Savion Glover
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Date of birth: November 19, 1973

Place of birth: Newark, New Jersey

Best performance: The Tap Dance Kid (1984), Black and Blue (1988-1989), and Bring in ‘da Noise (1996)

Savion Glover, an American tap dancer and choreographer, has significantly impacted the entertainment industry. At seven, he began taking tap lessons and quickly developed a drive for rhythm tap. His unique style, characterized by funk and flat-heeled technique, has inspired many young people and minorities to dance. He is also a recipient of four Tony Awards. Fascinating as it is, Savion Glover also has been teaching tap since he was 14 years old. His extensive career growth and dedication have landed him on the industry’s list of famous tap dancers.

4: Eleanor Powell

Eleanor Powell
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Date of birth: November 21, 1912

Place of birth: Springfield, Massachusetts

Date of death: February 11, 1982

Best performance: Queen High (1930), George White’s Scandals (1935), and Broadway Melody (1936),

Eleanor Powell, a well-known female rhythm-tap soloist, played an important role in the history of famous tap dancers. In 1928, she appeared in the musical revue The Optimists and later signed a Hollywood contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She made her film debut in George White’s Scandals in 1935 and quickly became MGM’s top female dancer. At the time, her athletic tap dancing style set her apart from other female dancers. She was often featured in solo dance routines alongside Fred Astaire. She appeared in several films, including Born to Dance, Broadway Melody of 1938, Rosalie, Honolulu, and Lady Be Good.

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5: Fred Astaire

Fred Astaire
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Date of birth: May 10, 1899

Place of birth: Omaha, Nebraska

Date of death: June 22, 1987

Best performance: On the Beach (1959), The Pleasure of His Company (1962), and The Towering Inferno (1974)

Fred Astaire, named the “greatest popular music dancer of all time,” was an iconic figure in entertainment who combined ballroom and tap dance to create a sophisticated style. He began studying dance at four and formed an act with his sister, Adele, in 1906. Following Adele’s retirement, he was cast as a featured dancer in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film Dancing Lady in 1933. He also excelled as an actor, singer, choreographer, and presenter, leaving a lasting impression on the famous tap dancers‘ history.

6: Gregory Hines

Gregory Hines
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Date of birth: February 14, 1946

Place of birth: New York

Date of death: August 9, 2003

Best performance: Wolfen (1981), The Cotton Club (1984), White Nights (1985), and Running Scared (1986)

Gregory Hines, a well-known tap dancer, and choreographer, was a key figure in the late 20th-century revival of tap dance. He started taking tap lessons when he was four and formed the Hines Kids, a song and dance group. He made his Broadway debut in 1954 and received Tony Award nominations for his comedy shows. He appeared frequently on television and in films, winning an Emmy in 1989 for his television special. He continued to perform on Broadway, collaborating with Savion Glover in 1992.

7: Ginger Rogers

Ginger Rogers
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Date of birth: July 16, 1911

Place of birth: Independence, Missouri, U.S.

Date of death: April 25, 1995

Best performance: Vivacious Lady (1938), Tight Spot (1955), and Follow the Fleet (1936)

Ginger Rogers, an American actress and dancer, started her career in Texas. She won a Charleston contest at 15 and debuted on Broadway in 1929. In 1930, she made her film debut with Young Man of Manhattan, popularizing the phrase “Cigarette me, big boy.” She was well-known for dancing and dramatic acting, winning an Academy Award for Kitty Foyle in 1940. She was honored by the Kennedy Center in 1992 for her lifetime achievements.

8: Ann Miller

Ann Miller
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Date of birth: April 12, 1923

Place of birth: Chireno, Texas, United States

Date of death: January 22, 2004

Best performances: Easter Parade, On the Town, and Kiss Me Kate

Ann Miller, also known as Johnnie Lucille Collier, was a popular entertainer known for her lively acting and tap-dancing abilities. At a young age, she suffered from rickets, and her mother put her into dance classes to strengthen her legs. This remedy became her passion; by age 13, she was a nightclub sensation, posing as a 20-year-old. In 1936, Lucille Ball and Benny Rubin discovered her at San Francisco’s “Black Cat Club.” Miller claimed to have tapped 500 times per minute in her prime and is remembered among the famous tap dancers in Hollywood.

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9: Gene Kelly

Gene Kelly
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Date of birth: August 23, 1912

Place of birth: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.

Date of death: February 2, 1996

Best performance: The Time of Your Life and Leave It to Me in 1938

Gene Kelly was an American dancer, actor, singer, director, and choreographer. Thus, he was a multi-talented artist known for his energetic performances and the creation of “Dance for the Common Man,” an accessible form of American dance. Initially aspiring to be an athlete, he was redirected to dance by his mother and began at his mother’s dance school in Pittsburgh. Gene Kelly was offered a Hollywood contract for his choreography of the famous musical Best Foot Forward. Over the last three decades, he has received numerous awards, including the French Legion of Honor and the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

10. The Nicholas Brothers

Name of the brothersDate of BirthPlace of BirthDate of Death
Fayard Antonio NicholasOctober 20, 1914Mobile, Alabama, U.S.January 24, 2006
Harold Lloyd NicholasMarch 17, 1921Winston-Salem, North Carolina, U.S.July 3, 2000
Nicholas Brothers
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Best performance: Stormy Weather (1943), Down Argentine Way (1940), Tin Pan Alley (1940), and The Great American Broadcast (1941)

The Nicholas brothers, also known as Fayard and Harold Nicholas, were famous tap dancers from Philadelphia who were known for their exceptional acrobatic technique and inventive performances. They performed in Philadelphia from 1930 to 1932, and their big break came in 1932 when they performed at Harlem’s Cotton Club alongside legends like Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, and Bill Robinson. The brothers received numerous awards and honors, including the Kennedy Center Honors in 1991, and their dynamic and engaging style enthralled audiences.

FAQs

Who is the most famous tap dancer of all time?

Bill Robinson, also known as Bojangles, is widely regarded as the most famous tap dancer ever. He was a pioneering actor and dancer who significantly impacted the performing arts.

Who is the famous tap dancer girl?

Eleanor Powell, the famous female rhythm-tap soloist, is a triumphant figure in tap dancing. She is known for her memorable dance numbers in musical films and has left an indelible mark on entertainment history.

Who was the first American tap dancer?

Sammy Davis gained fame in the 1940s with films like Ocean’s 11 and Sergeants 3, becoming one of the first African American stars.

Who is the father of tap dance?

William Henry Lane, also known as Master Juba or the “Father of Tap Dance,” was the first African-American to have top billing in a minstrel show. He created innovative rhythmic techniques by combining African American vernacular dance, Irish jigs, and clogging elements.

Who are the famous tap dancer brothers?

Fayard and Harold Nicholas were well-known Philadelphia tap dancers for their exceptional acrobatic technique and creative performances.

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