The history of our all-time favourite tap steps
Have you ever wondered about the origin of tap terminology? A cramp roll. A drawback. A time step. These examples might seem obvious, but how about a Maxie Ford? or The Shim Sham? Did you know there’s actually a fascinating reason why we shuffle off to Buffalo and not to, say, Los Angeles? Brush up on your tap trivia as we take a trip through toe-tapping history!
The Shim Sham
The Shim Sham was established in the 1930s, when Leonard Reed and his partner Willie Bryant were in search of a new finale for their act. First known as the “Goofus” routine, the steps (simply heel toe, with other variations, to four eight-bar choruses) became referred to as the Shim Sham, named after a club where the duo regularly performed. The dance was considered a line dance because it was so easy to pick up and required the audience to join in with the movement. This is also a popular choice among swing dancers.
The Shirley Temple
Not only was Shirley Temple a bona fide child Hollywood starlet in the 1930s, dancing alongside tap legends such as Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, but she also pioneered her own moves too. The step (flap R, heel L, heel R, pull toe L heel R, toe L, heel R) was repeated in so many of her iconic movies that it eventually became known as The Shirley Temple. It has also been referred to as the Manhattan or Broadways.
The Maxie Ford
Max Ford was known as a “Buck and Wing” dancer, a dance style inspired by African and Irish influences and popularised on New York stages during the 1880s. Ford first started dancing with “The Four Fords,” along with his three siblings, and was one of the most skilled tappers of his time. The step credited to his name, Maxie Ford, is a four-part step (step R, shuffle L, leap L, toe R) and is still one of the most taught and widely recognisable tap steps today.
“Shuffle Off to Buffalo”
The Buffalo, aka Shuffle Off to Buffalo, was created by vaudevillian jig and clog dancer Pat Rooney in the 1880s. As the story goes, Rooney incorporated the travelling shuffle step — repeatedly leaping from one foot (with a bent leg) while shuffling the other (with a straight leg) — into his exit from the stage at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre in Buffalo, New York. The stage manager was supposedly known for refusing not to call a blackout when the dancer’s performance ended.
The son of Pat Rooney Sr.— who was also a vaudevillian entertainer — Rooney Jr. was also credited with making Falling Off the Log a popular tap step. W.C. Fields, an American entertainer in the early 20th century, once famously commented on Rooney’s graceful, fluid style of dancing, saying: “If you did not hear the taps, you would think he was floating over the stage.”