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February 7: The Tap Dancer

Lawrence Bush
February 7, 2017
Jerry Ames (Abrams), a creative, light-footed tap dancer who founded the Jerry Ames Tap Dance Company, one of the first dance troupes devoted exclusively to tap, died at 80 on this date in 2011. Ames was the only white dancer in legendary Off-Broadway show, The Hoofers (1969), and was known for his performance in many classical music venues of Morton Gould’s “Concerto for Tap Dancer and Orchestra.” in 1977, Ames published the Book of Tap: Recovering America’s Long Lost Dance. “Tap can’t depend on nostalgia,” he told the New York Times just before the book came out. “It is innovative. There must be room. We can’t just lament tap dancing as a lost art.” In 1980, Ames was a featured performer in the movie Tap Dancin’ by Christian Blackwood, and in 2006, he received a Flo Bert Award for his lifetime contribution to tap dance. Ames’ partner for many years was Joseph Silvestri, who predeceased him. To see Morton Gould’s Concerto (not, unfortunately, with Ames dancing), look below. “[T]ap dance, which evolved from the rhythmic and social exchange of transplanted Irish indentured servants and enslaved Africans in the Caribbean in the 1500s, has a long and contested legacy of racism and classism. Tap dance developed through plantation jigging competitions staged by white masters for their slaves, challenge dances in the walk-around finale of minstrel shows, and juried buck-and-wing contests on the vaudeville stage. Tap’s artistic tradition was never, and never will be, separated from its long history of hardship–from slavery to blackface. European traditions continue to be favored over the improvisatory African-American forms. Considered mostly a popular entertainment on the vaudeville and variety stage and in the movies, tap, until very recently, has been placed in the category of “low” art, unworthy of the concert stage, and of scholarly attention.” --Constance Vallis Hill


​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.