3 iconic women of tap you should know!
Yo Tap That Squaaad! It’s your friendly neighborhood Jeze here to do what I do best; nerd out about something I love.
If I asked you who some of your all-time favorite tap dancers are…
Would you default to the first names that come to mind?
Fred Astaire! Ginger Rogers! That one guy from “Psych”!
Would you call out your teachers?
Ms. Wendy! Mr. Hobbs! A few YouTube videos!
Would you draw a blank?
uhhh…The Penguin from Happy Feet?
Tap dance history is incredibly vast.
With a timeline that spans centuries, contributors from all corners of the world, and a community built on “respecting the dance”, it can feel a little intimidating to say “…I don’t know.”
I want to use my TTD entries to share tap dancers whose legacies inspire me, in hopes that it’ll give you a lil nudge into the rabbit hole.
Let’s get into it with some trailblazing American WOMEN!
1. Jeni LeGon (1916 – 2012)
It’s safe to say that any gal that challenges the typical “role” of women in tap is a STAR in my book, and Jeni LeGon was one of the first to do it!
Her performance career begins in Chicago when she’s just thirteen, and performing with the best acts on the vaudeville circuit leads to her becoming one of the first African American women in tap with a soloist career. She’s recognized for laying down rhythms and show-stopping tricks in low heels and pants, breaking away from chorus-girl traditions of the time. After appearing in 24 films--one including a performance alongside Bill Bojangles Robinson!-- Jeni continued to share her love of the dance as a renowned and devoted teacher and can be seen being spunky as ever in her 90’s in some clips on YouTube!
2. Eleanor Powell (1912 – 1982)
My girl Eleanor reppin’ for the long-legged ladies EARNED her title of “Queen of Tap Dancing”! Even though her tap dance training didn’t begin until she was sixteen, her career would land her on stages from Broadway to Hollywood. With equal parts fire and grace, she earned top billing roles alongside the leading men of the time, including partnerships with Fred Astaire. (One of my other favorite silver-screen ladies Ann Miller even credits Eleanor’s wildly popular movie-musicals for “saving” MGM from bankruptcy in the 1930’s.) She mastered intricate set and prop work, exemplified here in one of my personal performances of hers from Ship Ahoy with drummer Buddy Rich (this routine blows my mind every time I watch it, lol):
3. Dianne Walker “Lady Di” (1951 – present)
We’re going to fast forward a little bit in tap history so we can give it up for the ONLY woman to perform in the Hoofers Line!! Dianne Walker’s professional career began in 1979 in Boston, and in her 30+ years of experience she’s learned from and/or performed alongside countless tap dance legends! Just to name-drop a few; (gonna go ahead and brag for her here!!) Leon Collins, Chuck Green, the Nicholas Brothers, Jimmy Slyde, Savion Glover, Henry LeTang… (a very Google-worthy list). Lady Di was a key player in the resurgence of tap dance in the 1980’s, she appeared in the original cast of Black and Blue on Broadway, Tap! in 1989, and numerous tap dance documentaries. She went on to create multiple tap festivals and to this day inspires as a beloved teacher and mentor.
She kills it so softly and every time I watch her glide across the stage I get antsy for the opportunity to one day learn from her! (*aggressively willing it into the universe*)
Before I sign off, a quick shout-out to atdf.org and Tap Dance Archive Productions—both are wonderful resources when you're ready to kick off your internet dive. ;)
That concludes my list this time around, let me know who some of your favorite women of tap are!
See you in the future!