Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Comparing Tapdancing of Robinson and Glover :: Bill Bojangles Robinson Savion Glover

Abstract: Comparing the tap dancing of tap stars Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson and Savion Glover in the two Hollywood films Stormy Weather (1943) by Andrew Stone and Bamboozled (2000) by Spike Lee, calls for the analysis of each film’s historical context. There are race issues deeply embedded either in the political and social situation at the time the film was made, as is the case with Stormy Weather, or in the narrative of the film, as with Bamboozled. This article pro- poses that the markers for the evolution of tap have been closely aligned with the progress of African Americans in this country. Tap dancing, an art grounded in African American culture, has moved from an upbeat style with its collection of steps that characterize the Jazz Age, such as the Charleston and the Stomp Time Step, to a style that better mirrors rap’s explosive rhythms and tendency towards synchronization. Much like African American music, tap- dancing’s evolution has been closely aligned with social progress and the slow breaking-down of stereotypes developed in the minstrel shows of the late 1800’s. The direct effects of racist stereotyping on tap-dancing are best observed in pre- 1960’s Hollywood films because these films reached a wide, mostly white, audience and were financed and directed by Whites. Tap legend, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, the star of Stormy Weather (1943), was forced to funnel his talent through a colander of social prejudices set to White Hollywood’s liking, and these social confines are visible in his dancing in this film. It was not until the 1980’s that modern tap emerged in Hollywood as an energetic battle cry from young African American dancers who demanded respect for their art form by refusing to conform to stereotypes. The film Bamboozled (2000), directed by Spike Lee, contrasts modern-day tap to the old-school style. In it, Savion Glover performs both the funky, urban style in street scenes and the smiley, traditional style in modern-day minstrel shows recreated for the film. In order to demonstrate how early conformity with and later break away from stereotypes have fueled the formation of two different generations of tap dancing, I will discuss historical context, and specifically the influence of minstrel shows on Stormy Weather and the 80’s tap revival on Bamboozled, before isolating and analyzing a scene from each film as representative of the two styles of tap-dancing. Stormy Weather, by white director Andrew L. Stone, follows the story of Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson’s character (Bill Williamson) as he makes his way to the top in show business.

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