Get Them Tapping with a Bojangles Book!

I love this book.  I love the writing, the rhythm, the brevity, the pictures, the subject…love.  The first time I read it, I was having a horrible substitute teaching day at an Oakland elementary school and this book was a little beacon on the reading rack. I read it to the kids, and went home that night and bought a used copy on Amazon. Now it lives in the trunk of my car and is a faithful stand-by for tired tap dancers and school visits. Rap A Tap Tap is a brief introduction to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, an African American vaudeville star who made tap more widely famous in his movie appearances opposite Shirley Temple in the 1930’s—most famously in the films The Little Colonel, The Littlest RebelJust Around the Corner, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Since 1989 when the U.S. Senate/House declared it so, May 25th—the anniversary of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s birthday—is National Tap Dance Day. That’s a holiday I can get behind! …and May is a great month to pull out this little gem.

Click Read More… for the full breakdown of how I structure a lesson with Rap A Tap Tap for different audiences.

 

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  • When I use this, or any, book in dance class…the activity tends to come toward the second half of class. Legs are tired, attentions are tired… everyone could use a sit down story time. For my youngest (3.5-5 year-olds), I might use this book as a rest between activities when I know I need their good behavior and focus again later in class.
  • This book makes a great introduction to tap dance for non-dance groups because the book gives you the rhythmic feeling of tapping. If I am lucky enough to be invited into a school classroom as a guest reader/dancer, this is one of the books I bring in exactly because it is a dance book without tutus,  and it invites audience participation.
  • The best part of this book, for those of you who’ve never seen it, is it’s repetition of the phrase— “Rap a tap tap—think of that!” —on every other page. With my students in tap shoes, I have the tappers sit around me and tap their taps on the ground while I read the phrase. No tapping when we’re not on that phrase! With slightly older dancers (7-9), I might change the cues for how to tap with each page. (Ex: toes, heels, 1 toe & 1 heel, etc.) For students without taps or non-dancers, I explain before we start that tap dancing has a lot in common with drumming and we practice the beat 1,2,3—4.  Then students clap out the rhythm or drum it on their thighs with their hands as I read. A few pages into the book, a good part of the group is “reading” the phrase along with me as they drum out the rhythm!
  • To wrap up our reading I usually ask students of any age what Bojangles was wearing on every page (a suit with tails, tap shoes, etc), and also what he was holding (a top hat and a cane). I use this for a quick theater terminology lesson/review. Anything you HOLD on stage in a play or while dancing is a PROP. Anything you WEAR is a COSTUME. This could get more detailed depending on the age & group, getting into MAKE-UP, SETS, etc… but I usually do mention that a top hat and cane are very “classic” tap props that are often used. (Here I might lead the group in miming tipping a hat or twirling a cane.) Or I might ask the group to name other props they’ve seen dancers use.
  • Depending on the age of the group and the time available, I may get into more discussion about the African American roots of tap dancing, how Bill “Bojanlges” Robinson was with first black man to be filmed dancing with a white female (Shirley Temple), or how movies during the 30’s and 40’s starring Robinson, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Nicholas Brothers brought tap to a big audience. There are many historical, social, political and artistic rabbit holes this book could set you off on if you so choose.

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I’ll leave you a video clip of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson teaching his signature stair dance to Shirley Temple in The Little Colonel.

Happy Tapping!  ~ Linda

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  1. […] For more classic tap videos, or to read about a great book to introduce your young dancers or “non-dance” students to tap history, check out my first post about Bojangles and National Tap Dance day…Get Them Tapping with a Bojangles Book! […]



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