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Celebrating Master Pioneers of Tap Dance in their Birth Month

The Chicago Human Rhythm Project honors black history and the creation of tap dance within that. Acknowledging the revolutionary and artistic breakthroughs from infamous struggles of racism for the birth of our art forms. From Africa to the Americas and back, we acknowledge our ancestors.

In this Black History Month in particular we celebrate four master pioneers of tap dance. Leon Collins born on the 7th in Chicago, IL, Gregory Hines born on the 14th in New York, NY, John ‘Bubbles’ Sublett born on the 19th in Louisville, KY, and ‘Baby’ Laurence Donald Jackson born on the 24th in Baltimore, MD. February 7th- Leon Collins

Leon Collins is a Chicago hometown hero, but moved to Boston then Brookline, MA to open the Leon Collins Dance Studio Inc. Leon Collins & Co. performed until his untimely death in 1985, though his tap dance theories live on. Creating eight works or “routines” that can be used to upgrade high level tap technique for eternity. These compositions by Collins are arguably the most beneficial materials in tap, while he also mastered tap solos to classical songs by Johann Sebastian Bach and premiered some at the National Historic Landmark of Jacob’s Pillow.

February 14th- Gregory Hines

The world famous Gregory Hines. From Broadway to film to stardom, and introducing the term “improvography” to the art form. We thank you Gregory. While raising the bar for triple threat artistry, Gregory still honored improvisation and the beauty in that expression within tap dance. Collaborating with television, Hollywood stars and filmmakers to not only be a champion in the field but to always carry and proudly represent tap. With Gregory as the leader, tap dance was as power as it had ever been. Giving us the movie ‘Tap’, then ‘Bojangles’, to recognize tap dance and its history properly. With all of his accolades and awards, he put tap first. We miss you Gregory, indefinitely…

February 19th- John ‘Bubbles’ Sublett

The father of rhythm tap dancing, John Bubbles. Bubbles changed the whole trend of jazz tap by starting time steps with a cramp, introducing the heel beats to the repertoire of tap technique. Born in 1902, then forming the groundbreaking singing, dancing and piano playing duo with Ford ‘Buck’ Washington in 1919. Becoming the first black artists to perform at the Radio City Music Hall, and performing live in 1936 as the first black artists on television anywhere in the world. Fred Astaire called John the finest tap dancer of his generation, fortunately he is still the finest in tap dance to this day and a king to us all.

February 24th- ‘Baby’ Laurence Donald Jackson

Another king or legend is Baby Laurence, the one and only jazz hoofer. A pure disciple of the jazz culture, or The Hoofers Club. Laurence is regarded as an authentic hoofer, who further developed the art of tap dancing by treating the feet as an instrument. “In the consistency and fluidity of his beat, the bending melodic lines of his phrasing, and his overall instrumentalized conception, Baby is a jazz musician,” Nat Hentoff wrote in the liner notes to Baby Laurence’s ‘Dance Master’. A 1959 audio recording of Baby’s improvisational work, as well as the best and first full length album of tap dance with live arrangements as a band leader. Baby established the blueprint for solo tap dancers who embrace the history of tap and jazz with authenticity. If not for his essential LP and his documentary ’The Jazz Hoofer’, tap dancers today would be lost. Demonstrating to us how to keep the truth of who we are and what we created on record, by displaying and sharing the finest of our culture in tap.

These four gentlemen have rhythmically taught us all about levels of humanity with their art, their character, their commitment, their experiences… The royal ancestral list goes on to Dr. Jeni LeGon, Lois Bright, Mable Lee and too many others. Literally breaking ground with their feet through triumphant work and resilience, giving us dancers today a full life to live as long as we can respect the history of our black innovators.

We must continue to celebrate black history everyday.

BONUS footage about the women mentioned:

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