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Comparing Tapdancing Of Robinson And Glover

3425 words - 14 pages

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 ...view middle of the document...

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. Robinson stars in the film with other performers associated with American jazz culture of the time like Fats Waller, Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers. This film not only brings together some of the great jazz artists of the time, it also pushes boundaries by being one of the first all-black Hollywood musicals, and by allowing the depiction of a romantic relationship between the two leading roles (Robinson and Lena Horne). Black entertainment was already a hot commodity, and it made sense to put African American talent on screen, especially when it came to tap- dancing. In a way Whites accredited Blacks as better performers when they eventually allowed them on stage rather than exclusively dressing themselves up in blackface as they had done when minstrel shows began. Fred Astaire himself once called Robinson the greatest tap dancer of all time (Bogle 84). In this ironic world, the minstrel show continued to degrade a race seen as inferior, even as black performers proved their talent as dancers and comedians.

Bamboozled on the other hand, with an African American director (Spike Lee), is the story of a T.V. screenwriter, Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans). He is encouraged, in a condescending manner, by his white boss to use his African American background to write material that will boost the station’s ratings. Pierre, offended, decides to present an idea so racist that it will get him fired. However, his suggestion of a new age minstrel show, once aired, starts a nation-wide frenzy to see more. It is easy to recognize the minstrel show scenes, in which Savion Glover’s character blacks out his already black face and performs satirical representations of old-school tap dancers, as motivation for the anger that drives the abrasive style of tap we also see him perform in street scenes. Behind the success of stereotyping in the entertainment industry is the audience, and Hollywood is always aware of its audience.

In the opening scene of Stormy Weather, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson is tap dancing on a wooden porch out in the country, surrounded by five small black children happily doing Stomp Time Steps with him. Robinson has already been placed in circumstances in which contemporary white audience would have expected to see him. The set for this opening scene is very similar to the set constructed for the “New Millennium Minstrel Show” in Bamboozled with its...

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