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Capezio Tap Master Mat | Advertising Collectible, ca. 1930's

Tap | The Greatest Tap Dance Stars & Their Stories
Rusty Frank

TAP! THE GREATEST TAP DANCE STARS AND THEIR STORIES 1900-1950 ©1990 by Rusty E. Frank. Published by William Morrow and Co.  

For Tap dancers, there is no more imprtant book than this one. It is hard to imagine a more interesting book either, than this collection of interviews and personal histories with and about 30 great tap dancers. There are many books about tap with lessons on how to dance, or guidance on how to teach, but not so many on the history of Tap. We all know the basic history of Tap "...came from Africa with the slaves and mixed with Irish clog dance..." but the actual origin of tap dancing is not really clear. This book has the real stories from tap dance history told by the real tap dancers who made the history. It can't get better than that.

Rusty Frank put so much of her enthusiasm for Tap into this book. We can all be grateful that she did, so many of those she interviews are now gone. Without Rusty's work, this invaluable information would have been lost as well. Unless they become movie stars, tap dancers are not generally known to the public, so it can be very hard to find information about them. Everybody knows about Gene Kelly but who knows the story of his brother Fred Kelly? There are a host of books about Fred Astaire but not that much is written about his choreographer, Hermes Pan. If you are a tap dancer and have participated in a few tap festivals, perhaps you have taken classes with Bunny Briggs, LaVaughn Robinson, Eddie Brown, Jimmy Slyde or Brenda Bufalino. It's great, but there is never enough time to just sit and talk and learn their stories. Get Rusty's book!

This book is filled with great pictures, too. There is an excellent tap dance glossary, a long list of tap dancers by name with a great filmography, even a discography of sources of tap sounds. All the information is here to make this book a wonderful reference tome on books, videos and film covering tap dancing during the first half of the 20th Century.   My copy, pictured above, is the first edition, in hard cover, 8"x10" and 338 pages. This edition went out of print, I believe. The paperback edition was published in 1995 with a different cover design.

The first edition has one special interview, not included in the paperback; an interview with Steve Condos. After the first edition was published, there was some sort of rights conflict with the Condos family, I think, and sadly, Steve's section had to be removed. I took classes with Steve Condos at both the San Francisco Tap Festival and the Oregon Tap Festival. Steve was very nice to me and I learned a lot in a short time. I remember his wife, Lorraine always nearby with fresh shirts and clean towels. In the paperback, Steve is missing, but a new interview is included with Tony Wing, known as the Chinese Fred Astaire. Well, if you are an admirer of Steve Condos, find the First edition!

I had a chance to meet Rusty more than 10 years ago; such a friendly, fun person. She used live in San Francisco, just around the corner from my partner's home, so I had the chance to visit her apartment. It was filled with Tap Dance Treasures. At one point, I mentioned that Gene Nelson was my favorite tap dancer, so Rusty just picked up the phone and called Gene and gave me the phone to talk to him. To a young tap dancer from Japan , this was quite an unforgettable experience.

At that time, Arthur Dong, another friend of my partner, David, was working with Rusty to make a documentary movie based on her book. Many of the dancers included in TAP! were interviewed on film at that time. Unfortunately, even after all this time that movie has not found the funding to be finished, but those interviews are there with dancers like Ann Miller and Ruby Keeler. Someday we will all get to see this film, I hope.

If you don't own a copy of Rusty Frank's book, you can click to buy it now.

 

— Shinichi Matsumoto