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Tap Dancing for Beginners | Tap Dance Instruction Book

Tap Dancing for Beginners
Johnson Smith Company

This book was published in 1935, at a time when tap dancing was all the rage in America. Hollywood brought a host of tap dancing happy feet to every silver screen with Ruby Keeler, Shirley Temple, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and so many more. No longer reserved for street corners in the French Quarter or even Broadway stages, Americans tried to tap their way out of the depression. By 1935, The Johnson Smith Company was already 21 years old. Mr. Alfred Johnson Smith established the company in 1914, as a purveyor of hobbyist, novelty and practical joke products. Tap dancing was one of the nation's most popular hobbies so Johnson Smith was there too. Today, Johnson Smith Company is still with us and still in the novelty business, along with many other product lines. The catalog is still filled with wacky stuff. The web site is lots of fun and there is a nice little history of the company. Check it out!

Tap Dance Notation, 1930's Style

It is always difficult to write down choreography and explain it on paper. It's so much better to learn steps from a teacher, choreographer, fellow dancer or even from a video recording. In 1935, lots of illustrations had to suffice for many hopeful budding tap dancers, who rolled up the rugs at home. This example of drawings of the feet with the count along side is typical. An appropriate rhythm is shown using music notes and staff. Then on the right, the illustration attempts to show a front on view of how to move your feet. Tap Dancing for Beginners contains about 14 pages like this one.


Tap Dancing Instruction, 1930's Style

Here is a second type of illustration from Tap Dancing for Beginners. Is this typical the 1930's, or what! When I first saw this book I wondered why these women dancers were drawn almost naked, dressed only in a sort of underwear outfit. Were the publishers trying to bring a little sex into tap dancing for beginners? Was it very common for women dancers to practice in this fashion in 1935? The drawings are not particularly sexy, but Johnson Smith was publishing for the home hobby market. Can you picture women all over America tapping in their front parlors in just their underwear? And they called this The Depression! There are about twenty pages of illustrations like this one in this book. I have never seen another copy of a Johnson Smith tap book so I think this one is becoming quite rare. We're happy to have here at Tap Wonderland.

— Shinichi Matsumoto