13 of the Best Tap Dancers of All Time
The tap dance world has been home to extraordinary talents for multiple generations. Who are some of the best tappers of all time? Here are 13 tap dancers sure to inspire you.
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson
Bill Robinson—yes, Mr. Bojangles himself—is, of course, at the top of our list. His legacy inspires dancers to this day. Not only did he make his mark on Broadway, but also had a starry career in vaudeville, Hollywood, radio, and television. He may be most recognized for dancing alongside Shirley Temple in several films.
John W. Bubbles
Vaudeville star John W. Bubbles (born John William Sublett) is known as the inventor of rhythm tap, and performed alongside fellow innovator Ford L. “Buck” Washington as Buck and Bubbles.
During the Golden Age of Hollywood, Eleanor Powell’s dazzling footwork earned her roles in Born to Dance, Broadway Melody of 1938, and Rosalie. She was even named the World’s Greatest Tap Dancer by the Dance Masters of America in 1965.
Charles “Honi” Coles
The elegant Charles “Honi” Coles was a standout tapper by the 1930s, had a successful vaudeville act with fellow standout Charles “Cholly” Atkins in the ’40s and ’50s, and went on to become one of the leading figures of the 1970s tap renaissance. (You might remember him as Tito in Dirty Dancing.) He was awarded the National Medal of Arts by president George H.W. Bush in 1991.
During the 1940s and ’50s, the electric Ann Miller was one of the tap queens of Hollywood. From On the Town to Dames at Sea to the iconic “Too Darn Hot” number in Kiss Me, Kate, her legacy is, thankfully, well-documented on film.
The Nicholas Brothers
The Nicholas Brothers were a world-famous “flash act,” astonishing audiences with their signature combination of charm and jaw-dropping acrobatic tricks. Fred Astaire called their show-stopping routine from Stormy Weather “the greatest dance number ever filmed.”
Perhaps one of the best-known dancers ever, Gene Kelly had, to put it mildly, some serious tap skills! A titan of both Broadway and Hollywood, he starred in and/or directed such classics as Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, and Hello, Dolly!
Speaking of the most famous dancers in the world: Everyone from Mikhail Baryshnikov to George Balanchine to Jerome Robbins to Bob Fosse has cited Fred Astaire as an influence. Over his 76-year career, Astaire starred in more than 10 Broadway musicals and made 31 musical films, including Top Hat, Shall We Dance, The Band Wagon, and Funny Face.
Of course, we can’t mention Fred without highlighting his incredible partner, Ginger Rogers, whose dancing was as electric as it was elegant. Her easy charisma shone in such iconic films as Follow the Fleet, Swing Time, Shall We Dance, and Carefree.
Tap legend and movie star Gregory Hines was a true inspiration. He starred in more than 40 films during his lifetime, many of them involving tap, and also made his mark on Broadway, earning four Tony Award nominations and one win. His work still serves as a reminder to tap dancers today of how excellent they can truly be.
All-around icon Savion Glover started out as a tap prodigy: He made his Broadway debut at age 11 in The Tap Dance Kid. At 15, he received a Tony Award nomination for his performance in Black and Blue. He helped bring tap into the contemporary mainstream with the groundbreaking musical Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, which he choreographed and starred in. Most recently, he choreographed the well-reviewed Broadway revival of Shuffle Along.
Emmy-nominated tap dancer and choreographer Chloe Arnold has appeared all over film and television, and is the co-founder (with her sister, Maud) of the DC Tap Festival. But she’s probably best known for her all-female tap ensemble, the Syncopated Ladies. The group’s Beyoncé tributes are the stuff of YouTube legend.
MacArthur Fellow Michelle Dorrance, director of Dorrance Dance, continues to prove her excellence and influence on the tap community with every performance and new work. The New Yorker called her “one of the most imaginative tap choreographers working today.” In addition to her MacArthur “genius” grant, Dorrance’s accolades include an Alpert Award and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award.