Inside England’s Tap Jams: Improvisation, Identity, and Community
This thesis examines tap dance practice and performance in England. The study is based on a multi-sited ethnography of two tap dance communities in Manchester and London. Participants in the communities ranged in ages from eighteen to eighty and were from a variety of social backgrounds. The investigation focusses on the tap jam, an informal performance event that showcases improvised tap dance to live music. Many individuals disclosed that they joined the tap communities despite possessing limited knowledge and experience of tap improvisation. Improvisation in tap dance is traditionally studied within the context of performance technique and the historical evolution of tap practice in the United States. American tap practitioners and historians such as Hill (2010), Knowles (2002), Frank (1994), and Stearns and Stearns (1968) state that tap improvisation contributes to unique performance styles but do not clarify how these identities are achieved by tap dancers. In order to understand how performance styles are generated, a symbolic interactionist approach is applied to the act of tap improvisation in the two communities. Viewing tap improvisation through a symbolic interactionist framework revealed that the tap jams are a shared social process that does not limit participation based on dance training or socio-cultural background. The improvised performances at the tap jam created performance identities that focussed on the individual rather than on an English interpretation of tap dance. The thesis delivers an analysis and discussion of how the tap community members cultivate these identities within a social context, exploring how tap dance is evolving beyond American identity and practice.
- PhD