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Midwest Studies In Philosophy


This essay will consider whether or not tap dance might be categorized as a kind of feet- and body-created jazz percussion rather than as a musical form of dance. Its focus is thus primarily ontological, although there is much to be said about the experience and value of tap dance that goes beyond ontology. The question of “what” tap dance is will be investigated in both historical, functional, and culturally contextual ways. First, the historical evidence for this claim will be canvassed – it will be shown that tap dance was treated as percussion in at least one point in time in the history of jazz music in the United States, with the word “jazz” referring to both dance and musical components of jazz performance during at least the pre-bebop period of time in the 1920s through the end of World War II (1945).

Second, this essay will consider tap dance’s function understood as its application, or what it does in performance context. This considers the extent to which what tap dance does, or how it is appreciated primarily, fits under the category of things that count as “percussion.” It will be shown in this section that “percussion” is a term that belongs to dance as well as music, with percussive dance containing auditory as well as visual and kinesthetic features and functions. Finally, this paper will consider and then reject the possibilities that jazz tap dance is either the dance component of a dance-music hybrid or that it is sometimes musical percussion. Here it will be claimed that the answers to the historical and functional questions are best solved by cultural and contextual considerations that make this the simplest solution to the problem at hand. The upshot of all this will be to demonstrate that yes, tap dance is a form of jazz percussion but that it still belongs primarily to dance and not to a dance-music or musical ontological category.

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It appears in a special issue of Midwest Studies in Philosophy on the philosophy of dance.

A version of this paper was presented at the Jazz Philosophy Intermodal Conference in Santa Ana, California, in the summer of 2019.

Acknowledgment: I am grateful to the philosophers, in particular Renee Conroy, David Ring, and Robert Kraut, for their comments and suggestions. I would also like to thank Robert Bingham (Temple University) for his assistance locating scholarly historical sources on tap dance.


John Wiley & Sons





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Embargoed until Monday, November 01, 2021

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