Since the dawn of the "talkie", audiences have enjoyed the satisfying clacks of movie tap dance routines. These electric Hollywood numbers are sure to get your toes tapping.
1. "Good Morning" from Singin' in the Rain
Will there ever be another dancer-cum-actor as magnetic as Gene Kelly? This unforgettable scene took a whopping 15 hours to film, and by the end of the recording, Debbie Reynolds' feet were bleeding so badly that she had to be carried to her dressing room. Gene Kelly chose to use the first take of the day.
Years later, Reynolds recalled being comforted by Fred Astaire as she lamented the difficulty of the dance moves. "That’s what it’s like to learn to dance," he told her. "If you’re not sweating, you’re not doing it right.”
One of the sequence's more famous admirers was director Francois Truffaut, who wrote in his journals: "In the 3000 films I’ve seen, the most beautiful shot is in Singin’ in the Rain. In the middle of the film, Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds, after a moment of discouragement, regain their taste for life and start singing and dancing in the apartment. Their dance leads them to leap over a sofa on which all three of them have to land seated side by side."
""If you’re not sweating, you’re not doing it right""
"During this dancing stunt over the sofa, Debbie Reynolds makes a determined and rapid gesture, pulling her down over her knees with a deft hand, so that her panties can’t be seen when she lands seated. That gesture, quick as lightning, is beautiful because in the same image we have the height of cinematographic convention (people who sing and dance instead of walking and talking) and the height of truth, a little lady taking care not to show her thighs."
"This all happened just once, 15 years ago, it lasted less than a second, but it was imprinted on film as definitively as the arrival of the train at La Ciotat station. These 16 frames of Singin’ in the Rain, this beautiful gesture by Debbie Reynolds, which is almost invisible, well illustrates this second action of films, this second life, which is legible on the editing table."
Watch the moment in the video above.
2. "Lovely Night" from Lala Land
It only took four takes to capture this ode to the tap mastery of old Hollywood. La La Land is heavily indebted to the work of Gene Kelly, and nowhere is that more obvious than in Gosling's swing around the lampost at the start of this routine, a homage to that timeless moment from Singin' in the Rain.
The six-minute uninterrupted take is beautifully sound-mixed, as the use of surrounding and incidental sounds in the scene—the car keys, the scratching of their shoes in the dirt—allows the gentle tapping to build up gradually into the crescendo of the song. It's a routine about as-yet unfulfilled sexual energy, and tap is the perfect style to express the electricity of the couple's chemistry.
Serious fans of the routine can learn the steps themselves, thanks to a choreography breakdown published by USA Today.
Read more: The musicals that inspired La La Land
3. "Pick Yourself Up" from Swing Time
There's a reason Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are the most iconic dancing duo of all time—their take on tap dance creates a performance that's as light as air. Though it doesn't come until 30 minutes into the movie—by which point any Fred and Ginger fan will be understandably thirsting for a dance number—when it takes flight, it's dynamite.
Though not all of the film has aged well—it's impossible not to cringe as Fred dances to “Bojangles of Harlem" in full blackface—this number easily withstands the tap test of time.
4. Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in The Little Colonel
One of the most magnetic tap dancers of all time, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is proof in this clip from The Little Colonel that true talent doesn't need fancy backdrops or an epic score when a staircase, your voice and a willing audience will do the trick. And the routine is notable for even more than the impressive choreography—this scene marked the first interracial dance number ever captured on film.
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's work inspired a number of his peers, including Fred Astaire, Lena Horne and the Nicholas Brothers. After his passing, his fellow tap-dancing talent Ann Miller said that as her mentor, he "changed the course of my life".
In 1989, the US Congress declared Robinson's birthday, May 25, National Tap Dance Day.
5. "Jumpin Jive" from Stormy Weather
This jaw-dropping routine from the notorious Nicholas Brothers is perhaps the most impressive tap sequence committed to film. So much so that Fred Astaire once told the brothers that it was the greatest musical sequence he'd ever seen—endorsements don't come much more ringing than that.
Speaking in his later years about his memories of recording the scene, Fayard Nicholas said, "Our dance director, Nick Castle, he got us together and said, 'What are we gonna do to make this better than the last movie?' "
Incredibly, before recording the unbelievable moment where the brothers jump over each other's heads, Castle told the brothers not to rehearse, just to go for it. And so they did, recording the feat in one take, with no rehearsals.
6. "Too Darn Hot" from Kiss Me Kate
Ann Miller's performance in Kiss Me Kate was proof that not only could the girls tap as well as the boys—but they could do it in heels.
Press releases from the studios claimed she could dance at 500 taps-per-minute, though in truth the sounds were generally added later. As stage floors were too slick for regular tap shoes, she'd wear rubber soles for recording and then dance on a tap board to produce the sounds needed to loop in post-production.
Miller was known for her uncanny ability to tap her feet at rapid speeds while simultaneously remaining elegant and lithe above the waist—no mean feat. Rumour has it her legs were at one time insured by RKO for a million dollars.
Today, fans can see her favourite tap shoes—lovingly named "Moe and Joe"—on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
7. Gregory Hines in White Nights
One of the most talented tap performers of all time, Gregory Hines brought tap dancing to a new generation. Creating new, uneven rhythms and pairing traditional styles with modern music, his work was fresh and exciting.
As his entry in the Library of Congress explains, "[In White Nights, Hines] showed how tap dancing, as an act of survival and salvation, became his metaphor of resistance—functioning both as an autobiographical text and a symbol of the broader panorama of the black struggle."
8. "A Town Called Malice" from Billy Elliot
Despite being a film about ballet, tap is the medium director Stephen Daltry chose for Billy to express his frustrations at his family's resistance to his love for dance.
Interspersed with moments of humour—where else can you watch a tap routine in which the principal dancer pirouettes whilst holding up two fingers, or pulling their shirt up over their head, goal-celebration style—it's one of the most memorable scenes of the film.
Read more: 10 greatest films about ballet
9. "Lullaby of Broadway" from Gold Diggers
"Lullaby of Broadway" was Busby Berkely's masterpiece and the routine he named his own career highlight. Hundreds of tap dancers congregate to create this film-within-a-film, telling the story of a baby of Broadway, who sleeps all day and dances all night.
With backdrops inspired by the surreal artist MC Escher, the tapping of hundreds of feet in unison has a dizzying effect, unlike any other tap routine committed to film.
10. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo in The Artist
Everybody was talking about the modern-day silent movie The Artist when it was released to mass acclaim—and mass Oscar wins—in 2011.
Speaking about learning the choreography for this memorable scene, Jean Dujardin, told Cinema Blend, "We studied tap dancing with five months, which is a lot and also not so much. We approached it very scholarly, starting from ground zero and I started taking lessons and working on the choreography with [his co-star] Berenice a lot. But [we were] also having fun, and at a certain point, we had to forget about the technical side of it, to really enhance the pleasure and have fun like kids and do some drumming like kids. The scene itself in the movie was pretty liberating. It was really a freeing scene."
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