Top Ten Best Tap Numbers in Film

I’m sure all of you remember my tap instructor John Kloss?

Yeah, I bet you do.

If you’re in the Bay Area this weekend, you must attend his Bay Area Tap Festival, which features Friday and Saturday night performances by professional tap dancers from Broadway and film.

To celebrate the culmination of a whole lot of work putting the festival together, I asked Mr. Kloss if he’d share his top ten favorite tap performances on film. (Shockingly, mine did not make the list, but I’m climbing the charts with a bullet, you guys.)

Here they are, counting down to his favorite. Take it away, Mr. Kloss…

10. Savion Glover “Time After Time [Cadenza and Finale sections]”

“There is much Savion Glover material on film, and many clips, such as ‘Ribbon in the Sky’ with Stevie Wonder, could easily compete with this one. But I’ve been watching Savion’s performances — from backstage, from in the audience, on my TV, and on the big screen — since around 1995, and to me, this performance best crystallizes his technical wizardry, unquenchable passion, razor-sharp wit, and superb showmanship.”

9. Peg Leg Bates

“Peg Leg Bates could make it on this list for any number of clips of his work — a compilation of some of his work on film appears here.”

8. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers “Pick Yourself Up” from the film “Swing Time”

“Though Ginger’s taps routinely were later dubbed in by Astaire choreographer/collaborator Hermes Pan, she and Fred both are undeniably “in the pocket” in this righteously tasty morsel of their on-screen work. See 1:20-1:30 and 2:00-2:07 for examples of how Fred and Ginger were ‘serving up the funk’ long before that expression meant what it does today.”

7. Various Dancers, “Lullaby of Broadway” from the film Gold Diggers of 1935

“A huge cast, innovative camera angles, striking lighting effects, reverse motion film, remarkable sets, Broadway presentation, and raw hoofin’ all come together in this tour de force of choreography and cinematography courtesy of Busby Berkeley.”

6. Sammy Davis, Jr., Gregory Hines, et. al. “Challenge” Scene from the film TAP!

“HD footage of some of the greatest in Tap laying it down — opening dialogue provides essential narrative context, but dancing starts at about 1:57.”

5. Bill Robinson Stair Dance from Harlem is Heaven

“An ultimate classic — the stunning simplicity of rhythm tap, incredibly sophisticated compositional quality, and the unmatched clarity and precision of Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson.”

4. Gregory Hines with Sammy Davis Jr. from “Sammy Davis Jr. 60th Anniversary Celebration”

“Not quite film, but an absolutely spectacular capture of the essence of Gregory Hines in a touching televised tribute to Sammy shortly after Sammy’s cancer diagnosis.”

3. Gene Kelly Singin’ in the Rain

“Of course, a classic. Close runners up for Gene Kelly entries to the list include the “Alter Ego Dance from Cover Girl (Cinematic Achievement); Live Action Gene Kelly with animated Jerry Mouse in Invitation to the Dance (Cinematic Achievement) (ed note: This video unfortunately also shows a Family Guy version on the right); and also “I Got Rhythm” from An American in Paris, which is pure fun.

2. Jimmy Slyde “On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)” from the Tap Documentary About Tap

“A quintessential recording of my favorite tap dancer of all time and an inspiration to so many other tap dancers at the top of his game.”

1. Nicholas Brothers “Jumpin’ Jive” from the film Stormy Weather

“Here we are at number one. Fred Astaire called it the greatest tap number on film — I have to agree.”

Well, if that last one didn’t put you in a good mood, you can’t be helped. Again, many thanks, to John Kloss of Stepology. If you want to get in on the action this weekend, tickets for the Bay Area Tap Festival are available here.

29 thoughts on “Top Ten Best Tap Numbers in Film

  1. wow. thanks! this was a great way to brighten up monday. tap looks like so much fun, but the HARD! way to go for learning your routine!

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  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! What a treat to watch these. My toes are tapping, or is that my heart thumping? No matter, either way the smile on my face is undeniable. Bless.

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  3. I clearly know all the wrong things about American cinema if I know the raindrops in “Singin’ In The Rain” include milk to make them visible on camera, but never knew it was a tap scene.

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  4. I love the Zatoichi finale. It was under close review for this project and would be, um, a “shoe-in” if I were to do a list of 11-20. But heck, if we’re going that far, maybe we need to see another routine from Maggie first…

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  5. I watched Singin’ in the Rain for the first time last night. I can’t believe I’ve gone so long without experiencing that film. Wow. Now I understand why you put learn to tap dance on your list, and promptly checked it off. Awesome. We need more movies that makes us want to jump to our feet. Thanks for the compilation.

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  6. I still can’t watch the gregory hines video without getting a little teary – I loved him as Will’s boss on Will & Grace too… “sigh”…

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  7. Oh, add Gene Kelly and Donald O’connor jumping all over the furniture and going up the walls singing “Moses” in “Singing in the Rain.” I much prefer it to the title song.

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  8. love this post. Proof against possible naysayers to my burning desire to start my 3 year old (who is adventurous enough to free base from the top of the couch at any give moment) in tap – a truly useful and beautiful athletic endeavor.

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  9. No Shirley Temple! Poor Little Rich Girl? The Little Princess? Maybe I should watch those movies again and get back to you.

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  10. How can you exclude Eleanor Powell, “The Queen of Tap”? Hard to pick my favorite but for starters watch her out-dance Astaire here:

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  11. As I was scrolling down, I began to worry that Mr. Kloss had overlooked the Nicholas Brothers and then he made it number one. Seriously, they seem to be barely a footnote to American dance (and broadly overshadowed by Fred Astaire and his ilk) but they had moves nobody else could do. I often wonder if the Nicholas Brothers would have been more famous if they’d been around either a) 20 years later or b) white guys…

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  12. As a former clarinet player, I have to wonder how many musicians were accidentally kicked in the face during rehearsals for that last clip. 🙂

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