Tap (1989)

Rated PG-13

Starring: Gregory Hines, Suzzanne Douglas, Savion Glover and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Rated: PG-13 Dance/Drama/Comedy

Tap centers around the decisions of its lead character, tap dancer Max Washington (Gregory Hines), who has been recently released from prison.  Having been incarcerated for burglary, Max has returned to his roots, trying to navigate his new life “on the outside.” 

The son of a famous “hoofer”, a skilled tap dancer, he resumes his connection with those involved in his life, pre-crime days, including Little Mo Simms (Sammy Davis, Jr.), who runs the Harlem dance studio Max’s father owned; and Amy (Suzzanne Douglas), his former girlfriend and Little Mo’s daughter.  Amy, a professional dancer, teaches to young children, including her son, Louis (Savion Glover), in a dance academy at the studio.  Adding to the colorful life Max had when he was celebrated as a tap dance prodigy are seven of his late father’s friends, also hoofers who hang out at the studio. 

Little Mo is ecstatic for Max’s return and hopes Max will star in his new production that is a fusion of rock and tap that he is creating.  Amy, who’s suffered too many broken promises of Max, is cautious to believe in his words.  Meanwhile, his friend and, literally, partner-in-crime, Nicky (Joe Morton) needs him to be involved in a once-in-a-lifetime jewelry heist.  Will Max fulfill his destiny or risk it all for one last score?

Tap did well in ticket sales, ranking #9 in national ranks with a limited theatre run.  Suzzanne Douglas won the NAACP Image Award for “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture”.  This would be the final film appearance for Sammy Davis, Jr.

Although some critics at the time found the film a bit lacking, plot-wise, what viewers are presented with is the dilemma surrounding preservation of a cultural art form.  This preservation is even more significant when taking into account that tap dancing, especially after the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, was viewed by some to be demeaning.  It is highly interesting how that dilemma for the Black dancers featured in the film, many of whom were tap dancing in real life, decades before these movements, is approached.  African-Americans’ need for this art to be understood and respected as well as expanded in diverse directions was and remains all too real and relevant.  It is one of the many themes Spike Lee alludes to in his film, Bamboozled, released eleven years later.  Ironically, it features Glover, now an adult.  His character, Manray, who is a poor and homeless hoofer, stars in a modern-day minstrel show in order to become rich and famous for his tap-dancing skills.

Without a doubt, the choreography in Tap is outstanding.  Several scenes, including Gregory Hines dancing in prison, in this film have become popular.  However, what is probably most memorable will be the “Challenge” scene.  Featuring terpsichorean legends Bunny Briggs, Steve Condos, Arthur Duncan, Harold Nicholas, Pat Rico, Howard “Sandman” Sims and Jimmy Slyde alongside Davis, Jr. and Hines, it allows each dancer to showcase their amazing skills, further cementing the cultural value of tap!

For greater enlightenment...