'Tap World': Film Review

Tap World/Brenda Scott-Hargrove
Could have benefited from less talking and more dancing

Dean Hargrove's documentary profiles tap dancers around the world

Tap dancing is a joy to watch and, judging by the enthusiasm of its practitioners, presumably a joy to perform as well. Hearing about it, however, is another matter. That's the principal problem with Dean Hargrove's cinematic paean to the venerable art form in which the frequently dazzling performance footage is offset by long dull interviews with dancers who intone such platitudes as "the language of music is rhythm…rhythm is the language of life." Although it means well in its ethnographic travelogue of around-the-world tap dancing, Tap World feels attenuated despite its brief 72-minute running time.

Hargrove, whose extensive television credits include creating the hit series Matlock, is clearly an unabashed fan. But this effort, an offshoot of his 2004 short film Tap Heat, is too rambling and unfocused to sustain interest for casual viewers.

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Still, the documentary is impressive for its sheer breadth and diversity. Among the interesting subjects profiled are Joshua Johnson, who practiced his art on the New York City subway and eventually landed a guest shot on The Ellen DeGeneres Show where he received a gift of $35,000 towards his college tuition; Chloe Arnold (one of the film's producers), who founded the DC Tap Festival and has performed in 21 countries; and Evan Ruggiero, a New Jersey teenager who lost a leg to cancer and, inspired by the legendary one-legged dancer Peg Leg Bates, continued to pursue his tap dancing career.

Another fascinating segment profiles the community organization Tap Pups founded by Vicki Riordan, largely comprised of middle-aged women, many of them victims of domestic abuse.

Although a scholar is on hand to explain the origins of the uniquely American art form descended from Irish and African traditions, the film otherwise provides little historical context. Not surprisingly, most of the young dancers profiled refer not to such pioneering early dancers as Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers as inspirations but rather to more contemporary figures like Savion Glover and the late Gregory Hines.

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Besides exploring such related dance forms as African gumboot dancing and Kathak, originated in India some 2,000 years ago, the film profiles tap dancers in countries including Japan, France, Brazil, Australia and Russia, demonstrating that it's indeed an international language. Alas, it's one that doesn't pay very well, with one of the film's more dispiriting disclosures being that most tap dancers derive their income from teaching rather than performing.

Director/screenwriter: Dean Hargrove
Producers: Chloe Arnold, Maud Arnold, George Mandl, Steven Poster
Executive producers: Jeff Peters, Dean Hargrove
Directors of photography: Steven Poster, Rohan Chitraker, Takeshi Fukushima, Logan Miller, Alicia Robbins
Editor: George Mandl
Composer: Adam Samuel Goldman

Not rated, 72 min.