International Tap Dance Hall of Fame

 

The International Tap Dance Hall of Fame is the only tap dance hall of fame exclusively focused on tap dancers. It features founding and innovative

20th and 21st century professional tap dancers. With a collection of photographs, biographies, and videos, the Hall of Fame

is becoming a colorful and diverse retrospective of America's seminal tap dance personalities.

 

2016 - The Apollo “Number One” Chorus Line Of all the tap dancers to grace the Apollo Theater stage, the sixteen female dancers who made up the Apollo “Number One” Chorus were considered the be the best female dancers in New York, unmatched by any chorus line on stage or in film. “A dancing act could come into the Apollo with all original material and when they left at the end of the week, the chorus line would have stolen many of the outstanding things they did,” remembered Honi Coles. The Apollo Chorus was the backbone and the rhythmic body and soul of every Apollo performance. Among the hundreds of dancers who worked in the chorus line during the 1930s were such notables as Ristina Banks, Carol Carter, Marion Evelyn Edwards, Elaine Ellis, Myrtle Hawkins, Temy Fletcher, Cleo Hayes, Mable Lee, Jackie Lewis Parton, Jackie Bass Pinkney, Thelma Prince, Fay Ray, Ruby Riley, Hazel Walker Rogers, Juanita Boisseau Ramseur, Yak Taylor, and Bertye Lou Wood. Many performed in the Apollo chorus line from 1934—when it was called the Apollo Theater Rockettes-- to 1940, when the Apollo “Number One” Chorus was directed by Ristina Banks.

 

“Through these portals pass the most beautiful girls in Harlem,” the backstage entrance to the Apollo read, but it should also have inserted, “and the most hard-working.”  The chorus line worked four to six shows a day, from ten o’clock in the morning till eleven o’clock at night; they had rehearsals after the second and last shows; and they opened Friday mornings with a new show each week with three major dance numbers. Though the pay was poor ($20 a week), the women enjoyed a deep sense of autonomy and sisterhood. Whereas shows at Connie’s Inn and the Cotton Club were staged by male dance directors, many of the steps in the routines at the Apollo were created by the women themselves working as a team.  “the girls made up the steps, said Harold “Stumpy” Cromer, “the Shim Sham, Truckin’, and the Susie Q were all made up by chorus girls—they could have all had their own act, but they weren’t given the freedom. The women did all the choreography and were the best dancers.” Praising the 1920s Cotton Club dancer Cora LaRedd, tap dancer Bunny Briggs said, “But of course, the men wouldn’t talk about her much because she was a woman. They were talking, like the women were trying to take over the business. Yeah. Because the chorus bgirls used to watch the men dance, so they stopped doing anything in front of them, the men, because they would be doing their act the next day—and they were good!”

 

Despite the enormous popularity of the Apollo chorus line, the poor pay brought discord. After the American Guild of Variety Artists was organized in the late 1930s, the women decided it was time to ask for a raise. Ristina Banks organized the group, asking for $22.50 a week. On Saturday night, February 23, 1940, the women walked out of the Apollo Theater in this historic first strike by African American performers. The strike was settled in two weeks, the women ended up with a contract that paid $25. A week for performances and extra rehearsals. Victory, however, was short-lived. Later that year, Frank Shiffman, stating the need to cut costs, phased out the Apollo Number One Chorus, and in 1941 sixteen of the best dancers in New York City were out of a job.

 

Constance Valis Hill

Source: Constance Valis Hill, Tap Dancing America, A Cultural History (2010)