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.

 

2013 - Paul Draper (October 25, 1909, Florence, Italy – September 20, 1996, Woodstock, New York)

Paul Draper, tap dancer, teacher, dance director, and dance writer whose “classical” style combined tap dance with the elegance of manner, precision of execution, arm movements, and turns and jumps of ballet, was born in Florence, Italy. His mother, Murial Draper, was a hostess of the music and art world; his father was a singer of lieder in England. At age nine he was sent to live with his maternal grandparents in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and then to New York City where he lived with his mother who enrolled him in the progressive Lincoln School.

 

By 1930, at age twenty-one, and having a natural flair for dancing, he applied to the Arthur Murray Dance Studio and was accepted as an instructor of ballroom dance; there, he began his own tap lessons with Tommy Nip. Soon after, he moved to London, fortified with letters of introduction, to launch his newfound career as a dancer. He was cast in Sensations of 1932, performing a “flash routine” with partner Nina Ford, in which he danced on a marble pedestal. Returning to New York, he performed at Cobina Wright’s Sutton Club. Engagements followed at the Roxy, Paramount Theater, and Radio City Music Hall. In 1935 he appeared in the Broadway musical Thumbs Up, dancing his pedestal routine. He partnered Ruby Keeler in a tap dance in the movie musical Colleen (1936). He returned to Hollywood to make another movie with Keeler, Six Hits and a Miss (1942).

 

In the mid-1940s, after studying ballet at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, he began combining tap dance with ballet and embarked on a series of concerts, teaming with harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler. “Paul Draper combines ballet steps and gestures, as well as suggestions of Spanish and ‘modern,’ with tap dancing,” wrote dance critic Edwin Denby about a 1944 concert.

 

In 1948, Draper was blacklisted on allegations of pro-Communist sympathies. Unable to secure bookings for concerts during the McCarthy era, he left the United States in 1951 to live in Switzerland. Upon returning to the states in 1955, he continued to give solo performances of his dances to the music of classical composers, such as J.S. Bach and Francois Couperin. In January 1955 he appeared on a program with his aunt, the monologuist Ruth Draper, at New York’s Bijou Theatre. New York Times dance critic John Martin wrote: “He is dancing brilliantly these nights . . . he has developed a fabulous speed and delicacy in his feet, and the Bach “Gigue” and the [Handel] “Alcina Suite” and the charming new “Irish Jig” flash and sparkle with a crisp and musical clarity and many subtleties of phrasing and dynamics.”

 

In August 1956, Draper was within the mix of a show titled Three for All at the Carnegie Recital Hall, and received superb critical reviews. Despite critical acclaim, an insidious form of censorship followed Draper and sometimes dissuaded him from appearing in public performances. In 1959 he was forced into a cancellation of a concert series in Freeport, Long Island, after protest letters from the local American Legion post were received by the Board of Education pointing out that pro-Communist sympathies had been attributed to Draper.

 

Draper managed to continue performing on Broadway (in the 1957 revue All in One) and on the concert stage. In 1958 he performed his famous Sonata for Tap Dancers without music; and in the fall of 1959 he embarked on a 45-city concert tour with partner Ellen Martial under the auspices of Columbia Artist Management. He also made literary extensions of his career as a tap dancer by becoming a writer for Dance Magazine, for which he wrote monthly features on the art and technique of tap dance performance.

Constance Valis Hill