Tap Preservation Awards

The annual Tap Preservation Award is given to an outstanding individual or organization in the field,

for the superior advancement of tap dance through presentation and preservation.






2015 - Leticia Jay


Place of Birth: Jenkins, Texas

Leticia Jay, East Indian/primitive dancer and producer of tap dance who helped to revive the tap renaissance of the 1980s, began her study of dance through Ned Wayburn's home-study course, which brought the eclectic delight of theatrical dances-- ballet, acrobatics, tap, and East Indian dance forms-- to young aspirants nationwide, in the early decades of the twentieth century. At the age of fifteen, Jay had opened her school of dance. In 1935, she moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where she joined the Dance Masters of America Professional Caravan organization. "They did a great deal, on the white side, to keep tap dancing alive over the years," Jay recalled. "On the black side, well, many of the dancers just kept on dancing." Jay was not a tap dancer but a dancer whose style was influenced by the pioneering modern dancer Ruth St. Denis. "I saw Miss Ruth in Texas and was very much influenced by her solos," said Jay. "She gave me six one-hour lessons once, during an early tour in Texas. She was fifty-eight at the time, but was still the epitome of grace and beauty."

Jay continued her career in burlesque, appearing in fashionable supper clubs in Chicago, Washington, and New York. "Burlesque was very different then. It was not the extreme vulgarity we know today. And it taught you to communicate with the audience." In 1939, the Jay came to the East coast for the first time. Vaudeville theaters then were elegant, like the European clubs. Jay appeared with Sally Rand and in the Mike Todd in the New York production of Star and Garter, which opened at the Music Box Theater in 1942. "We danced on the same stage as Bobby Short and Gypsy Rose Lee," she remembered. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn composed "Strange Feeling" for her specialty act. Her solo work was characterized by its quasi-oriental styling-- fast turns, back bends, high kicks, and graceful veil work. "Duke Ellington said I was the most graceful dancer he had ever worked with." 

In the 1960s, Jay worked to resurrect the great tap performers who she had watched through her own career. "There were so many old dancers around and what a wonderful art form." Many of the dancers were getting on, but as long as you can walk, you can do a reasonable tap dance. In 1963, she wrote an article in Dance Magazine titled "The Wonderful Old Time Hoofers at Newport" that reviewed the participation of Cholly Atkins, Ernest Brown, Honi Coles, Charles Cook, Chuck Green and Pete Nugent at the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival. Jay was among the first writers (well before jazz historians Marshall and Jean Stearns), in a major dance publication, to distinguish (black) rhythm tap from ballet-modern-jazz tap, and to proclaim tap dancing (both traditions) as an American vernacular dance form. "This music, this dance, is in America's bones-- and makes one ponder why tap dancing, one of our two really indigenous forms of dance (jazz is the other), is so seldom seen today, why so few young dancers are trained in this, our character dance of the American heritage," she wrote.

In 1969, Jay produced her first production, Tap Happenings, with hoofer Chuck Green, at the midtown Bert Wheeler Theater. She took the production downtown, to the 13th Street Theater, as The Hoofers: A Tap Extravaganza. Both productions spurred a new generation of interest in tap dancing among audiences and dancers of all ages. 

(Constance Valis Hill, Tap Dancing America, A Cultural History (2010); Jill Silverman, "Hoofers are on Tap in a Movie Premier," New York Times (January 31, 1982, p. 60I)]

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