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.

 

2015 - Ray Bolger who has the distinction of being one of the few American eccentric comedy dancers to gain full star status on stage, film and television, was born Raymond Wallace Bolger, on January 10, 1904 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the son of Irish parents, Anne and James Edward Bolger. Unable to afford formal dance classes, he learned tap dancing from a friendly watchman, Dinny Haley, a retired tap dancer. He finally took ballet lessons from Senia and Regina Roussakoff in Boston, paying for lessons by performing bookkeeping services for their dance school, and making his stage debut at the age eighteen in a Roussakoff recital. He then toured for two years throughout New England with the Bob Ott Musical Comedy Repertory Company. Broadway first saw the “nimble, rubber-legged” dancer in The Merry World (1926). More vaudeville followed until he returned to Broadway for the Rodgers and Hart musical Heads Up (1929) and George White’s Scandals of 1931. He was featured in Life Begins at 8:40 (1934), singing and dancing with Dixie Dunbar in the “You’re a Builder-Upper” number and offering his interpretation of the Max Baer-Primo Carnera fight; and also in “The Window Dresser Goes to Bed.”

Bolger gained full stardom in On Your Toes (1936), directed and choreographed by George Balanchine, playing the role of hoofer Junior Dolan, the son of an old vaudevillian who helps a struggling Russian ballet company mount a jazz ballet, and in the process falls in love with a ballerina (Tamara Geva). He was lauded for his jazz tap dancing in “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” ballet, in which he was dubbed “The Jazz Nijinsky.” Said Bolger of his rehearsals with Balanchine: “When I got around to the tap-dancing effect, I said to George [Balanchine] in French, ‘Les percussion.’ He stopped and listened and said, ‘Yes, that’s right.’ When it came to the end of the ballet, where I had to do my own thing, I did a lot of eccentric jumping up steps, anything that I liked, a hodgepodge…and Balanchine just let me go.” Bolger also performed on Broadway in two other musicals choreographed by Balanchine, Keep Off the Grass (1940), in which he portrayed a super animated jitterbug, and later displayed a more serious side to his art in “Raffles Ballet”; and Where’s Charley? (1948), in which his transvestite clowning was innocent good fun and his soft-shoe routines (one performed on top of a piano) was enchanting; Bolger’s softshoe in that show, “Once in Love With Amy,” often required several encores.

In the 1930s Bolger began making films for MGM, playing the role of the Scarecrow, a spineless man of straw whose personality was expressed through eccentric dance moves, in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Alternating between films at RKO, Warner Brothers, and MGM, Bolger played the role of famous vaudeville hoofer Jack Donahue in the 1949 film Look for the Silver Lining, dancing a style of tap dancing that resurrected that of the great softshoe dance George Primrose, who was renowned for his beautiful soft-shoe routines, which covered the whole stage, and his graceful stepping in 4/4 time. Like Primrose, Bolger’s hoofing style stayed close to the floor and looked effortless. In the number “Who Stole My Heart Away,” however, Bolger’s routine became increasingly comedic as he strung together such Irish-inflected steps as “broken waltz clog,” “croppy-lie-down,” and “cover-the-buckle.” Bolger danced them in his own eccentric style-- one that capitalized on physical abilities and disabilities. Other memorable solo routines on film include The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Rosalie (1937), Sweethearts (1939), No, No Nanette (1940), Four Jacks and a Jill (1941), Sunny (1941), Stage Door Canteen (1943), The Harvey Girls (1946), Look for the Silver Lining (1949), Make Mine Laughs (1949), April in Paris (1952), and Where’s Charley? (1952)

Bolger’s unique blend of ballet, tap, eccentric, and comedy dance, which required that he create most of his own solo routines, has made his one of the most endearing tap dancers of his generation. He died on January 15, 1987 in Los Angeles, California.

By Constance Valis Hill
from Tap Dance America: A Twentieth-Century Chronology of Tap Performance on Stage, Film, and Video, an online publication of The Library of Congress.

[Sources: Constance Valis Hill, Tap Dancing America, A Cultural History (2010); Francis Mason, I Remember Balanchine: Recollections of the Ballet Master by Those Who Knew Him (1991)]