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.

 

2019 - Ruby Keeler, actress, singer, and dancer who popularized tap dancing on the silver screen in the 1930s, was born Ethel Hilda Keeler in Nova Scotia, Canada, on August 25, 1910, the eldest of six children. She immigrated at age three to the United States when her family moved to the Yorkville section of New York City where her father became a driver for an ice company. The teacher of her gymnasium class at St. Catherine of Sienna grammar school noticed her natural grace and ability during “rhythmic exercises” and suggested formal dance training. After taking tap lessons from Joe Prince and Jack Blue's School of Rhythm and Tap, Keeler at age thirteen taught elementary tap steps to a class of youngsters in exchange for her own lessons. She studied ballet at the Metropolitan Opera School and attended Professional Children's School, and in 1923 at age thirteen (but adding two years to her age) she joined the chorus of George M. Cohan's The Rise of Rosie O'Reilly. Cohan was looking for a fresh young face to sing and dance “There's a Ring to the Name of Rosie,” and signed Keeler for a wage of forty-five dollars a week, which pleased her struggling family. After winning a dance contest conducted by Broadway impresario Nils Thor Granlund, Keeler was promptly hired by the Strand Roof, a second-class cabaret that paid the young performer $50 a week to do her “fast rhythm tap” on its dime-sized dance floor. At the Silver Slipper she was spotted and offered a chorus job in the Broadway musical Bye Bye Bonnie (1927, Ritz Theater) in which she was featured dancer in three scenes. She was then cast in Charles Dillingham's musical The Sidewalks of New York (1927), starring the Irish vaudeville dancer Barney Fagan. After marrying Al Jolson in 1928 and following her husband to Hollywood, she returned to Broadway on the request of Florenz Ziegfeld to perform in Showgirl (1929), featured in two numbers, “Liza” and “Harlem Nocturne,” for which she received good notices. In Hollywood, Keeler's dance abilities, combined with her refreshing beauty and personality, made her one of musical film's most beloved dancing stars, despite a heavy, plodding style of tap dancing derived from the jig and clog style of musical theater dancing as taught by dance director Ned Wayburn.” Daryl E. Zanuck, head of production at Warner Brothers, cast her to play the leading ingénue in 42nd Street, directed by Busby Berkeley. Her tapping of the title song and her soft-shoe dancing to “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” had the New York Herald Tribune critic Richard Watts, Jr. proclaiming her “one of the best of all tap dancers.” Of the nine pictures Keeler made at Warners, four involved her with Busby Berkeley, who devised routines in which she would become forever identified. Gold Diggers of 1933 saw Keeler dancing in “Pettin’ in the Park” and “Shadow Waltz.” Footlight Parade (1933) saw her dancing with James Cagney in “Shanghai Lil.” In Shipmates Forever (1935), Keeler tapped prettily in a nightclub sequence to Dick Powell’s crooning. In Go into Your Dance (1935), Keeler’s best number was “She's a Latin from Manhattan.” For Colleen (1936), Keeler was paired with Paul Draper in “You Gotta Know How to Dance.” Ready, Willing, and Able (1937) gave Keeler “Two Marvelous for Words” with dancer Lee Dixon. Keeler's last film before retirement and after her divorce from Jolson, was Columbia's Sweetheart of the Campus (1941) which cast her as a showgirl dancing “Tap Happy” with Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra. Her greatest comeback, however, was on Broadway in the 1971 revival of No, No, Nanette, reuniting her with Busby Berkeley.

By Constance Valis Hill