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.

2013 - Sally Sommer (September 23, 1939, Tucson, Arizona -- )

Sally Sommer, dance historian, critic, filmmaker, and master teacher, whose style of describing dance influenced dozens of writers across the country, was born, in Tucson, Arizona. Trained as a musician, she arrived in New York City in 1967, and in 1969 was one of the first to attend the now famous Tap Happenings, weekly jam sessions at the Bert Wheeler Theater at the Hotel Dixie, where she saw such veteran hoofers as Chuck Green, Raymond Kaalund, Howard “Sandman” Sims Derby Wilson: Lon Chaney, Sims, Rhythm Red, Green, Jerry Ames, Raymond Kaalund, Jimmy Slyde, and Bert Gibson.


In the 1970s, after receiving a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from New York University, she became increasingly involved in New York’s tap dance scene. Writing for The Village Voice, she became one of the leading dance critics to document tap performance and to evolve a descriptive style that replicated the personality of the tap dancer, as evidenced in a 1991 review of a performance featuring Ted Levy and Van Porter who Sommer described as a wild tap duo: “Slick and chic, Levy sports an off-center, flattop pompadour and slaps down taps with Nicholas Brothers bravado. Porter is a gangly guy with an endearing smile and jutting elbows and knees; he keeps leaping up in double aerial tours, collapsing, and bouncing back like a weightless puppet. Although they dance in unison, each performs with such individual brio that you get multiple images of a single step. This is tap as Cubist performance.”


In the 1980s, Sommer toured extensively with jazz film historian Ernie Smith in a film and lecture series called Fascinating Rhythms. In 1983 they presented the film and slide screening, American Black Dance on Film: The Development of Black Tap and Social Dance, in which Sommer spoke about the indispensable contributions of African-American dance and percussion in the development of stage dancing and social dancing in the U.S. In 1986, Sommer was a participating member of the Colorado Dance Festival’s Tap Summit (co-directed by Sali Ann Kriegsman and Marda Kirn) which brought together a number of leading and legendary African-American and European-American artists presenting the first two-week rhythm tap festival ever held; with classes, lecture demonstrations, historical lectures, and film and video screenings. From this event was founded the International Tap Dance Association, with Sommer as the first editor of the International Tap Association (ITA) Journal.


Teaching tap history and popular performance at such prestigious institutions as New York’s City College and Duke University, Sommers in 2001 settled in at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where she became a full professor, teaching in the master’s program in dance and becoming a leading expert on dance in American popular culture. As a dance critic and performance journalist, she has continued to write regularly for such dance periodicals Dance Research Journal.  

In 2012 Sommer released the long-awaited documentary Check Your Body at the Door, an exhaustive 30-year collaborative project that she directed documenting New York’s underground club dancing; preserving on film the voguing style of such dancers as Willy Ninja.

Married to William Sommer, a psychiatrist who has one of the most extensive tap dance memorabilia, photographs, and art, Sally and Bill continue to commemorate and preserve the art of tap dancing.

Constance Valis Hill

American Tap Dance Foundation

American Tap Dance Center

154 Christopher Street #2B New York, NY 10014

Phone 646-230-9564
Fax 646-230-7777
Email: info@atdf.org

© 2010 ATDF