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The Insider's Connection

Master Juba

The Inventor of Tap Dancing

Who invented Tap dancing? How is self-expression shaped and developed? When does the geographical proximity of different cultures influence art? Williams Henry Lane was born free in Rhode Island in 1825. As a child, he moved to New York’s Five Points district–today, a section of the Financial District–where a lot of Irish and African Americans lived. The Five Points bustled with performance, drinking, gambling, and dance. It was a poor area, quickly becoming a “melting pot” as immigrant groups found their way to Lower Manhattan to live and work. Lane was initially a performer in minstrel shows, a popular form of American entertainment between 1830 and 1890. In minstrel shows, white performers (usually Irish men) appeared in blackface, imitating hideous stereotypes of African-American speech, music, and dance. Usually the skits and jokes made fun of slaves, and only white people…

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March 11, 2019