The late, great tap dancer Gregory Hines in 'About Tap'
Milestone Films has announced the restoration from the original camera negatives and the theatrical release of "No Maps on My Taps" and "About Tap," two seminal documentaries by George T. Nierenberg that helped revitalize tap dancing in the early 1980s. The films will premiere July 7 at the Quad Cinema (NYC) to coincide with New York’s annual citywide Tap City festival.
The golden age of tap dancing spanned the first half of the twentieth century and featured extraordinary artists, including Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, John Bubbles, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Eleanor Powell. But by the 1950s, many fans were staying home to watch television and the nightclubs that supported tap dancers were starting to close. As the popularity of rock n’ roll grew, audiences moved away from the jazz and Broadway music that tappers relied on. At the same time, young choreographers like Bob Fosse were creating a new form of dance for musical theater — less tap-oriented and more related to modern dance. Increasingly, tap was considered nostalgic, even comedic. Fittingly, the last chapter of Marshall and Jean Stearns’ 1968 seminal history "Jazz Dance" was titled “The Dying Breed.”
Two events re-energized the art form. In 1978, 33-year-old Gregory Hines became an “overnight” sensation with his Tony-nominated performance in the Broadway musical, "Eubie!" Gregory — along with his brother Maurice — created a brilliant, energetic, and powerful tap style that exuded a new kind of cool. Then, in 1979 came the release of Nierenberg’s landmark film, "No Maps on My Taps," featuring music by Lionel Hampton and the dance artistry of Bunny Briggs, Chuck Green, and Harold “Sandman” Sims. Nierenberg’s love for the dancers and their art made the documentary a hit with audiences and critics. "No Maps on My Taps" showed on multiple television outlets in the US and abroad, and screened in theaters and college campuses. The three veteran tap dancers performed live with the film all over the world (sometimes leading tap dance parades throughout the towns). Tap dancing gained a huge multitude of new fans and inspired thousands of young dancers to put on tap shoes.
Tap dancer extraordinaire Bunny Briggs in 'No Maps on My Taps'
In 1984, Nierenberg directed a short follow-up film broadcast on PBS, "About Tap," with Gregory Hines and featuring Jimmy Slyde, Steve Condos, and Chuck Green. The film explored the artistry of tap dance, delineating the art form’s various styles and traditions. "About Tap" became a seminal film for tappers worldwide — empowering dancers to learn from the masters — and more importantly, encouraging them to find their own unique styles.
Nierenberg went on to explore the world of gospel music with "Say Amen, Somebody," one of the most beloved and acclaimed music documentaries of all time. It played in theaters throughout the world and was heralded as one of the “Ten Best Films of the Year” by numerous publications.
For many years, all three of the Nierenberg’s films fell out of active distribution. Now, the filmmaker has licensed his astonishing documentaries to distributor Milestone Films. Using the original camera a/b rolls to digitally restore "No Maps on My Taps" and "About Tap" (with the help of Metropolis Post), Milestone is now able to make these joyous and incredibly moving films available to audiences again.
"No Maps on My Taps" and "About Tap" will screen as a double feature in theaters around the country, starting with the July 7–13 premiere at the Quad Cinema in New York. The restored films’ debut coincides with Tap City: The New York City Tap Festival, an annual event featuring some of the world’s best tap dancers.