Tap Dance Like Bill Robinson

Learn about a local legend and make your own tap shoes

Published on February 18, 2021

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By Leah Farnham (teacher, mom, CMoR member)

I want to tell you about an amazing performer from Richmond. Bill Robinson, known as Bojangles, was born in Jackson Ward in 1878. He was raised by his grandmother and started dancing at the age of 5. By the time he was 9, he was traveling with a touring troupe and later with a vaudeville act. He was wildly popular even with a break to fight in WWI as a rifleman. He went on to star in a Broadway show and later shot to stardom with performances in 14 motion pictures (many with Shirley Temple). Watch this video together for a kid-friendly explanation:

My family was very inspired by all of those learning ideas. My children also wanted to see Bill Robinson dance. There are some great videos out there of him. We particularly liked his stair dance. He was famous for this routine and even tried to copyright it.

My kids immediately ran to the stairs to try his dance. They noticed that their shoes didn’t sound the same. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any washers to turn their shoes into tap shoes. My improvisational skills (also known as Google) prevailed, however, and we came up with this week’s activity.

Make Your Own Tap Shoes

Materials

paper plates

string

pennies

hot glue gun

shoes

pencil

scissors

hole punch

Instructions

1. Trace the top half of the child’s shoe tread onto the paper plate. I only put taps on the toes of my children’s shoes, but you could repeat and add taps to the heel of the shoe, as well.

2. Cut the plate using what you traced to have a shape roughly the size of the top of the shoe’s tread.

3. Hot glue 3-4 pennies to the paper plate to make your tap.

4. Hole punch the sides of the tap and tie string through the holes.

5. Have your child put on their shoes and tie the tap underneath.

Dance away!

Black History Month at CMoR

At your next visit to either CMoR location, be sure to check out the “Find that Figure” scavenger hunt. The museum has recording sheets that you will use as you find posters about local black icons. Famous Richmonders like Bill Robinson, Arthur Ashe, and Maggie Walker are featured. After you find each poster, there is a fun play idea to complete together. We can’t wait to try this new exhibit!

Be sure to share this post and your creations with us on Facebook or Instagram. I would love to see your dancing!

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