You listen to the music that you like and discover steps from that," he says. In doing so, tap shifted from its roots, where the role of the dancer had been essentially that of another percussionist. But this pure "rhythm tap" is enjoying a resurgence thanks to some virtuosic young talents who have had those classic steps and combinations passed down to them from the original masters.Sumbry-Edwards, 29, was given a videotape by the late tap legend Leonard Reed. It showed his most difficult move, which was a "nerve" with one foot - where the leg vibrates and the toe rapidly taps the floor - and a "wing" with the other - where the foot flies out to the side, brushing the floor on the way in and out.
It was popularised by the likes of Bill Robinson (Mr Bojangles to you, me and Frank Sinatra). But it was white dancers such as Kelly and Astaire who became famous for tapping when Hollywood came calling, while their black counterparts were dancing in vaudeville and jazz clubs.Smith, Glover and the US's biggest female tap star, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, who also made her first trip to the UK this month, are all artists who idolise the original hoofers of Harlem rather than the stars of the silver screen.Over the years, on screen and on Broadway, tap style blended with jazz dance, ballroom and ballet, focusing on visual rather than aural impact, to form the showy style with which we're more familiar in this country. With his street style and flying dreadlocks, Glover is the antithesis of the MGM matin?star Bring in 'Da Noise... His body language, his whole attitude, resembles that of hip-hoppers," says Julia Carruthers, dance programmer at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, where Smith made his UK debut this month.Smith danced in the Broadway smash Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk, created 10 years ago by the American dancer Savion Glover. took tap back to its roots and told the story of black America through its rhythms.Tap-dancing developed in the melting-pot of mid-19th-century America, a hybrid of Irish clogging, African dance and popular-music rhythms. Move over, Gene Kelly - tap-dancing has come a long way since Singin' in the Rain.
An inspired Volkswagen advert has used the latest in CGI to morph Kelly's famous rain-soaked scene into a body-popping routine, but the slogan - "The original, updated" - is spot on when it comes to what's really happening in tap these days. "It's more like a pantomime." "The Pardoner's Tale" concerns "three young lads who go in search of death".The performance culminates with "The Wife of Bath's Tale", performed in the Millennium Courtyard at Southwark Cathedral.28 June to 10 July (0870 060 0100; ). "The Canon's Yeoman Tale", about a man who makes people think they can make gold, was dropped for practical reasons.The featured tales include "The Knight's Tale", about two love rivals who compete for the object of their affections. "It's the tale of a cockerel, Chanticleer, who is seduced by a cunning fox," says Machin.