Dances of the Diaspora: Tap Dance, an Original American Art Form Rooted in Slavery

In The Root’s original video series exploring dances that originated in or are influenced by African culture, we profile Chloé and Maud Arnold, tap dancing sisters and entrepreneurs.

Chloé and Maud Arnold The Root TV Screenshot

For Chloé and Maud Arnold, tap dancing is life. For these sisters and entrepreneurs, who have been tap dancing since childhood, the art form has given them a lucrative career—they are founders of the D.C. Tap Festival, film producers and more.

Whenever Chloé and Maud have the opportunity, the Washington, D.C., natives, who were mentored by Debbie Allen, spread the gospel of tap, a wholly American art form whose origins can be traced back to the days of slavery. “What [the slaves] brought with them [during the trans-Atlantic slave trade] was that no one could take away their soul, their rhythm, their musicality,” Chloé Arnold told The Root.

Part of tap’s beauty and wonder is that the dance has endured centuries, though tap is steeped in a tradition of improvisation. “Nothing was written … unlike ballet, there is no syllabus,” said Maud Arnold. And the sisters, both of whom are Columbia University graduates, remind us that tap dance is related to activism in entertainment, as performers like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson have broken barriers as Hollywood stars.

More recently, Chloe Arnold founded the Syncopated Ladies, an all-female tap dancing band. The troupe has gained recognition by producing viral music videos with original choreography. The ladies have covered some of their favorite songs, like Beyoncé’s “Formation,” “When Doves Cry” by Prince and “Rise Up” by Andra Day.

See our complete interview with Chloé and Maud Arnold:

 

Felice León is multimedia editor at The Root.

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