Is tap dancing a lost art

Table dancers

»» Table dancers «are messages from below the belt line, presented above the table line. Step dancing [sic!], We remember, is a form of dance in which the news is in your feet. «[1]

Stephan von Huene's kinetic installation “Table Dancer” consists of four life-size male mannequins on four wooden plinths. These look scary, it's just the lower body, clad in carefully ironed suit trousers with a leather belt and shiny patent leather shoes. Behind the four pairs of legs hang ten black and white drawings that are reminiscent of sketches of fashion designs.

When a sensor, triggered by the visitors, sets the installation in motion, the group of figures is brought to life. The first three pairs of legs begin to perform a tap dance to the music and speeches of American politicians. The different moods of the speeches are translated into specific movements: Dwight D. Eisenhower talks about peace, Lyndon B. Johnson talks about civil rights and Jesse Jackson talks about his lost presidential nomination.

The legs of the fourth figure, unclothed except for the shoes, alternately practice positions from the classical ballet to Georg Friedrich Handel's "Rinaldo" and Georges Bizet's "Les pêcheurs de perles" [The Pearl Fishers]. Through the movements of the figures and their shadows on the drawings, the arias and the speeches, as well as the clicking of the tap shoes, a "theater of machines" is created. [2]

Von Huene's implementation goes back to his memory of the play "The Time of Your Life" (1939) by William Saroyan, which he attended as a child. It is about a man who earns his living in a bar in San Francisco by tap dancing: while he reads the news from the newspaper aloud, he improvises a tap dance according to the rhythms of the language - the news is in his feet.

[1] Stephan von Huene, »Table Dancer. News from below the belt «, in: Stephan von Huene. Table dancers, ed. Petra Oelschlägel (Ostfildern-Ruit: Cantz, 1995), p. 7.

[2] Achatz von Müller, »Cross-border commuters, border shifters. The artist as teacher «, in: Stephan von Huene - Tune the World, the Retrospective, exhib.-cat. (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2002), pp. 22-28, here: p. 22.

Author: Theresa Rößler