cover image What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing

What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing

Brian Seibert. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (624p) ISBN 978-0-86547-953-1

New York Times dance critic Seibert’s first book is easily twice the size of most other debuts, and it contains thrice the content. The word comprehensive comes to mind, but is insufficient to properly describe the depth of detail Seibert achieves. Drawing on primary sources of every kind, from written accounts by slave traders in the early 17th century to personal interviews conducted in the 21st, the author breaks down not merely the origins art of tap dancing itself, but the racial and gender constructs that forced the industry—and its performers—to develop in the ways they did, while acknowledging his own white male privilege. Seibert profiles legends such as Fred Astaire and Bill Robinson alongside dancers who have become largely forgotten outside of dance circles, such as the Nicholas brothers, and modern masters including Savion Glover. Seibert has a tendency to jump about in time, but that doesn’t mar this fascinating, sharply written cultural analysis. (Nov.)