Like jazz, tap dance was born from a fusion of European and West African cultures. In the mid-1600s, slaves in the Southern United States began to imitate the jigs and social dances of the Irish and Scottish, combining them with the West African Juba dance.
In the middle of the 19th-century, this evolving style of dance made its way onto the stage with the rise of minstrel shows. William Henry Lane, a African American tap dancer, received top billing over all performers, and Charles Dickens even wrote about him in his travel book American Notes. Lane came to be known as "Master Juba," and is thought to be the most important dancer of the 19th-century, and the inventor of American tap dance.
Tap dance continued to evolve through the end of the century, and was performed either in hard-soled wooden shoes (Buck and Wing) or soft-soled leather shoes (Soft Shoe). In the 1920s, metal taps were added to dancers' shoes, which helped to further differentiate the emerging style of dance from its predecessors. With the rise of the musicals on stage and screen, tap dance became a part of America's cultural fabric. Its popularity saw a brief decline due to the rise of rock-and-roll in the 1950s, but thirty years later, the genre saw a renewed interest among dancers.
Today, tap dance is broadly divided into two categories: rhythm tap and theatre tap. Rhythm tap focuses more on musicality and improvisation. Theatre tap (also called Broadway or Show Tap) is a much more presentational style of dance, and concerns itself with the aesthetics of the entire dancing body.