Tap Dance Knowledges – Jess Murray and panel + Q&A


A panel exploring the concepts of legacy, tradition, innovation and authenticity within today’s global tap scene. 

The Tap Dance Research Network UK (TDRN UK) brings together tap practitioners and academics to explore creative processes, performances and knowledges of tap dance. TDRN UK seeks to expand the existing body of literature and documentation of the art form and produce a deeper understanding of tap dance through the application of interdisciplinary research methodologies.

This paper/practice sharing discusses tap improvisation practices as knowledges in teaching, creative process and performance. We explore the concepts of legacy, tradition, innovation and authenticity, as well as reflecting on the rich and diverse global tap scene of today. An important part of skill acquisition, transmission and dissemination of information about the art form is from preservation of twentieth century American tap performance repertoire and understanding of improvisation practices from jazz music. Applying a historical framework reveals how this initiated with the performances of American tap dancers being celebrated and presented as a form of legacy. Our questions are: How and where are these knowledges held? What role does legacy have in evolving performing knowledges? How do we acknowledge the history and legacy of American tap dancers and produce new knowledges in the twenty first century?

Furthermore, we explore the under-representation of tap dance in UK Higher Education, in teaching and research. We advocate for rethinking curricula and decolonization of tap dance as a form created through African American cultural practices. The UK has a particular context within which tap dance sits, linked to the US, Ireland and other communities. We seek ways to highlight cross-disciplinary connections and evolving interpretations of tap dance legacies, different methods of practice and performance that may evoke new knowledges, the importance of communities of practitioners in disseminating information, performer identities and embodying new knowledges.



  • Caines, R & Heble, A (2014) The Improvisation Studies Reader: Spontaneous Acts. Routledge, New York
  • Heble, A. (2013) Landing on the Wrong Note: Jazz, Dissonance, and Critical Practice. New York: Routledge.
  • Hill, C. V. (2010) Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Reynolds, D. and Reason, M. (2012) Kinesthetic Empathy in Creative and Cultural Practices. Bristol, England: Intellect Books.
  • Malone, J. (1996) Steppin on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance. Chicago: The University of Illinois Press.
  • Guarino, L & Oliver, W (2014) Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and the Branches. University Press of Florida.




Jess Murray is a dance artist interested in the relationship between dance and music and improvised performance. She is currently undertaking a practice research Ph.D funded by Midland4Cities at De Montfort University researching ‘Improvisational Dramaturgy for Dance and Music Collaboration’.
Jess works collaboratively with musicians to create original performance work such as the Arts Council England funded projects SoundMoves and Sound Catchers.

She is known for her work as a professional rhythm tap performer, teacher and tap jam host (Tap Rhythm Jam Nottingham, London Tap Jam, Tap Dance Festival UK), and also coordinates the Tap Rhythm Project.

Annette Walker is one of the leading exponents of a new generation of tap dancers taking the stage with grace, style, and above all, rhythm.

She is a dynamic and multi-skilled performer and has appeared in a variety of shows, from theatre, circus and dance, to the concert stage, television and film. Annette is an alumni Trailblazer Fellow of Dance of the African Diaspora (One Dance UK), a freelance writer, researcher and consultant, and was the specialist in tap dance for the Royal Academy of Dance’s pilot project of Dance for Lifelong Wellbeing.

She teaches both music and dance and regularly leads the Renegade Stage, an improvisation workshop for tap dancers, at the bi-monthly London Tap Jam.
In 2019 she featured as a tap soloist in the BBC Proms Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music concert at the world famous Royal Albert Hall in London, UK.

Sally Crawford-Shepherd is a dance practitioner and academic. A Kansan by birth, she has moved around the world exploring dance in diverse cultures to share through performances, research, and workshops with professionals and students. She completed her PhD at De Montfort University and her thesis was a multi-sited ethnographic study of two self-named tap dance communities in Manchester and London, England. The aim was to understand how these communities engaged with music and tap improvisation as a social process within a non-theatrical context outside of the United States.

Her current research interests continue along this theme, exploring how tap dance improvisation and individual performance identity move beyond the stage to become a medium for arts activism and dance scholarship in live and digital platforms. Sally is currently the Programme Leader for the BA(Hons) Dance Performance course at Addict Dance Academy.

Trish Melton is a tap dance educator, researcher and choreographer. She runs a community-based dance school and a tap dance performance group: The Kerry Tap Ensemble. Trish also runs a global project management consultancy. A professional background in teaching and training in project management is entirely transferable to all aspects of her professional life.

Her key research area is tap dance pedagogy. She completed an MA (Distinction) in dance education with the RAD/Bath University. Her research explored the narratives of tap dance teaching: the oral history passed down through the Tap Masters and reviewed what this means for teaching today through practical action research.

Her current research interests continue to be tap dance pedagogy with one area of focus being the use of tap dance repertory in teaching and how the historical and cultural perspectives can enhance the learning experience. She started a PhD in Tap Dance Pedagogy in September 2020.

Karen Wood is a Birmingham-born dancer, maker, researcher, educator and producer.is a Birmingham-born dancer, maker, researcher, educator and producer. She has worked as a freelance dance artist and teacher in Manchester, London and now Birmingham.

Her work includes projects that were supported by Arts Council England and involves collaborating with other art forms, such as drawing, lighting design and music. This work has shown at venues such as Contact Theatre, Manchester, FACT Liverpool and Vivid Projects, Birmingham. Her recent research projects investigate artists engagement with policy making and decolonisation of cultural dance practices.

Currently, she is Assistant Professor for the Centre for Dance Research at Coventry University and her research explores choreographic practices, dance education and artist development. She is co-founder of Manchester Dance Consortium and Associate Director of Birmingham Dance Network.