REVIEW: History of tap dancing on full display in classic ‘No Maps on My Taps’

Chuck Green stars in No Maps on My Taps, a film by George T. Nierenberg that was recently restored by Milestone Films. Photo courtesy of Milestone Films.

No Maps on My Taps is a remarkable achievement in documentary filmmaking. First off, it preserves the story and the energy of several tap dancers struggling to keep a dwindling art form alive in the 1960s. This archival footage is so key because it serves as evidence of how the dance developed in the 20th century. Secondly, the documentary captures the entertaining steps of these talented men, imbuing the audience with an appreciation for the dance style and its historical significance.

Milestone Films recently released a restored version of No Maps on My Taps and its followup film, About Tap. It’s pretty much must-see viewing for lovers of music, dance and documentaries.

Included among the dancers in the film are Bunny Briggs, Chuck Green, “Sandman” Sims, Lionel Hampton and John Bubbles. What is most praiseworthy when considering the talents of these dancers is how unique they are on stage. Each one is not only continuing the tap lessons they first learned as children; they are genuinely reinventing the art form and playing with its possibilities, almost like a great jazz artist does with the saxophone or piano.

Briggs, Green and Sims — the main subjects — are quite different in how they move their feet and legs. Sometimes their movements are smooth and aligned with the backing band’s beats, while other times the frenzied action on stage is discordant and free-flowing. All of it is physical and seemingly improvisational.

The conversations that bookend each of the dance sequences allow the audience to peer deeper into the minds of the performers. They talk about their first dance steps, the current status of tap dancing and what their hopes are for the future. Other footage is simply them enjoying one another’s company on the sidewalk.

Director George T. Nierenberg has offered a touching and informative documentary that serves as a time capsule for viewers in 2017. This was a unique era, sandwiched in between the tap-dancing greats of the early 20th century and the ushering in of Gregory Hines in the 1970s. Without No Maps on My Taps, some of these stories during this in-between time period may have been lost forever.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

No Maps on My Taps (1979), directed by George T. Nierenberg, features Bunny Briggs, Chuck Green and “Sandman” Sims. Running time: 58 minutes. Rating: ★★★½ Click here for more information on the restoration from Milestone Films.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *