Although cautiously optimistic, the Centers for Disease Control today released preliminary data which indicates that tap dancing — once a national scourge that impacted every strata of American society from the lowliest cartoon mouse to the slickest Newport gadabout — now looks to go the way of scarlet fever, polio and malaria in the western world.
“A precipitous decline in new cases coupled with an aggressive campaign of indifference and general growth of team-based dancing leads us to conclude the virus is in a state of genetic collapse,” states the press release.
Tap dancing is a spectrum disease, opportunistic and aggressive, often leaving its victims suffering from relentless, irritating syncopation of the extremities. It can manifest itself at any age, often striking male sufferers individually and females in coordinated groups.
Outbreaks peaked during the great depression — when the nation could ill afford to turn its attention away from the serious business of collecting gravy boats, selling apples and developing real estate board games modeled on the street names of Atlantic City. The movie palaces of the day, with their densely populated environments, ready supply of sugary starter culture and single source of light proved the perfect incubator for the pandemic to flourish. It was estimated that at its height, nearly 80% of all of the nation’s cinema railroad porters and close to 100% of the nation’s liveried domestic servants may have fallen victim to tap.
By the mid-1930’s children were often the carriers of the disease and severely impacted, with the presence of curly golden locks and patent leather shoes often a portent of the full-blown spastic dementia to come. Through substantial forensic detective work, the CDC has identified a Patient Zero — dubbed “Shirley” by the medical profession to protect her identify — a hyperactive and über-social five-year old who exposed an entire generation to the illness. The resulting panic resulted in a global collapse of the miniature tuxedo and cane markets.
Tap manifests itself differently based on the age of the individual. Late Onset Tap — dubbed “the butler’s friend” — is characterized by a compulsive desire to go up and down staircases repeatedly while at the same time indulging in patter songs. Often a therapeutic three-step “stairway to nowhere” is utilized to prevent mishap for homebound victims.
With their diminished capacity, reduced motor skills and odd aromas, even the elderly aren’t entirely safe from tap’s pernicious grasp. “Sand dancing” — the so-called “shingles of tap”— often left senior citizens spasmodically shuffling in the dirt in 1/4 time. A video of octogenarian George Burns pretending to sprinkle sand to the floor, his feet shuffling back-and-forth as an off-camera metal brush was dragged across snare drums to pacify him was a med school training staple, illustrating the classic manifestation of the disease in senior citizens.
Although the Great Depression was the zenith of 20th Century tap, long-term exposure paralyzed American entertainment for decades. Throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, no talk show or family entertainment was entirely safe from a spontaneous eruption. Shields & Yarnell syndrome, a particularly deviant mutation, combined strains of tap dancing and mime to particularly painful effect. Even the Muppets — notable for their charm, talent and lack of lower extremities that would seem to be a fundamental requirement for tap dancing — were not exempt from the disease.
By the end of the last century, tap was nearly extinct. A virulent form of Irish Step Dancing — which much of the public confuses with tap dancing — erupted without warning on public television in the early 1990s. In fact, scientists today understand that the characteristic symptoms of this disease — stomping in place like a toddler, constricted twisting and prancing — all performed with impeded flow and increasing urgency — are now more closely associated with urinary tract infections than they are with tap dancing. The outbreak faded in less than a decade.
Young children continue to be at risk. Buck N. Wing, spokesman for the CDC, concedes that “Our work is far from over. But tap dancing today is mostly confined to regional beauty pageants and community audition talent shows. We do expect most children — with therapy and appropriate medical treatment — to recover from these outbreaks. I would categorize tap dancing now as more of a childhood nuisance, rather than a national issue.”
For scientific purposes, a statistically significant laboratory sample will be maintained at Radio City Music Hall. The CDC hastens to add that this is not a viable organism, but rather a sample of a dead culture.