Here's a common scene:
“This is Caleb! We did XXXX together, but he’s a tapper!"
Tapper is a common short-hand to refer to tap dancers. There’s no malice intended, but I don't like it. It's been happening a lot recently, so I’ve spent some time meditating on the subject… And here it is:
“Tapper" removes the word, dancer, and it downplays that tap dancing is indeed, a dance form. Tapper reminds me of juggler or fire-breather; it relates tap dancing to a specialty skill. We don’t call contemporary dancers “Contemporaries” or House dancers “Housers”. We first associate them as dancers and then describe what kind of dance they primarily do. When someone uses “tapper”, I feel as though they have unintentionally removed me from considering myself a dancer, which, above all, I do.
Perhaps I’m overly sensitive because I’ve spent a good amount of my life arguing that skills as a tap dancer DO relate to abilities in other dance forms. Trouble picking up choreography? Practice tap dancing. Weight changes are difficult? Take a tap class. Difficulties with musicality? Tap. Dance.
I don't want to be separated from the greater community of humans who enjoy moving their bodies to music. We (tap dancers) do that, too. We do it in a different way, and we have a sonic product from our movement, but we are still dancers. I want to feel connected to these people, and in a subtle way, "tapper" distances us.
For those of you reading who have innocently used tapper and don’t understand all the fuss, you’re right! It’s not a big deal. BUT, if we’re evolved enough to discuss preference, tap dancer would be my preference... Here are thoughts on the subject from other tap dancers:
“I very much dislike the term tapper, especially if used in written statements. It's like calling a trumpet player a blower. Simply expressed the lack of understanding and often respect for the art form.” - Max Pollak
“It gets on my nerves when professional dancers of other genres refer to me or someone as a tapper… I think it neglects my dedication to the movement and music through tap dance (“music dance”). Personally, I prefer tap dancer over “hoofer” because I investigate movement along with music… I don’t make the musical aspect the same priority that hoofers do.” - Demi Remick
“I must say it bothers me too and I never call tap dancers ‘tappers.’ It feels trivializing; we don't make little nicknames like ‘ballet-er' or ‘jazzer’ or ‘show-ers’ (ahem) for musical theater performers and ‘tapper’ sounds like someone who just makes tap noises rather than someone who dances. I also never liked when some ballet-oriented folk called me ‘a modern.’” - David Parker
“Personally, I have a preference for the term tap dancer. The term tapper has always seemed a little hokey to me, and I feel like I don't have a full enough understanding of the term hoofer, so I leave it be (lots of contrasting ideas of what it is to be a hoofer). But at the end of the day, it's all tap dancing, so I try to give my attention more to what someone is saying with their feet than what they call themselves.” - Gabe Winns
"I'll be ok being called a Tapper when a Swing Dancer is ok being called a Swinger.” - Tasha Lawson
“Tappers do tricks for the gratification of audience applause, while tap dancers pay respect to the art form of dance and are rewarded by a feeling of pride in their authenticity and roots.” - Dario Natarelli
"I've been called all sorts of things as a dancer - Tapper, Hoofer, Tap Dancer, Foot Percussionist - with many not even realizing there is a difference in the terms. I used to fight a lot about this, but now I just want to know if you respect me and my work. Then we can have a fruitful conversation about language and terms.” - Andrew Nemr