Peters, D.-M. (2010). Passing on: The old head/younger dancer mentoring relationship in the cultural sphere of rhythm tap. Western Journal of Black Studies, 34(4), 438- 436.


This case study examines the phenomenon of mentorship within inner-city black rhythm tap dancing communities in New York City through an investigation of three different tap dance communities: “La Cave”, “Swing 46” and “On Tap.” The study documents the benefits associated with the “old head/ young person” relationship that is prevalent within the tap community, as well as the importance of preserving these relationships for both the health of the community and the survival of the art form. This study documented a great number of benefits that were bestowed on both mentors and mentees in the tap dancing community.

Key Findings:

This study demonstrates the value of arts-based mentorship, as both elder dancer mentors and younger dancers benefit from this symbiotic art-based program. Elder dancers expressed gratitude, pride and a feeling of usefulness when older people in general are often culturally ignored. They maintained a higher level of physical activity and had the emotional support of a close-knit community that led to maintaining good health. Late in life, they felt a sense of legacy by being able to pass on their art form. Young dancers had a rich professional development opportunity to study, perform, and be seen with masters of the art form. Personal mentor-mentee relationships increased confidence and self-esteem in young dancers. Dancers were also instilled with the culture and history of the dance and could both pay respect to the legacy of the art form, while also bringing their own style, creativity and fresh perspective. The mentorship model was built within a supportive environment with a great emphasis on social values and maintaining strong relationships within a community. It focused on a culture of creativity and work ethic rather than a culture of competition.

Significance of the Findings:

These findings demonstrate the multifaceted benefits associated with intergenerational relationships, the effectiveness of teaching and learning in environments outside of a traditional classroom, as well as the power of cooperative learning. These findings also document the value of the arts as a teaching discipline, and the value of hard work and self-expression.


The researcher conducted an ethnographic case study by completing in-depth interviews and observations within three different tap dance communities in New York City. The researcher investigated the tap dance community at La Cave from 1992-1994 and continued her investigations at “Swing 46” and “On Tap” from 1999-2001. In addition to completing these observations and interviews, the researcher created a cultural context through in-depth historical research investigating the significance of mentorship relationships within Black America through the art form of tap dancing.

Limitations of the Research:

Results of this study would be more balanced if the study included the perspectives of dancers and participants from a multitude of communities. The study’s main limitations are its relatively small sample size and that it was confined to only one geographic region. The value of the research was also limited by the fact that some of the variables discussed within the study were not clearly identified, such as the age of participants and the actual teaching methods employed and the formality or informality of the structure of these mentorship programs.

Questions to Guide New Research:

In the future, researchers can add depth to this investigation by examining the ripple effects of programs of this nature within the community.

How can intergenerational arts programs contribute to the artistic and personal well being of both mentors and mentees? Are the effects generated by the arts the same as the kinds of benefits that non-art mentorship programs provide? What impact does art play on creating community connections among people of all ages?