Paul Draper (dancer)
Paul Draper (October 25, 1909 – September 20, 1996) was a noted American tap dancer and choreographer. Born into an artistic, socially prominent New York family, the nephew of Ruth Draper was an innovator in the arts. Despite the pressure his family put on him to become an engineer, Paul's love for dance persisted and ultimately won out. His passion and unique style led him to international stardom.
Draper's training in tap dance was minimal. He was a self-taught tapper, having taken only six tap dancing lessons in his life, and he used his knowledge bank of ballet-based materials to influence his tap style. He learned tap at Tommy Nip's Broadway dance school in 1930. Much to the dismay of his family, Paul set off for London as a teenager hoping to find work as a tap dancer shortly after being introduced to the art form. He scraped together a living performing flashy routines in Europe and the United States, then enrolled in the School of American Ballet and realized the possibilities of combining tap and classical ballet.
In 1932, Draper made his solo debut in London. He introduced his new "Ballet-Tap" dance form and gained much notoriety for his unique style. He danced to a variety of music styles, but often incorporated Classical music into his routines. By 1937, he was performing at such venues as the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel and the Rainbow Room. Carnegie Hall followed, then Broadway and a film version of William Saroyan's Time of Your Life (1948). In 1940, he teamed up with Larry Adler, a virtuoso harmonicist. The two became a world-famous act, performing together until 1949. They appeared as regulars at New York's City Center. The act finally disbanded when jobs dried up after they were blacklisted as Communist sympathizers. (Adler, in response to these false charges, moved to the United Kingdom). This put a halt on Draper's career. In 1955, Draper returned to the stage performing in Stravinsky's Histoire du Soldat at the Phoenix Theater. Jerome Moross's Gentlemen, Be Seated became another piece Draper could add to his resume in the 1960s. Draper also choreographed pieces for George Kleinsinger's Archy and Mehitabel at Goodspeed Opera House, and performed in the Broadway musical Come Summer during the sixties.
Draper took a hiatus from mainstream performances in the late 1960s and began to teach in the theater department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania until 1978 as the Andrew Mellon Chair in the School of Drama. Seldom seen in concert dance during this decade, but did manage to make appearances at and create pieces for the American Dance Festival and Lee Theodore's American Dance Machine.
Draper married Heidi Vosseler, a ballerina for George Balanchine's first American ballet company, on June 23, 1941, in Rio de Janeiro. Miss Vosseler lived with him in Europe until they returned to the United States in 1954 (they had three daughters.) She died from lung cancer in 1992, leaving Paul a widower until he died in 1996 at age 86 from emphysema.
After immigrating to the United States with his family at the age of six, Draper ran away from home at the age of 17 to dig ditches at Woodstock in New York. His aunt persuaded him to turn his life around by taking an engineering course at Polytechnic Institute, but he ended up quitting after only one year. He later started to work odd jobs around New York. He was an assistant music critic, and briefly became an instructor at an Arthur Murray dance school. Paul Draper then began his extensive and mostly self-taught tap dancing career.
Draper performed to classical music which made him a unique performer. Often his music was performed live. He tapped out "intricate rhythms to classical music" according to the L.A. Times, earning him the accolade of "aristocrat of tap." The New York Times said that "He has evolved a routine which combines tap with techniques of classical ballet and which allows him to base his one-man choreographies on any type of music, classical, folk and popular."He would also occasionally perform with Harmonica player Larry Adler while on tour. His rhythmical style of tap appears effortless despite his complicated routines. He learned how to tap dance from taking six tap lessons at Tommy Nip's Broadway dance school, but then enrolled in the School of American Ballet. His trademark style incorporates ballet vocabulary and technique into his tap dancing.
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Paul Draper struggled with people believing that tap dancing was not a legitimate art form. Some people put it on the same level as baton twirling or rope-skipping, so he was determined to convince the world that tap dancing is a credible art form. Draper was ashamed of how tap was being taught in conventions and institutions and did not like how it was being performed. He thought that anyone could be taught a tap routine, but not everyone could be taught how to dance. Paul Draper was more invested in the performance and entertaining aspects of tap dancing than the actual technique.
Paul Draper believed that the future of dance depended on the current tap teachers and believed that there were not many sincere and hard-working tap teachers. He believed that there was a sentiment of embarrassment around performing tap, and he believed that as long as the attitude of the teachers, students, and dancers towards tap dancing stayed the same, then tap would not flourish. He believed that if a dancer does not want to move an audience, then he or she should find a profession where there is no obligation to do so. Draper advised dance teachers on how to improve tap dancing in schools in order to ensure the future of the art form.
Paul Draper was born to a prominent family in Florence, Italy on October 25, 1909. His family was an artistic one as his aunt, Ruth Draper, was an author, lecturer, and entertainer. She entertained renowned guests like Henry James, Pablo Picasso, Arthur Rubinstein, and Norman Douglas in the family salon. His great-grandfather founded The New York Sun and his aunt was a monologuist. His father was a concert singer. His parents divorced shortly after moving to the United States and Paul seemed to be passed around from one relative's household to the next. He married Helen Vosseler, a ballerina for the American Ballet Theater. She died in 1992, but birthed three children with Paul: Pamela, Susan, and Kate.
In the 1950s, Draper was accused of affiliating with the Communist party. A routine of his was to appear on CBS's Toast of the Town, but was cut out of the segment due to protests the station received. During this period, Draper was forced to put a stop to his tour because many television programs and hotels felt they could not host such a controversial figure. He filed a libel suit against a Connecticut housewife who claimed he was a Communist, but still received negative press. Draper left the United States following this scandal and lived in Switzerland for three years. The LA Times claims "he later resumed his career but never recaptured his original popularity."
- 1933Crystal Nocturne at Radio City Hall –
- 1934Thumbs Up at St. James Theater on Broadway (Broadway debut) –
- 1936appeared in the film Colleen –
- 1939I Got Rhythm (music by Larry Adler) at various New York theaters –
- 1942appeared in a short film with Lee Dixon called Six Hits and a Miss –
- 1946Tap Dancer Supreme at the KRNT Radio Theater (music by Larry Adler) –
- 1948appeared in the film The Time of Your Life –
- 1955All In One at various New York theaters –
- 1968appeared on Episode 0049 of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood –
- 1975reunion performance with Larry Adler at Carnegie Hall –
Paul Draper died September 20, 1996 in Woodstock, New York at the age of 86. The cause of death was emphysema. His three daughters, Pamela, Susan, and Kate, and two grandchildren survive him. His family currently resides in New York.
- NY Times, June 21, 1941
- Draper, Ruth; Dorothy Warren (November 3, 1999). The letters of Ruth Draper: self-portrait of an actress, 1920–1956. SIU Press. ISBN 978-0-8093-2188-9.
- "The Spitfire: Britain's Flying past". 2011-09-22. BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0153yb6/The_Spitfire_Britains_Flying_Past/.
- LA Times; Paul Draper; Tap-Danced to Classical Music; September 24, 1996 by Myrna Oliver
- Draper, Paul, and Fran Avallone. On Tap Dancing. New York: M. Dekker, 1978
- Event data as RDF