Early American immigrants—not Broadway choreographers—were the ones who invented tap dancing. During the 19th century, New York City’s present-day Chinatown and Little Italy was a slum called Five Points. The neighborhood was ridden with crime, disease, and poverty, but it was also a cultural melting pot in which traditions from all over the world merged to form a purely American dance form.

The rhythmic, percussive element of tap dancing has African roots, and British clogging and Irish jigging inspired the fancy footwork. In the Vox video below, and in honor of National Tap Dance Day, you can see how the style morphed from a popular form of dance hall entertainment into a showbiz staple—and meet a few contemporary tappers trying to resuscitate its roots.

[h/t Vox]