2 Tips for Tap Teachers

May-June 2017 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Wings and Flash Steps

by Thelma Goldberg
Tip 1: Since the early days of tap, flash steps have been used to bring routines to exciting climaxes or to challenge other dancers in contests.
Tip 2: Popular flash steps with wings include the single-foot wing in the third step of the B.S. Chorus, the double wing in Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s “Doin’ the New Lowdown,” and the alternating wing and tip in the traditional buck and wing.

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March-April 2017 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Finishing Touches

by Thelma Goldberg

Tip 1: Getting a tap routine ready for performance is like putting frosting on a cake. The ingredients have been organized and laid out, and now it’s time to concentrate on the final details: making it look and (in tap’s case) sound great.

Tip 2: Tap is a full-bodied dance form, and the upper body can express rhythm just as clearly as the feet can make sounds.

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January 2017 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Making Tap Dances

Read 2 great tips for tap teachers from the legendary Thelma Goldberg, teacher and director of The Dance Inn in Lexington, Massachusetts, since 1983, who is the author of Thelma’s Tap Notes: A Step-by-Step Guide to Teaching Tap: Children’s Edition.

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December 2016 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Across the Floor and Around the Room

by Thelma Goldberg

Tip 1 Small, stationary footwork is important to master, but it’s equally important that tap dancers learn to move rhythmically across the floor and around the room.

Tip 2 Moving side to side, forward and back, or in circles and squares will add variety and fun to your tap classes and help keep your students on their toes.

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November 2016 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Building Fun Combos

by Thelma Goldberg

Tip 1
Once students have a variety of basic tap skills, start introducing combinations that challenge them to connect short ideas into complete phrases of 4 to 32 counts.

Tip 2
You can also increase a combo’s complexity based on the students’ level.

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October 2016 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Building a Foundation

Tip 1
Building a strong foundation in tap basics enables your dancers to make steady progress in acquiring new skills. Begin with mastering the single sounds of tap, heel dig, toe dig, step, brush, spank, tip, toe drop, heel drop, and heel stand. Whether beginning or advanced, all students will benefit from combining these single sounds into various quarter-note phrases.
Tip 2
Once they’ve mastered single sounds, students can progress to playing eighth notes, both straight and swinging (1&2& and a1 a2). Shuffles, ball changes, double heel drops (such as press or traditional cramp rolls), and slaps and flaps add challenges for dancers who have a strong single-sound foundation.

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September 2016 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers

Tip 1
The start of a new dance season is a perfect opportunity to spice up your tap program with new ideas that will reinforce your lessons and inspire students to practice.
Tip 2
Flash cards with one-bar rhythm phrases can provide a wealth of teaching moments. Whether dancers are novices or experienced tappers, the clarity of their sounds depends on their ability to reproduce specific rhythms, and seeing a phrase in addition to hearing and doing it will help bring success. In particular, when dancers see the rests, or silent notes, in a rhythm, they are more likely to respect them and produce accurate footwork.

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August 2016 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Military Tap Dance

Tip 1
There’s nothing like a flag-waving, rhythmically precise tap dance to lift spirits and boost interest in tap. In 1904, George M. Cohan danced the buck and wing to his song “Yankee Doodle Boy” to embody his proud American heritage. During World War I, Broadway chorus girls danced “soldier” numbers that integrated tap and stepping sounds. Later, movie musicals like Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936), featuring Busby Berkeley’s amazing formations, and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), with James Cagney’s patriotic strutting, helped introduce military-style tap to a larger population. With their precision and fast footwork, traditional military routines are still a hit. For music, try a version of “Yankee Doodle,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” fife and drum tunes, military anthems, and armed forces medleys.
Tip 2
Though military tap can be challenging, beginners can combine marching steps with single sounds, hops, ball changes, and shuffles in straight quarter- and eighth-note time. Add simple but precise formations with quarter- and half-turns; use an upbeat tune like “MacNamara’s Band” to inspire students to dance like they’re in a parade, lifting knees high and moving with pride and joy.

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July 2016 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Counterpoint

Tip 1 Merriam-Webster defines counterpoint as “the combination of two or more independent melodies into a single harmonic texture in which each retains its linear character.” How can we use counterpoint in our choreography and classroom exercises?
Tip 2 For advanced dancers playing more complex rhythms, make sure the volume of each counterpoint section is equal—otherwise one rhythm will drown out the other.

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May-June 2016 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Pickups

Tip 1
Pickups are sometimes called pullbacks or grab-offs. For many teachers, “pickup” best describes the action of spanking up, not back. With weight on the ball of the action foot, the toe tap spanks (brushes) upward before landing back on the ball.
Tip 2
There are three basic types of pickups.

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March-April 2016 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Riffs

Tip 1
Students love to do riffs! Whether simple (two sounds) or complex (12-plus sounds), the riff is an important staple in a tap dancer’s repertoire. Once students can distinguish between a scuff and a brush, they can learn the two-count riff.Tip 2
Try these tips for using riffs in class

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February 2016 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Paddle and Roll

Tip 1
The paddle and roll (or paradiddle) is a popular small-footwork movement that combines four basic ideas: heel dig, spank, step, and heel drop. First done in vaudeville and at the Hoofers Club by tap luminaries such as John Bubbles (the father of rhythm tap), Honi Coles, and Steve Condos, the paddle and roll is now a staple of most tap artists’ repertoire, with young artists competing to have the fastest, most articulate footwork at cutting contests around the world.
Tip 2
Try these tips for varying the paddle and roll’s basic four-sound series, which usually starts with either the heel dig or heel drop.

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January 2016 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Heel and Toe Drops

Tip 1
Heel drops are among the first skills a tap dancer learns, and they add a unique percussive sound. Initially, students can build strength by dropping the heel without a weight shift. For beginners, drop the heel in quarter-note or half-note time with a strong toe dig pressed into the floor. For more challenge, combine quarter and eighth notes, keeping the toe dig pressed and using one heel.
Tip 2
Toe drops produce a very different sound from heel drops and add variety and challenge. Practice repetitive toe dropping on one foot in different rhythmic combinations to build strength and clarity. Initially, this may be difficult—shin muscles tire more easily than the larger leg muscles—so don’t overdo these drills.

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December 2015 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Sound Quality

Tip 1
It’s important to teach an awareness of sound quality as well as rhythm clarity. Once students demonstrate good technique in basic movements, challenge them to explore varying volume and tone. Even beginners can learn to regulate volume.
Tip 2
Using different parts of the tap also affects sound quality. In shuffles, for example, we can choose to produce a full-bodied brush and spank with the full toe tap; a light, high sound with the toe tap’s front third; a sharp, striking sound with the toe tap’s inside or outside edge; or a scuffing sound with the heel edge.

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November 2015 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Tending to Adult Students

Tip 1
The joys of teaching adults far outweigh the challenges. To develop and maintain a strong adult tap program, try these classroom tips.

  • Establish a welcome walk-around to connect students with one another and disconnect them from the outside world of cellphones, work, and family.
  • Acknowledge students by name, give positive feedback, and use age-appropriate music played at a reasonable volume.
  • Focus on a fun, rhythm-based approach. Adults, especially in a mixed-level class, will benefit from mastering simple ideas in quarter-note time before attempting double-time or triplet phrases.
  • Build on simple, weekly exercise patterns that will become familiar and are easy to practice at home. Share specific goals so adults can see progress in skill areas like shuffles, small footwork, and paddle and rolls.
  • Be sensitive to aging joints by limiting hops, leaps, and jumps.
  • Invite a young teacher or assistant to model the beginner variations during mixed-level classes. Sharing videos of the combinations online helps too.
  • Teach the shim sham for a fun end-of-class experience.

Tip 2
Adult performers bring great energy and variety to recitals. Select fun music that will have the audience tapping along. Costume adults in everyday clothes, and put as many of them as possible in the routine—the more the merrier. Keep the choreography interactive and relatively simple so that students can share the joy and rhythm with each other as well as with the audience. If combining mixed levels, let dancers strut their stuff in small groups. Staging ideas like circles and kick lines will bring thunderous applause and have your adult performers smiling and coming back for more.

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October 2015 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Released, Relaxed, and Ready

Clear weight shifts are essential for strong and articulate footwork. A dancer needs to have one foot released, relaxed, and ready for whatever step is next. A brush, spank, step, stamp, stomp, tap, toe dig, heel dig, or toe tip, for example, requires a 100-percent weight shift to one foot, over the arch, and with the shoulder stacked over a relaxed hip, knee, and ankle. In contrast, only a partial weight shift is needed to produce a strong heel drop or toe drop.

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March-April 2015 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Soft Shoe

Soft shoe should be integral to all tap curriculums. Appropriate for all levels and ages, studying soft shoe increases awareness of tempo, tone, and placement. Originally done in soft shoes, sometimes on sand, this style is known for a slow, dignified, and graceful approach, made popular in the vaudeville years by George Primrose and in the 1930s and 1940s by the artists known as “class acts.” A famous routine is Honi Coles and Cholly Atkins’ slow soft shoe, known for its beautiful precision and incredibly slow tempo.

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January 2015 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Mixed Levels

We may try to keep our classrooms homogeneous in skill level, but we’re still likely to end up welcoming new students into classes for which they don’t have all the prerequisite skills. In tap classes, this is especially challenging. Emphasizing all teaching modalities to reinforce new vocabulary and skills will help all your dancers succeed.

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December 2014 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Time Steps

Time steps are a pattern, usually reversed every 4 counts, used by vaudevillians to help set tempo for musicians. In Over the Top to Bebop, a filmed discussion of tap with Jazz Dance author Marshall Stearns, Honi Coles talks about time steps being the “ABCs” of tap dance, and he and Cholly Atkins vocalize a ditty about a buggy ride to demonstrate simple to more complex rhythms. (Portions are on YouTube.)

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