Tips for Tap Teachers | Improving Step Recall

Photo by Robert Rosen

by Thelma Goldberg

With recital season upon us, let’s talk about memory and how to help our students strengthen their long-term recall of tap steps.

Memories form when our neurons get fired up and make connections (or synapses) with one another to form a pattern of activity. During the memory encoding stage, dancers learn movements by watching the teacher. So be clear about the rhythm and upper body movement you want students to reproduce, work slowly, and watch and listen carefully to each student. An incorrect memory will be harder to change later on during the retrieval stage.

Long-term memories form through both repetition and active learning—which goes beyond memorizing movements. To strengthen long-term recall and reach all of your students, provide activities that require the brain to go past the physical and that incorporate a multisensory approach. Here are some strategies I find helpful in the classroom:

  • “See it, hear it, say it, do it.”
  • Analyze out loud each dance’s artistic intent and structure. Understanding the musical form—for example, “3 and a break”—will increase connections in students’ brains.
  • Associate the rhythm with a rhyme to activate the voice while learning.
  • Use visual and spatial cues; for example, look left to spark the memory to move left.
  • Teach short four-count phrases to mastery level before adding complexity through rhythm or patterns.
  • Have students take time to visualize and hear the dance in their minds.
  • Repeat steps or patterns, such as time steps, in different ways, for example, first in place, then turning or traveling.
  • Reverse phrases.
  • Stress interferes with memory formation, so don’t wait till the last minute to finish your choreography.
  • Associate a positive and meaningful feeling with the movement. Create fun combinations that connect dancers with each other.
  • Practice, practice, practice!


Teacher and director of The Dance Inn in Lexington, Massachusetts, since 1983, Thelma Goldberg is the author of Thelma’s Tap Notes: A Step-by-Step Guide to Teaching Tap: Children’s Edition.