Military Tap Dance
By Thelma Goldberg
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.
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.
More advanced students can incorporate cramp rolls, military time steps, pickups, and fast and intricate footwork in straight eighth- and sixteenth-note time. Pinwheels, pivots, and complex movement patterns require complete attention to placement and a commitment to excellent timing from each dancer. Even advanced dancers will need to focus on finishing shuffles, leaving the floor on hops, and completing all four or more cramp roll sounds while maintaining correct arm/head positions. Try incorporating a canon, with dancers repeating a phrase either sequentially or overlapping in counterpoint. Or add vocalizing with a cadence (traditional military call and response) to encourage dancers to work together to share a patriotic beat.
Thelma Goldberg, teacher and director of The Dance Inn in Lexington, Massachusetts, since 1983, is the author of Thelma’s Tap Notes: A Step-by-Step Guide to Teaching Tap: Children’s Edition.