by Thelma Goldberg Tap students of all ages delight in creating their own rhythms. Invite your students to participate in the creative process—it will build their confidence, musicality, phrasing, and problem-solving, and it will engage their minds and bodies in new ways. Choreography requires advance planning (unlike spontaneous improvisation), an understanding of musical structure, a…Read More
by Thelma Goldberg Many studio owners offer tap dance to preschoolers. But as someone who has spent a lifetime studying the art of tap, I’d like to suggest an alternative: offer your students ages 3 to 5 a curriculum of pre-tap—in ballet shoes. With planning and good marketing, your preschool program will flourish and students…Read More
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…Read More
by Thelma Goldberg Cramp rolls are useful both in class to strengthen small footwork and in choreography. With recital season on the horizon, here are some tips for using them: Begin with clean quarter notes. Dancers should shift weight correctly and separate their sounds. A favorite three-sound pattern for beginners is the press cramp roll,…Read More
by Thelma Goldberg Listening is an important skill for both tap teachers and students. Of all dance forms, tap is unique in that its sound is its essence. It’s easy to get distracted by how it looks. Challenge yourself (Tip 1) and your students (Tip 2) with these simple ideas for strengthening listening skills. Tip…Read More
by Thelma Goldberg Tip 1 I’ve discussed shuffles before (2 Tips for Tap Teachers: “Shuffles,” May/June 2015), but there’s always more to say about this basic tap skill, which can challenge both beginners and professionals with ideas that range from simple to complex. First, let’s keep it simple. The simple shuffle combines a brush forward…Read More
Everything Old Is New Again by Thelma Goldberg Tip 1 Summer is a perfect time to plan ahead for a fabulous new year of tap dance programming. Remember, investing now in your own growth and training (with intensives, books, DVDs, etc.) will pump new energy and ideas into your classes. Begin by planning new warm-ups…Read More
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.
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.Read More
by Thelma Goldberg
Tip 1: For a well-organized class that moves smoothly from one activity to another, create a set playlist that complements your lesson plan.
Tip 2: Choosing appropriate music for tap performances can be challenging.
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.Read More
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.Read More
by Thelma Goldberg
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.
You can also increase a combo’s complexity based on the students’ level.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are three basic types of pickups.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.Read More