Tips for Tap Teachers

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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November 2014 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Spanks and Drawbacks

The back brush is often called a spank; beginning students learn this as the second sound of a shuffle. The spank that starts from a flat foot on the floor and is used in time steps, drawbacks, and crossover steps (to name a few) is much more challenging and can be introduced once students have strong basic skills and are dancing in eighth-note triplets (because the spank often happens on the count “a”).

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September 2014 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Tap Improvisation

Tap improvisation is the act of spontaneously creating a musical phrase in response to music or to another tapper’s phrase. Improvisation is an essential part of any tap curriculum. As the dancers’ technique and listening skills improve, their ability to improvise with clear and concise rhythms will also improve. Regardless of level, students of all ages will benefit from the increased opportunity to communicate and create with their feet.

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March-April 2014 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Troubleshooting

A shuffle, an important part of a tap dancer’s repertoire, is often one of the first movements learned by young tappers. When teaching shuffles, it’s important to emphasize the separate brush and spank movements so that dancers gain the muscle strength to control each action. To strengthen the individual brush and spank sounds, try a pattern of shuffles that alternates ending on the brush or the spank in either of the following two rhythms: (1&2, 3&4, 5&6&7&8) (a1&a2, a3&a4, a5&a6&a7&a8).

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January 2014 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Step in Time

How many times have you said “Slow down!” to your students? Helping dancers stay in sync with the music is a challenge every tap teacher faces. To improve timing at beginner/intermediate levels, have dancers listen to the music and identify the quarter and eighth notes before dancing; they can do this by clapping, playing drumsticks, or simply walking in time.

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December 2013 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Building on Basics

Many trick steps stem from a basic tap step learned early in a student’s training. One reason students should master the basics is that they can learn harder variations or trick steps quicker. As teachers, it is our responsibility to show students the connection between basic steps and more advanced trick steps. Often, I see students stress out when they see a trick step in choreography, but once I show them the basic step it is based on, they calm down and achieve their goal faster.

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November 2013 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Breaking It Down

One key to success for tap dancers is recognizing and mastering patterns. The teacher’s job is to find ways to communicate these patterns to students in a simplistic manner. One suggestion is to use numbers during the breakdown. For example, say you’re teaching this combination: step shuffle ball change, shuffle ball change ball change, shuffle ball change, shuffle ball change ball change, shuffle ball change step clap. Try teaching it as: step 1, 2, 1, 2, 1 step clap. (The numbers represent the ball changes after the shuffle.) The students will find the pattern and master the combo more quickly.

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October 2013 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Teaching Time Steps

Time steps are essential tools in a tap dancer’s repertoire. Make sure your students have basic knowledge of them. Most important, a true time step starts on count eight. A traditional one starts with a shuffle, and a “buck” begins with a stomp or stomp back brush. Determine whether the step is a single, double, triple, or quadruple by the number of sounds made after the hop: a step (single), flap (double), shuffle step (triple), and shuffle step heel (quadruple).

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September 2013 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Slides & Warm-Up

Teaching tap slides can be trickier than you think. Most students like to lift their heels off the ground and straighten their legs when they slide; however, doing this makes it harder to control the slide and maximize its length. Three rules to guide them: feet flat (helps maintain balance); plié (makes sliding on a challenging surface like marley easier); and weight evenly distributed (helps with connecting the slide to the next step).

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August 2013 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Developing Musicality

Challenging your dancers to tap to different time signatures and meters will help develop their musicality. (Often simply finding count 1 can be tricky.) This challenge will allow them to understand and master more complex rhythms and patterns. It can also expand a teacher’s creativity with choreography. Some suggestions for popular songs in various meters include “Hey Ya” by Outkast (11/4), “Dreamworld” by Robin Thicke (6/8), and “15 Step” by Radiohead (5/4).

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July 2013 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Bombershays and Counter-Rhythms

When your students are trying to do a bombershay (left step, right toe tap, right heel dig), tell them to be careful not to force their turnout. The best rule of thumb is to have the students stand naturally and start the step from that position of the feet. Also, to build speed, they shouldn’t have their feet too far apart, and they should try not to force the right foot to swivel like a jazz Suzy-Q. Less movement leads to a faster pace.

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May-June 2013 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Adding and Enhancing Sounds

What’s the difference between a shuffle step and a shuffle toe dig step? Easy question to answer, but harder to accomplish. When adding extra sounds to basics such as a shuffle step or a pullback, be careful not to change the technique of the basic step to accommodate the extra sound. Don’t change the original step; simply find where to add the extra sound. This makes learning the new version easier.

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March-April 2013 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Turns and Flaps

Isn’t it funny how when you add a turn to a basic step (Irish or Buffalo, for example) students miss their sounds? Try having them face the mirror, step toward it and open their arms to second (seeing both arms in the mirror), shuffle to the side of the standing leg, then turn the hop or jog. This method will keep the shuffle consistent, so that the turn doesn’t affect their technique. Remember, it is easier to turn during a hop or jog than during a shuffle.

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February 2013 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Shuffles and Pullbacks

You can’t do the second shuffle before the first. That sounds like simple logic, but many students tense up and try to do both at the same time. To teach them to do a clean double shuffle, have them finish the first shuffle off the ground and then start the second one. Let them hear the rhythm of the four sounds (five for double shuffle step), and remind them that a basic shuffle starts and ends in back. For a quicker shuffle, do it on the inside of the foot.

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January 2013 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Clean and Simple

It’s easy for intermediate/advanced students to become overwhelmed with numerous steps and patterns. One trick I use to simplify things is to state the step without including which side to do it on. Of course, with younger students, explaining whether to start on the right or left is important, but as they get older they will naturally follow you to figure this out. Doing the sequence on the other side is easier for them because they are thinking only of the steps. This also improves their terminology.

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December 2012 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | 5-6-7-8

The 8-count is the most basic counting method used by teachers, and the easiest for students to learn. Teaching young children how to count, in tap dance especially, is sometimes difficult; however, if you start them young, it will help them to stay on the music as they get older. Having the children count out loud together and breaking down the steps into syllables during the class helps. Have them attach a syllable to a count: shuf-fle ball-change shuf-fle step (1&2&3&4) or par-a-di-dle (1e&a).

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November 2012 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Early Steps in Improvising

Improv in tap dancing is something that doesn’t come naturally. A lot of students are afraid to experiment; however, that’s exactly what you should ask them to do. The more tap vocabulary they have, the easier improvising will be. It’s all about making phrases and trying different things, such as starting with easy steps they’re familiar with and building on them or matching song rhythms with their feet.

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October 2012 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Amping It Up

Tip 1 When dancers reach the advanced level, it is always helpful to introduce a “show and tell” exercise that gets them used to adding 8 counts of their own steps to small pieces of choreography. For example, one student might do flap flap cram proll, shuffle step heel stomp, shuffle step heel stomp; another might add riff back flap heel tap heel stamp, stomp back flap, stomp back flap stomp. Keep this going in a group with four or five kids and they will have made a dance in no time.

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