Say It With Silence
When I woke up with laryngitis one day and had to teach tap, I thought, “Oh great. No voice, no class.” But I was able to teach and it turned out great! Since I couldn’t rely on the power of projection or the rhythm of my voice, I had to use other tools to command the students’ attention.
First I clapped out a “call to order” rhythm: clap, clap, clap-clap-clap. The students and I repeated the pattern, back and forth, until I had their attention. I then whispered, “I don’t have a voice today, but I have ears, eyes, feet, and hands. Pay attention and follow along!”
Using hand signals and facial expressions, I led the class through warm-up, using thumbs up or down to let the students know how they were doing. I got a little silly with the tempos to make sure they were paying attention. The kids were laughing, but the message was clear: “Pay attention or you might get lost.”
Then, to teach new material, I used the time-honored “call and response” method. I started by stamping four times and the students copycatted it back to me. When there was no lag between call and response and the tempo was established, I moved into new material, four counts at a time. Each time I called out the steps with my feet and they mimicked me. When their response matched my call, I moved on to the next four counts; we eventually progressed to eight-count phrases.
These strategies got me through class without saying a word. Furthermore, the students were rapt, using 100 percent of their observational skills to keep up with me.
Teaching without a voice forced me to find another way to communicate. I’ve been weaving these strategies into my tap classes ever since, because doing so always mixes things up and helps keep students tuned in.
Focus on Feet
A group of my 8- to 10-year-old students was having a hard time remembering to point their feet while doing their dance. So we started to play a game. I put the names of all the dancers on a blackboard at the beginning of class. If they were caught not pointing their feet, their name would be erased.
They always had the chance to redeem themselves; if I saw some great pointed feet their names would go back up on the board.
At the end of the class all the dancers whose names remained on the board wrote their names on a small ball and put it in a mason jar. I then drew a name and that dancer would get a prize.
The next week, as other dancers kept their names on the board, we would add more balls to the jar, and each week I would draw a winner. When the jar was full I rewarded the entire class with a pizza party.
This is a fun way to encourage students to think about pointing their feet. It eventually became a habit, and they did a much better job pointing their feet while onstage.