Heel and Toe Drops
By Thelma Goldberg
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.
Once dancers can separate the toe dig and heel drop sounds, they can practice shifting weight by rocking from heel to heel, playing simple quarter notes, and then progress to more complex phrases. Weekly practice will build strength and rhythmic clarity.
Double heel drops are part of the press cramp roll (three sounds) and traditional cramp roll (four sounds). Have dancers match the rhythm of a three-syllable word (“happiness”)—press the toe dig into the floor and drop each heel—or four-syllable word (“spectacular”)—step onto the ball of each foot, then drop each heel. Say “spectacular” in different ways to elicit rhythmic variations.
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.
Weekly practice will strengthen the toe drop so it can be incorporated into choreography. Beginners can travel across the floor with heel dig and toe drop combinations. More advanced dancers can do reverse cramp rolls. Strong toe drops will lead to the strong spanks needed for pickups, drawbacks, time steps, paddle and rolls, and more.
Thelma Goldberg, teacher and director of The Dance Inn in Lexington, Massachusetts, since 1983, is the author of Thelma’s Tap Notes: A Guide to Teaching Tap: Children’s Edition.