By Thelma Goldberg
Teaching students to respond to and connect with music is as important in tap as it is in other forms of dance. As tappers, our students are “joining the band,” and each sound they make adds to the overall musical arrangement. To help students increase their musical awareness, the first step is ensuring that they can identify the quarter notes and keep time.
Try this exercise. Start some 4/4 music. Before dancing, engage dancers in a circle and have them identify the 1 of each 4-count bar by tapping or raising a hand. (You’ll be surprised how many dancers hesitate to commit.) Once the 1 is clearly identified, have students find the 2, 3, and 4, expressing each quarter note with a heel drop, toe tip, or other single sound.
Then organize four groups, each assigned to play the 1, 2, 3, or 4 using a single sound. Your dancers will have fun creating a cacophony of sound, as they “play” only their respective notes.
Dancing musically goes beyond keeping time and playing notes accurately; it’s also important to understand form and phrasing. Questions to consider are: what is the groove or feel of the music? Is it straight or swinging? Does it follow a traditional 8-bar form, or is it 12-bar blues? Can your dancers identify the melody, the chorus, and the bridge?
Plan listening exercises that expose your students to a wide variety of tunes. Ask them to identify the instruments. There are many excellent jazz instrumentals that will inspire your dancers to listen carefully so that they can dance with the musicians instead of to the music.
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.