March-April 2016 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Riffs

Photo by Robert Rosen

Photo by Robert Rosen


By Thelma Goldberg

Tip 1
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.

Have students identify the top one-third of the ball tap or top screw area. With a relaxed ankle, the tap’s top third is pressed lightly into the floor, followed by a scuff (hitting the heel’s edge as it swings forward). To gain clarity, have dancers practice at the barre, touching just the front of the tap—not the tip or full tap—next to the supporting leg before swinging the heel forward.

For a three-count riff, add either a heel drop on the supporting leg or a heel dig after the scuff. The heel drop creates an open three-count riff (sometimes called an “open third”); the heel dig creates a closed riff, which ends on the floor. For a traditional four-count “walking riff,” add a toe drop after the closed three-count riff’s heel dig. Or, for another four-count option, add a heel dig after the open three-count riff’s heel drop.

With the addition of toe drops, spanks, and multiple heel drops, your dancers will soon be doing riffs with 12 or more sounds up and down the hallways at school.

Tip 2
Try these tips for using riffs in class:

  • Create a series of riff exercises to spice up your small footwork warm-up.
  • Try a backward riff—start with the heel dig, and add a spank and heel drop.
  • Substitute a riffle for a shuffle—add a spank to a two-count riff.
  • Cross the riff both in front and in back of the supporting leg.

Thelma Goldberg, teacher and director of The Dance Inn in Lexington, Massachusetts, since 1983, is the author of Thelma’s Tap Notes: A Step-by-Step Guide to Teaching Tap: Children’s Edition.