By Thelma Goldberg
The shuffle—a brush and spank, done in all directions and in varied rhythms—is one of the most important movements in a tap dancer’s repertoire. Many classic tap steps incorporate a shuffle, such as the waltz clog, Maxie Ford, Irish, Buffalo, shim sham, and Cincinnati; time steps and crossover steps; and more.
When teaching shuffles, it’s crucial to isolate and strengthen both brush and spank. Begin in quarter-note time and have dancers lift the knee and let the foot hang loosely, so that the action moves down, then up. Ankles and knees should be relaxed, not flexed or locked.
Once dancers master the step in quarter-note time, have them try shuffles in both straight (1& or &1) and swinging eighth notes (a1a2a3a4). Shuffles are often followed or preceded by steps, leaps, hops, heel drops, or ball changes. Advanced dancers may add pick-ups, pullbacks, or cramp rolls; do multiple shuffles on one foot; or alternate with running shuffles. For variety, cross and uncross the shuffle and send it to the side or back, or cross it behind the alternate foot.
In today’s tap scene, it’s not uncommon for dancers to reverse the typical brush and spank, add a third brush, attack the shuffle with the side of the foot, replace the brush with a scuff (a scuffle), or add a heel hit after the brush (a riffle).
However complex the shuffle, it must begin and end in a ready position off the floor. “Finish” and “attack” are good words to use with students to reinforce the important energy required to bring precision, tone, and strength to the simple but beautiful shuffle.
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.