By Thelma Goldberg
Pickups are sometimes called pullbacks or grab-offs. For many teachers, “pickup” best describes the action of spanking up, not back. With weight on the ball of the action foot, the toe tap spanks (brushes) upward before landing back on the ball.
Before teaching pickups, strengthen students’ toe drops and spanks until they can release the toe tap and spank without first flexing the foot. Once dancers can do a series of spanks and steps (R, L, R, L) while staying on the balls of their feet, they are ready for pickups.
Here’s one popular drill: hop three times, then do a pickup on the fourth hop. Decrease the number of preparatory hops as dancers succeed. Holding onto a barre or a friend’s hands offers support to beginners, so they can stay on the balls of the feet. It also helps them relax the ankle, so the toe can drop and lightly spank upward as the body lifts. Unlike when doing a ballet sauté, the challenge is for dancers to stay off their heels as they bend their knees in preparation for the spank.
There are three basic types of pickups.
- A single pickup starts and lands on the same foot.
- A double pickup begins and lands on two feet. It produces two sounds if the feet spank together and land together (&1). A four-sound pickup results when each foot spanks separately, then lands separately (1&a2). This four-sound pickup can become quite advanced by alternating the footwork (RLRL/LRLR/RLLR/LRRL).
- The third type changes feet; I call it a changeup. It starts on one foot, which makes the pickup sound, but lands on the other foot. This pickup often follows a shuffle, as in a Maxie Ford.
The pickup is an important skill that, once mastered, adds versatility to choreography.
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.