Building a Foundation
by Thelma Goldberg
Building a strong foundation in tap basics enables your dancers to make steady progress in acquiring new skills. Begin with mastering the single sounds of tap, heel dig, toe dig, step, brush, spank, tip, toe drop, heel drop, and heel stand. Whether beginning or advanced, all students will benefit from combining these single sounds into various quarter-note phrases.
Emphasize relaxation in the ankle, knee, and hip joints, so that the foot can be fully released and ready to make the correct movement. With the knee lifted and the foot hanging loosely, the toe is ready to press downward, swing forward, or strike the tip.
Watch out for locked knees when students extend the heel on heel digs and heel stands, or when they stand on one foot. Relaxed knees allow the rhythm to flow freely throughout the body, especially in toe drops and heel drops.
Once they’ve mastered single sounds, students can progress to playing eighth notes, both straight and swinging (1&2& and a1 a2). Shuffles, ball changes, double heel drops (such as press or traditional cramp rolls), and slaps and flaps add challenges for dancers who have a strong single-sound foundation.
Shifting weight becomes an important technique as dancers work to finish ball changes, double-heel work, shuffles, and flaps with one foot released, relaxed, and ready for what’s next. Mastering weight shifts and eighth-note patterns will prepare students to learn classic steps like the Irish (shuffle hop step), the Maxie Ford (leap shuffle leap tip), the waltz clog (step shuffle ball change), and the varsity drag (flap step flap ball change). These basic patterns provide them with a strong foundation for success in future tap work.
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.