September 2015 | 2 Tips for Tap Teachers | Back to Basics

Photo by Robert Rosen

Photo by Robert Rosen

Back to Basics

By Thelma Goldberg

Tip 1
Let’s focus on the basics. Which fundamental skills and techniques form the core of a tap curriculum? Regardless of age or ability level, consider the following areas of training:

  • Music theory: Identifying quarter, eighth, and sixteenth notes and eighth-note triplets improves timing and articulation of all rhythms.
  • Rudiments: Small footwork exercises (including press and traditional cramp rolls and paddle and rolls) train dancers to separate the ball and heel sounds, in both stationary exercises and traveling patterns.
  • Ball changes: These complete shifts of weight, with ball sounds, a combination of ball and flat sounds, or even two flat sounds, connect other tap movements.
  • Brushes and spanks: Together these form a shuffle; individually they add sound and rhythm to soft shoe work, slaps, flaps, time steps, paddle and rolls, and drawbacks.
  • Shuffles: Straight or swinging, shuffles can be done in various rhythms and placements and are at the core of many classic tap steps, including the waltz clog, Irish, Maxie Ford, shim sham, Buffalo, and time step.

Tip 2
Here are a few ideas for including basics in weekly lessons:

  • Begin with a listening activity in which students walk, clap, or sing rhythmically.
  • Establish a series of drills that combine toe digs, heel drops, toe drops, and other single sounds in progressively more challenging patterns.
  • Combine ball changes with all single- and double-sound movements. Vocalize the rhythms to help reinforce complete weight shifts, always ending a ball change on one foot with the other released.
  • Have students do the sequence of brush, spank, and step as they sing the ABCs.
  • Build muscle memory and strength with weekly shuffle reps on both feet. Ask the dancers to demonstrate individually to be sure they fin-ish their shuf-fles!

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.