by Thelma Goldberg
Tap students of all ages delight in creating their own rhythms. Invite your students to participate in the creative process—it will build their confidence, musicality, phrasing, and problem-solving, and it will engage their minds and bodies in new ways. Choreography requires advance planning (unlike spontaneous improvisation), an understanding of musical structure, a foundation in technique and skills, and a willingness to take risks. It’s helpful to discuss your choreographic process so students understand the numerous decisions that go into making a dance.
For beginners, start with short and simple choreographic assignments:
- Make your own time step break and teach it to friends.
- Work with a partner to create one-bar phrases that alternate in a call-and-response sequence.
- Make a 32-count phrase that incorporates classic steps such as the waltz clog or drawback.
- Change up a traditional shim sham’s rhythm to transform it to a new idea (for example, instead of playing 8&1 2&3 4&5&6&7 in the first shuffle phrase, play 8&1&2&3&4&5&6 ).
- Take a known combination and change the sequence of steps.
- Add movement, such as turns or directional changes, to a favorite step.
More advanced dancers may be ready for assignments that consider the elements of composition. Invite your experienced dancers to:
- discuss space, time, rhythm, and energy;
- create choreography within specific musical ideas, such as straight or swinging;
- study video footage of a famous tap dancer and create choreography in that style;
- choreograph the melody of a standard jazz tune;
- notate a dance phrase, as a class, so students can duplicate it;
- choreograph a dance to a favorite pop song;
- select an arrangement by a trio of piano, bass, and drum, and choreograph as if you were the saxophone;
- choreograph an a capella dance;
- tell a story through your choreography.
Teacher and director of The Dance Inn in Lexington, Massachusetts, since 1983, Thelma Goldberg is the author of Thelma’s Tap Notes: A Step-by-Step Guide to Teaching Tap: Children’s Edition.