Tips for Tap Teachers | Take the Shuffle From Simple to Complex

Photo by Robert Rosen

by Thelma Goldberg

Tip 1
I’ve discussed shuffles before (2 Tips for Tap Teachers: “Shuffles,” May/June 2015), but there’s always more to say about this basic tap skill, which can challenge both beginners and professionals with ideas that range from simple to complex.

First, let’s keep it simple. The simple shuffle combines a brush forward and a spank upward; it begins and ends in a relaxed position with the knee lifted and the foot hanging. Beginners should learn to separate the two sounds by playing them in quarter-note time separated by silent notes: 1 [2] 3 [4]. It’s important for students to understand that the spank does not always immediately follow the brush. To practice, move the silent notes, as in these examples: 1 [2 3] 4, [1] 2 3 [4], 1 2 [3] 4.

I find it’s easier for students to move first to swinging eighth notes (a1a2a3a4), before straight eighth notes (1& or &1). Alternate quarter notes and eighth-note triplets with a pause in these swing phrases: 1 2 a3 [4], a1 [2] a3 [4], 1 2 a3 a4, a1 a2 a3 [4]. Notice how this phrase of straight eighth notes is more difficult: 1&2&3&[4].

Challenging your students musically like this will strengthen their shuffles. Add steps, hops, ball changes, flaps, and heel drops to add variety to combinations and choreography.

Tip 2
Second, let’s get complex. Shuffles can change direction, sound different parts of the toe tap, increase tempo, or play different rhythms. Add a third heel sound for a riffle; or substitute the initial brush with a heel dig for a scuffle. Classic shuffle steps like the Irish, time steps, Buffalo, running shuffles, and crossover steps can be simple or complex, and they never go out of style. Finally, invite your students to get creative and share their own shuffle patterns.


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.