With all the different options available to you: ballet dancing, street dance, hip hop, jazz dance, ballroom dancing and more, what is it about tap dancing that stands out from the rest? Is it the masters of tap that draw so many people in, like Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Bill Robinson (also known as Bill Bojangles Robinson), and Sandman Sims or is it simply the idea of tappers having happy feet and enjoying the dance so much?
Time step your way over here and find out more about this rhythmical step dance.
Tap dance is a contemporary dance style whereby the dancer wears tap shoes, special shoes fitted with heel and toe taps to create a rhythmic noise when touching the floor.
The style of dancing originates in America, as a result of a fusion of many ethnic percussive dancing styles. Some of the biggest influences on tap dancing are English, Irish and Scottish jigs or clogging, as well as African tribal dances.
Styles of tap emerged late in the 19th century, but often included dance steps like shuffles, slides, kicks and skips. It wasn’t until the 1920s, however, that taps were attached to the soles of shoes in two places using screws and made the dance soar in popularity. The show Shuffle Along (1921), was the first to include dancers wearing tap shoes on stage, and it was at that time that the dance was named tap dancing.
Tap shoes have taps attached to their heels and toes. Photo credit: Renee Silverman on Visual hunt / CC BY-ND
The discipline continued to evolve and to captivate audiences (with Harland Dixon and Jimmy Doyle being a famous duo who specialised in buck and wing dancing), and it became a creative and skilful dance for a new student to acquire. In a way, the rhythmic patterns adopted by tap dancers were ahead of their time when you think of popular music in today’s culture and society.
Despite what you might think, tap dancing wasn’t and isn’t just reserved for films, Las Vegas stage shows and performances on Broadway, tap dancers could even be seen doing their lively art form in nightclubs! Commonly, the host’s venues would hire a dance production company to choreograph a tap dance involving up to twenty dancers on stage.
Equally, you can learn how to tap dance now at many locations. While you are less likely to see tap dance events like the above nowadays, you can certainly enrol on a private dance class or join a dance academy to learn about the art of dance known as tap dancing.
One of the most important lessons to learn before you start a tap dancing masterclass is how the taps actually work. For this reason, it is vital that your dance teacher teaches you about the art, starting with the parts of the tap shoe, the difference between a toe and a toe tip and if a ball tap is the same thing as a toe tap. Without knowing about these fundamental elements, you will only come away from your beginners class completed discouraged.
Here are a few things you should know before you walk through the entrance to your first dance class…
It is a common misconception that tap dancing is only for young children, but while kids who attend kids classes do learn very quickly, you can learn to dance quite rapidly too if you set your mind to it. Children and teens tend to have more energy and stamina and are often more flexible than adults, but what adults have over them is an ability to better concentrate and thus take more from the learning experience.
The complexity of steps can sometimes baffle young dancers, but having said that even some intermediate or semi-professional dancers can just as easily mix up their dance steps! Along the same lines, some toddlers may have all the enthusiasm but not enough coordination to successfully master sequences of steps. At least not in a graceful manner!
Going back to the strain that tap dancing may have on your lower body; in theory, your ankles should not hurt after a dance workshop. If you are an older dancer who suffers from arthritis, then you may wish to speak to your doctor about any aches and pains and see if tap dancing is a suitable activity for you to pursue.
Tap dancing makes good use of the ankles, so if you have sustained an injury like a sprain or break then tell your tutor before you begin. Photo credit: keirstenmarie on Visualhunt
Whatever your age, one thing that all dancers of tap share in common above all is that they find the lessons fun.
First of all, you should know that posture is extremely important in tap dancing, so having a strong core is absolutely vital. You should never tap with a straight leg; your knees should be soft and relaxed when you execute the moves to cut down the risk of injury and to make a better quality of sound.
During your first ever tap class, your teacher will probably ask you and the others in your class to walk around slowly practising your toe-heel taps. So, you will begin by putting the ball of your foot down on the floor first, followed by the heel and, with your arms slightly raised in the air, you will keep doing this movement in a loop until you have mastered the timing and technique. If you feel like you are a bit wobbly or as if you have two left feet, remember that it takes time to get to grips with the balance you need at first.
One of the first basic tap dancing steps you will learn is the ‘shuffle’, which uses the toe only. You take your working leg, up off the floor, whilst your supporting leg holds your weight, and you bring it forward quickly and tap your toe on the hard ground before bringing it back to the starting position and tapping once again in the same place on the way back.
There are many places in the capital where you can learn how to tap dance, like City Academy, Rona Hart School of Dance, London Tap Jam and London Dance, but one of the most iconic dance studios has to be the famous Pineapple Dance Studios, who promises to get you dancing like Fred Astaire or Gregory Hines!
You and your dance class may put on mini shows or performances to showcase what you have learnt. Photo credit: WalterPro on VisualHunt
Just like they have extremely passionate tap teachers, there are no ordinary tap dances on offer for you and your prospective dance troupe.
With the likes of Jazz tap classes, theatre tap classes, rhythm tap classes, performance tap classes and modern tap classes to choose from, you will be spoilt for choice! Not to mention the fact that they offer lessons almost every day of the week: Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays!
You and your tapper friends may even be asked to show off your choreographed modern dance with a dance performance or recital at a dance festival that celebrates its traditions.
Many big dance academies will offer tap dancing classes for beginners and intermediates. But if you don’t live near a large city and are struggling to find a suitable class, then why not consider learning to tap dance using an online instructor? You can find some really good introductory lessons aired on YouTube which can teach about the parts of your tap shoes, the basic steps that you should know as a new student and how to combine sequences of steps together.
Similarly, you could hire a dance tutor to guide you through your learning process and who can be available to answer your queries and help you to solve problems as and when they crop up, whether they be your primary source of dance education or someone that you just turn to for advice in between the sessions of your class schedule.
By choosing a local tutor, however, you can benefit from one to one private classes and someone who can physically show you where to place your feet during your routine.