How does it work?
The tapping sound produced is a result of metal plates (taps) that are attached to the ball and heel of each shoe coming into contact with the floor. By combining moves, tap dancers tap out syncopated beats in time with the music, or can dance a capella to create their own dance accompaniment.
The modern dance style began on Vaudeville stages in the USA, but became a popular fixture on television and the big screen across the globe during the 1930s, 40s and 50s, with stars such as Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly drawing large audiences. Tap has evolved over the years and elements of many other dance styles (such as the Lindy Hop, ballroom and ballet) have been incorporated, but there are several characteristics that all types of tap usually possess:
- Choreography normally starts on the eighth or first beat count of the opening bar of music. Typical steps include the ‘shuffle ball change’, ‘flap’, ‘New Yorkers’, ‘single and double pullbacks’, ‘wings’, ‘stomps’, ‘brushes’, ‘scuffs’, and ‘single and double toe punches’. Steps are classified according to the number of sounds they create, with a maximum of 4 or 5 sounds per riff being considered before it turns into a more complex combination of steps.
- Variation in sound is created by shifting bodyweight, relaxing or tensing limbs and changing stance.
As in other dance classes, tap lessons usually begin with a warm up that stretches out the leg and foot muscles before things move on to learning steps and combining them to form routines. Tap is a fiercely vigorous dance, so aerobic stamina needs to be built up before progressing to harder sequences and a lot of practice is needed to insure you form clear, correct sounds.
Tap shoes come in both flat and heeled varieties, with full or split soles. Split soles offer more flexibility, but either type of sole needs to feel firm and offer stability when you are dancing. Flat heels are often preferred by beginners, as they provide a greater surface area for better balance and sound production whilst you are finding your feet. Both types of tap shoe should ideally have taps that span the entire width of the shoe at the toe and heel, and the screws that affix the taps onto the shoes can be adjusted so that you produce the desired sound whilst dancing.
In terms of other attire, clothing that allows you to move freely without dragging on the floor or potentially snagging on your tap shoes should be worn.
Is it for me?
Tap dancing require dedication and as it involves moving in a unique way precisely to or off the beat, you need to have rhythm to be able to pull it off. You also must be able to focus and memorize specific movements quickly, as unlike in some other dances, any mistakes in execution will throw the whole routine out of time.
Your knee and ankle joints need to be pretty strong, so tap is likely to be very difficult (and painful) if you have a level of reduced mobility due to a temporary injury or ligament or bone condition. The energetic nature of the dance and the concentrated weight that you need to put on small areas of your feet mean that women imminently expecting the patter of tiny feet are advised to avoid tap classes as their pregnancy progresses. However, children can attend basic tap classes from an early age, and there is no age limit when it comes to learning to tap dance. ''-Jazz hands!-''
Good to know
Before the use of metal taps became widespread, tap dancing was performed whilst wearing leather shoes with solid, wooden clog-like soles.