Learning Tap Technique
The beginning tap class is all about learning basic technique, or how to perform a specific step in a consistent manner. Technique involves correct performance as well as incorporation of movement principles. Beyond learning technique, you add timing and quality to movement to develop clarity in performance, conveying a style that radiates musicality and artistry.
Using Cues and Feedback
During class, several strands of feedback can guide your development as a performer. The teacher provides you with cues in various forms as you learn new movement. For example, cues might be in the form of instructions or imagery to help you sense the movement, or they could be rhythmic phrases indicating the timing of a step.
Most often the teacher’s feedback is directed to the beginning class to help all students understand the movement or sequence. Sometimes, the teacher gives individual feedback to clarify or extend a specific student’s performance. Individual feedback becomes more common during the latter part of the course.
Another type of feedback comes from your personal performance. This feedback can be kinesthetic, intellectual, or a combination. When you execute a movement, you feel how your body is moving and applying movement principles throughout a sequence. While doing the movement, you mentally track the movement timing with the music and the kinesthetic sense of doing the movement, record the experience in your movement memory, and prepare for the next movement—all at the same time. With practice over time, these processes blend to the point where you can be responsible for fine-tuning your performance of the movement.
Putting Movements in Context
Knowing the parts of a movement sequence and timing for a dance step later extends to several steps in a combination. An introductory step, one or more middle steps, and an ending step form a basic combination. Each step in the combination requires clear execution with specific timing and quality.
Memorizing Movement Sequences
As you gain experience in tap dance, the teacher eventually stops cuing your movements using action words and you become responsible for remembering movement sequences. So, you must either memorize the terminology or create your own terms for the movements and repeat them to yourself as you dance. In addition, ask yourself questions such as these:
- Which direction am I facing?
- Which leg is moving?
- In which direction is the leg moving?
- What is the position of my arms?
- In which direction is my body moving?
Repeating action words or the teacher’s cues to yourself as you move helps you memorize movement. Learning this technique of self-talk in the beginning can help you integrate other elements such as technique and movement principles in time to the music. Self-talk continues to expand as exercises and combinations get longer and more complicated. Once you can perform a movement sequence, try to execute it without saying the words.
Connecting to Your Kinesthetic Sense
Connecting to your kinesthetic sense requires awareness of your body and its movement. Making this connection takes time and experience; it does not happen overnight. After you have practiced tap dance consistently with awareness for a while, your kinesthetic sense becomes part of the translation process in the language–movement connection; when you hear a tap term, your body just knows what to do and how to do it.
Movement memory covers information presented in the beginning tap class from the past, connecting it to the present and the future. Movements you perform in class are based on movement memory (also called muscle memory), which connects to developing your kinesthetic sense. This type of memory incorporates continued feedback to the basic movement to clarify the sequence of the legs or alter the arms and head in an exercise or step. Later, movement memory expands as exercises and combinations get longer, contain more steps, and increasingly become more complex. After practicing many repetitions of a movement, you can execute the movement without thinking of the various parts, yet you are able to apply feedback or add stylistic elements to enhance the movement into a more sophisticated performance.
As you continue to take classes, you gain the rudimentary movement vocabulary of tap. You record your movement vocabulary in a variety of ways: kinesthetic, visual, auditory, and as rhythmic components. You use action words, which are linked to a tap term.
To perform tap, you must be able to execute exercises and steps on both sides of the body, or transpose movement. Although one side of your body may respond more easily than the other, the goal is to be able to execute the movement equally well on both sides.
When you perform combinations, you have to move from one direction to another direction. Sometimes a combination moves from side to side, front to back, or back to front. In some parts of the class, you may move across the floor in straight lines or on a diagonal from a back corner of the room to the opposite front corner. Some steps require you turn around yourself or to turn in a circle. Learning to transpose exercises and steps from one foot or side to the other helps to prepare you for moving in various directions.
Mental practice enhances physical performance. Mental practice is similar to learning by watching, hearing, and doing. Using this technique, you visualize perfectly performing the movements to the music. When you review tap terminology during mental practice, it can support making a movement–language connection, too.
Gaining a Performance Attitude
Gaining a performance attitude means that you learn to think, act, and move like a dancer. The first step to gaining a performance attitude is to be able to perform a movement sequence and transpose it to the other side. Once you can memorize a movement and transpose it independently without relying on your teacher to demonstrate it, you can be responsible for your own movement and your teacher can build on your learning in the next class. This independence and acceleration in learning increases your confidence, which leads to developing a performance attitude.