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Tap Tech: Mastering the First Three Tap Dance Moves

Tapping when done right exudes playfulness, style, and plenty of room for personal expression. Done poorly however… Well, it might just turn into a messy wall of sound. To get from one to the other, you’ll need to train your sense of rhythm and dexterity, using the first three steps below. First though, a few quick pointers:

Tappers keep their weight forward on the balls of their feet, with weight evenly spaced between them. This is the secret to switching feet quickly and in time with the music.

As you practice, start slow until you have consistent rhythm, then speed it up until you match your chosen song.

It’s also important to keep the taps clean and natural, by loosening the ankles. As you practice the steps, use your legs from the hips down to drive the movements.

Got all that? Then let’s start with step one.

The Shuffle

The shuffle is one of the first steps a tapper learns, as it’s great for learning to loosen your ankles and get a sense of the basic technique. Here’s how it works:

  1. Stand on one foot, and gently bend the knee of the other leg.
  2. Practice swinging the free leg forward and backward, keeping enough bend in the knee so it just misses the floor.
  3. As you swing forward, quickly point the toe so it hits the floor. This is called a
  4. As you swing backward, point the toe to hit the floor again. This is called a
  5. As you practice, shorten the swing so you can tap faster and faster. Maintain a consistent rhythm!
  6. Finally, start syncopating the brush-to-strike movement, so it becomes an “and1, and2, and3…” rhythm.

The shuffle can be danced forward and back (with parallel feet), to the side (with toes turned out, brush forward on a diagonal, and strike back and behind the standing leg), and crossing (brush forward with a parallel foot, then turn the toe outward and strike back with the free foot crossing IN FRONT of the standing leg.) Practice all three variations to build your dexterity.

The Ball Change

The easiest way to switch weight without stopping the taps, you can combine the ball change with the shuffle to build a basic combo:

  1. Stand with feet side by side, and lift the heels slightly off the ground.
  2. Step back on the ball of your right foot, shifting your weight far enough so the front foot leaves the ground for a moment, then replace your weight.
    1. Careful not to rock back with the upper body. Make sure the flat part of the ball is hitting the floor.
  3. Switch and try it with the left foot back.
  4. Combine it with the shuffle, by changing onto the ball of the free leg after it completes the backward “striking” movement.

The Heel-Step and Step-Heel

The first traveling step, this movement mimics walking forward and backward respectively:

  1. For the heel-step, step forward by bringing the heel down first, then the ball of the foot.
    1. Make sure the ankle is flexed prominently to start, so you can bring the ball of the foot down hard enough to make two distinct sounds.
    2. You can also reverse this by bringing down the ball of the foot first, then the heel.
  2. For the step-heel, step backwards on the ball of the foot, then drop the heel, again producing two taps per step.
  3. Practice both the forward and backward movements, taking eight steps in each direction.
  4. Try adding brushes on the forward step, and strikes on the backward steps, to produce three taps per step.

Parting Tips (Advanced):

  1. Be conscious of the strength of your taps. Try varying them to match accents in the music.
  2. Most new tappers make the mistake of tapping too quickly – counter this by tapping slightly behind the beat.
  3. It’s worth repeating: START SLOWLY. Speed doesn’t hide your mistakes; it just pushes them closer together.
  4. Practice looking outward at an imaginary audience, not down at your feet. Engaging your future fans can be almost as important as the dance itself.

Sources:

How to Perform a Tap Step Heel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9gi2eQQfcQ)

https://www.performingdancearts.ca/blog/tips-learn-tap-dance-beginners/

https://www.tapdanceman.com/5-common-mistakes-tap-dancers-make-how-you-can-avoid-them/

Tap Dancing : Tap Dance: Ball Change (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hi0wkLqPGR0)

About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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