So much of the time as dancers we get caught up in doing the hardest steps we can think of, or putting in more tricks like leaps and turns to fill out are routines. In doing this it is easy to forget the basics and disregard steps we learnt as a beginner, but many of these movements and motions fit develop and help with the technique of other steps. The plié in ballet is something dancers of all ages are taught and it feeds into almost all jumps and preparations. This week I wanted to share a different style, tap, and within this post I wanted to speak about the movement of the tap step.
The tap step, as the name suggests, is a step on the ball of the foot, where the toe tap taps the floor before the foot in stepped onto. This creates a step that creates two sounds, as it travels in any direction. The most basic is to travel the step forwards as the momentum of the tap will help with foot placement.
To start the movement, have your weight on the balls of your feet with the heels slightly lifted. From here, lift one foot from the ground and brush it forwards in a circular motions allowing the toe tap to hit the floor before lifting off the floor again. Once this has been completed step onto the ball of the foot that you just brushed forwards, transferring the weight onto it. Now you’re able to repeat these steps on the other foot.
One tricky part in doing this step is that it is very easily to confuse the step with others that start in the same way. The most common is that children will go straight into a tap spring, preferring to tap the foot and then jump onto it, instead of stepping onto it and keeping the move grounded. The two moves are highly similar but produce different sounds and looks to a tap routine. Tap springs are often used to create a section of characterisation that looks cutesy as the motion is similar to heel flick runs. Learning to keep the feet grounded within tap also opens dancers up to different styles and types of tap, as it allows an easier transfer of weight from one foot to the other.
Another is getting the length of the step correct. This is very dependant on music and the teacher’s preference. I prefer to teach students to barely move, instead keeping it mostly under themselves, as it I find it’s easier to get students to make the step longer than it is to make it smaller. When student’s begin to learn the step keeping it small and underneath themselves makes the step more versatile and allows the student to perform the step to various different tempos. However, when a student does a large tap step, they find it tricky to speed it up, and sometimes become stuck and don’t know how to repeat the movement on the other side, having to then move twice as far with the second foot to stop it looking uneven. The large step causes students to keep the weight on both feet, increasing the struggle to repeat the movement on the second foot.
Another problems students find with this movement is the tap itself. In the beginning many students with forget to brush the foot all the way, simply brushing it forwards as an elongated step. Instead of it being two distinct motions, the brush to create the tap sound and the step to create another sound. In this instance, it’s best to think about the movement you make when you trip over something on the floor. The foot hits the object and then, usually, lifts a little before you try stepping on it again. This slight lift of the foot straight after striking the floor creates the two sounds of the tap step. Another useful image to think of is that when you first brush the foot forwards a piece of chewing gum attaches to the tip of the shoe and so to get to where you want to you need to stretch it off the floor and then place it back down in the position you want to.
The last tricky obstacle to this movement is another artistic preference in terms of the actual sounds that are produced. Some children like to really step the tap into the floor, whereas others will gently brush it against the floor. These two variations create two different sounds, one a heavy and one a light sounding tap step, which are both valid ways doing a tap step. Finding the variation that goes best with the exercise or routine and teaching children about the way the affect the sounds can be tricky. But it is helpful to later explorations of tap when accented counts and emphasis come in. I tend to try and get students to learn the movement in a neutral way to begin with, a nice medium that allows them to clearly hear the sounds, but isn’t too loud or heavy to distort the feel of the routine.
The best way to learn this step is through practise and continued reminders about the key points. This will ensure students don’t begin to put the different sounds together create a sound that’s more like a scuff than a tap step. This step builds it’s way into further movements, like the previously mentioned tap springs, as well as tap step ball change. The principles of the movement also help with wing preparation as the ankles more flexible and the students develop strength in their legs.
If these tips have helped you be sure to share and follow me on social media for more hints and tips. As always if there are any moves you want tips with be sure to let me know!