There are so many dance styles to choose from — ballet, street dance, hip hop, jazz, ballroom dancing and more — but something about tap dancing just stands out from the rest. Is it the masters of tap, like Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson and Sandman Sims, who draw so many people in, or is it simply the idea of tappers having happy feet and gaining such joy out of this fun dance style?
In Australia, while tap-dancing had been famous for several decades, it was Dein Perry, tap dancer and creator/choreographer of 'Tap Dogs', who was responsible for bringing the fun of tap dance to all Australians - boys and girls, men and women, young and old.
Time to 'step tap step' your way over here and find out more about this rhythmical step dance.
What is Tap Dancing?
Tap dance is a contemporary dance style in which the dancer wears tap shoes — special shoes usually made of leather fitted with taps on the heels and toes to create a rhythmic noise when touching the floor.
The style of dancing originated 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 dance styles.
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.
This simple change to the leather tap shoe 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.
The discipline continued to evolve and to captivate audiences 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.
Tap Dancing Stars Over the Years
There have been a few tap dancers over the years that have truly stolen the hearts of their audiences and have remained a major part of dance culture, even as the style has become less famous over the years.
They've inspired men and women across the world to begin adult tap classes. If you want to know about the amazing tap stars who came before, here's a handy list to get you started on your search:
- Bill Robinson: Better known by his nickname 'Mr Bojangles', Bill Robinson brought a lightness and swing not only to tap dancing but also to the worlds of vaudeville, Broadway and even the recording industry. He danced alongside stars like Shirley Temple and was widely celebrated as being one of the greatest of his time.
- John William Sublett: One half of the famous duo Buck and Bubbles, John William Sublett is recognised as the father of his own style, rhythm tap, which is still famous today. This style focuses much more on the sounds of the foot striking the ground, rather than the aesthetic style of other tappers at the time with their more fluid, ballet-like movements.
- Gene Kelly: You can't make a list of the top tap dancers without including the great Gene Kelly! Best known for his incredible moves in classics like Singin' in the Rain and Hello Dolly, Kelly was long celebrated (and still is) for his energetic style and the contributions he made to dance and musicals in film.
- Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: This superfamous duo were not only skilled in the art of tap but had chemistry and charisma, which audiences across the world adored. They made a total of 10 films together, the majority of which were extremely successful and their most famous, Swing Time, features what many critics hail as some of the best dance sequences in the history of film.
- Gregory Hines: Although musical and dance films fell out of popularity in the 50s, there were still tap dancers around the world making names for themselves well into the second half of the 20th century. Possibly the most famous of these was Gregory Hines, who is celebrated as being one of the greatest tap dancers of all time. He was featured in films and on Broadway, and his original style influenced the next generation of top tap dancers.
- Savion Glover: Glover was the wunderkind of the tap world, making his Broadway debut when he was just 11 years old. He describes his own contemporary dance tap style as 'young and funk' and says he wants to rekindle the love that audiences in the past had for the genre. He was a close student and friend of Gregory Hines, who referred to him as "possibly the best tap dancer that ever lived."
- Chloe Arnold: Last but certainly not least on our list is Chloe Arnold, the tap phenomenon who is also a choreographer, actress, director and producer. She is known for her stunning tributes on YouTube and has truly brought the skills and beauty of tap dancing into the 21st century, especially with her women's dancing company, the Syncopated Ladies.
Now that you know their names, you can check out each of these superstars of the genre. Despite being from completely different eras and having different styles and skills, each one is sure to inspire you in his or her own way and can definitely get you excited to begin your own tap dancing journey!
The Benefits of Tap Dancing
The physical benefits of dancing are very clear and include:
- improved cardiovascular function and aerobic fitness
- increased muscle tone, strength and endurance
- reduced risk of osteoporosis
- weight management
- improved balance and flexibility.
While any physical advantages we can gain from exercise, including tap dancing, are of extreme importance, we should not discount the strong mental health benefits of any exercise — particularly one that is more social in nature and has the added benefit of music.
Memory: exercise increases the activity of brain chemicals that encourage nerve cell growth and, combined with the need to remember different sequences, helps boost your memory, long term and short term.
Also, because dancing stimulates multiple brain functions, including kinesthetic, emotional and musical, your neural activity increases thereby reducing the risk of Alzheimer's.
Stress reduction and management: dancing requires you to be fully in the moment, with your focus centred on your close surroundings and the music. Being around like-minded people and doing something you love restricts cortisol production (the stress hormone) thereby lowering your stress levels.
Stress reduction also leads to increased physical benefits and better disease management.
Help manage depression: dancing can be a marvellous way to channel your emotions and provide an opportunity to express yourself without the use of words. Over a long time, it can also help increase self-esteem and confidence, allowing treatment of depression to be more effective.
Social confidence: at first, learning all the steps and sequences may seem overwhelming. However, a good dancing instructor can guide you in a positive way, working on building your confidence and allowing you to focus on enjoyment rather than being absolutely correct and precise.
For shy people or those who are new to an area, connecting with others who have similar interests can be a great way to make new close friends — further building your confidence.
Boost endorphins: endorphin production gives you that euphoric 'rush' and sense of happiness, wellbeing and calm.
There are many natural ways to encourage endorphin release and exercise (i.e. tap dancing) and movement or performance are just two of them. Endorphins are essential in helping you manage pain and stress.
A few tips before you start your tap dancing lessons
No matter whether you're doing ballet, Salsa dancing, jazz or any other style, it's important to remember that you're going to be getting a good workout, but also that we need to be careful to avoid injury.
Tap dancing take extremely high amounts of energy and a full-body workout. In order to make sure you receive the full health benefits from your tap dancing lessons, it may be prudent to follow a few pre-class top tips, to help prevent injury or other issues arising. (You don't want something bad to cancel out all the good.)
Be kind to your body and know your limits — this includes warming up before you start, drinking plenty of water before, during and after the session, and cooling down and stretching at the end.
If you're a beginner, don't push yourself too hard at the start because overdoing it in your first few lessons is a guaranteed way to make sure you quit. Even if you're not a beginner, listen to your body at all times — if something hurts, or you're feeling fatigued ... stop.
Kit yourself out with the right gear — while you do not want to spend huge amounts of money at the outset, it is important to make sure you have the basics to ensure you stay warm and safe.
Clothing that allows you to move and breathe without being restrictive is essential, and layers are important — being too cold can cause injury, and overheating is just as damaging. Shoes that fit correctly and support your feet are essential.
Get the technique right — incorrect form is a fast-track to injury (and lack of enjoyment). It's okay to stand and watch new sequences before you try them, or to break them into manageable chunks. Listen to your instructor when they correct your form and, better still, ask them how you can improve your form and technique.
Look after your body, be yourself, have fun — you're ready for tap dancing.
How to Start Tap Dancing: Tap Dancing for Beginners
Despite what you might think, tap dancing wasn't and isn't just reserved for films, Las Vegas stage shows and performances on Broadway.
In the same way that street dancing performances are very popular today, at their height, tap dancers could be seen doing their lively art form in the top nightclubs. Commonly, the venues would hire a dance production company to choreograph a tap sequence involving up to twenty dancers on stage.
These days, you can study the art of tap dancing in many locations. While you are less likely to see tap events like the above nowadays, you can certainly enrol in a private class or join a dance academy to learn about the art known as tap dancing.
One of the most important lessons before you start your tap dancing lessons is how the taps actually work. For this reason, it is vital that your dance instructor teaches you about the art, starting with the parts of the tap shoe, the difference between a toe and a toe tip and a ball tap. Without knowing about these fundamental elements, you'll only come away from your first class completed discouraged.
Here are a few things you should know before you walk through the entrance to your first tap class:
- Tap dancing requires great listening skills — you'll need to use your musicality to listen to the beats.
- The style is reliant on the ankle and lower leg, so you should inform your instructor if you have suffered a recent injury in that area.
- There's a significant vocabulary of tap terms that come with an interesting history.
- Many of the tap moves have multiple names, so try not to get confused.
- There are various types of music you might dance to in a tap class.
- Each teacher taps differently from another.
- You should dress casually, in comfortable clothing with no baggy fabric around the heels.
- You ideally need to invest in a good pair of tap shoes if you intend to continue. They can be black, white or tan and should definitely be made of quality leather.
Am I Too Old to Start Learning to Tap Dance?
It is a common misconception that tap dancing is only for young children, but while kids who attend kids lessons do improve very quickly, you can also get the hang of it quite rapidly too if you set your mind to it and pay close attention.
Boys and girls tend to have more energy and stamina and are often more flexible than men and women, but what adults have over them is a better ability to 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 adult dancers can just as easily mix them up. Along the same lines, some younger dancers may have all the enthusiasm but not enough coordination to successfully master sequences. 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.
Whatever your age, one thing all dancers of tap share in common is that they find the lessons fun.
Basic Tap Combinations
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 tap class, your teacher may 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 with your shoe 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'll learn is the 'shuffle', which uses the toes 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 toes on the hard ground before bringing it back to the starting position and tapping once again with your shoe in the same place on the way back.
Where To Find Beginners Tap Dance Classes Near Me
Tap Dancing Australia
Have you been thinking to yourself "where can I find tap dance lessons near me?" or even "how do I enrol in adult dancing lessons near me?"?
There are many places throughout Australia where you can learn tap dancing, whether you prefer a studio with face-to-face lessons, an informal evening course, or online lessons.
Dance Australia has a comprehensive listing of schools throughout Australia you can search through and, during 2020, bolstered their listing of online and virtual lessons, many including tap dancing. A few examples of great tap dancing schools include:
- Tap Dogs in Sydney
- Isabelle's Academy of Tap in Melbourne
- Shilleena's Dance Academy in Brisbane
- 6th Position in Canberra
- ETPAA in Adelaide
- Diamond Dance Studio in Hobart
- The WA Performance School in Perth
- Darwin Performance Academy in Darwin.
Tap classes are generally run by extremely passionate tap teachers, and you can expect variety, high energy and fun with every shuffle.
With the likes of Jazz tap classes, theatre tap classes, rhythm tap classes, performance tap lessons and modern tap classes to choose from, you will be spoilt for choice. Not to mention the fact that you're likely to find lessons almost every day of the week at a time and location, and for a cost that suits you and your family.
At some point, you and your tapper friends may even be asked to show off your choreographed modern dance with a performance or recital at a festival that celebrates its traditions.
There are opportunities to tap dance everywhere. Look for lessons at dance academies, community centres, community groups, evening colleges and with private tutors.
Check for dance lessons in Melbourne on Superprof.
Learn To Tap Dance From Anywhere
Many big academies will offer tap dancing lessons 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 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 them together into sequences.
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 lessons and someone who can physically show you where to place your feet during your routine.
The other great thing about learning to tap is that it can get you excited about other styles you can try. For rock n' roll dancing, click here! Or try pole dancing classes.