Dance Combo 2: Learn a fun combination to Man with a Hex

Hey y’all! I’m back with another dance combo. This is 8 8-counts from another piece I did at Texas A&M to The Atomic Fireballs’ “Man with a Hex.” It’s fast and jazzy and a another great song for a tap dance! After my video, I also attached the YouTube video to the music as well. My combo starts around 1:32 at the instrumental break after the chorus. Hope y’all enjoy!

Dance Combo 1: Can You Do This?

It’s time for some dance combos! So this is 5 8-counts from my piece I did at Texas A&M to Aloe Blacc’s “Can You Do This?” It’s a lot of fun and a really good song for a tap dance! After my video, I also attached the YouTube video to the music as well. My combo starts around 0:24 seconds. Hope y’all enjoy!

How to Warm-Up those Tappin’ Feet: Video of my warm-up combo

Hey y’all! So check out my video of my warm-up combo that I begin my tap classes with! All you need is some songs with a good beat. For this video I used Uptown Funk and Timber. My warm-ups are typically 5-15 minutes depending on how long I’ve been with a certain groups of students and time of year. (For example in the fall it would be longer, but by competition season it shortens so we can work on our dance!) This combo is very repetitive because I don’t teach it but let the students learn how to catch on by watching, which I think is a very important skill to learn. Warm-ups are personal and all about getting your body ready for an intense tap class. As the year goes by and your students learn more steps, you can start letting them lead the warm-up each week. So check out this video and let me know if you have any questions at all!

“I Can’t Do It Alone:” Choreography is a group effort with your dancers!

Hey y’all! I was finally able to find a recording of one of my choreography pieces and I’m so excited to share it with you! First I want everyone to watch the video below. What Savion Glover and George Wolfe discuss is exactly how I thought and worked with my dancers to create every tap number I ever choreographed. I love how Wolfe says that “tension is the worst thing you can bring into the room” and the importance of mess to “create something something wonderful.” You definitely have to feel the room and work with the dancers you have to create something that works for everyone and by having a fun, production atmosphere, you can end up with an even better dance number than you originally planned!

Now check out one of my first choreography pieces, “I Can’t Do It Alone” from Chicago the Musical. It’s a mix of musical theater and tap and was a way for me to branch out from just pure tap dances. After this, I even expanded to doing jazz and musical theatre pieces without tap. While tap will always remain my main passion and joy, I did get more dancers to audition for the jazz/musical theater pieces just because more dancers do this style. Hope you enjoy this! And then because like any art form, tap choreograph can always be worked on longer and keep improving in my opinion, check out the attached podcast to listen to my thought process and analyze of this dance!

Let’s Talk Choreography! What to consider when creating a great tap dance

With recital season coming up, let’s talk about choreography and all those elements that make up a great dance!

The most important part of choreography is song choice. Obviously there are many parts to this– your interest in the song, a good beat, what style are you going to do (musical theatre, pop, rock,etc), does it fit your dancers’ personalities? And so much more…

Next you need to consider your concept. This goes in hand with the song. You need to decide what the audience will see and what you want them to get out of watching this dance. While many dances can have very deep meanings (such as many on So You Think You Can Dance dedicated to addiction or cancer, check out the videos below), never underestimate the power of just a fun entertaining piece as well. Try variety when you choreograph.

Now when creating the movement of your dance, there needs to be variety and parts. An entire dance of all the dancers doing the same moves becomes boring. Try using small groups and building up the number of dancers on the stage or vice versa. The use of movement around the stage can be very important as well. Too many tap dances are very stagnant where the dancers stay in the same V formation for example. The whole stage needs to be used (up, down, left, and right) and dancers should never stay in the exact same spot for the entirety of the dance. I know this is something that many competitions consider when judging dances.

Side Note: My biggest pet peeve in tap dances is when dancers have their hands behind their back for the entire dance. I totally understand the appeal of this. It makes cleaning the dance simpler, but its boring and elementary. It can make an impact if used in the right way to emphasize the feet. However, don’t over use it as seen at way too many dance competitions. I’ve been sort on time before and used it in parts of my dance (but never the whole thing). If you have the time, work with your dancers to establish natural arms for all of them that work as a unit. It will make the dance more natural and free flowing, and entertaining for the audience.

Check out some more in depth choreography conversation below.

While not tap dances, these pieces are perfect examples of telling stories and giving meaning to your dances. Here are 2 dances dedicated to cancer from So You Think You Can Dance. They still give me chills years later because they are so powerful and meaningful!

This one is probably my favorite and it’s about addiction. These dances just show the power of dance and so many people can relate to them!

Celebrate Women’s Day with Women Tappers

On this Women’s Day, I want to talk about the ladies of the classical movie musical era: Ann Miller, Ginger Rogers, Eleanor Powell, Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Vera-Ellen, Ann-Margaret, and many more  (expect some posts devoted to them alone later) that are often overshadowed by their male counterparts such as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. While many people associate Ginger Rogers with Fred Astaire, the truth is that while his career was long, Ginger Rogers and other partners he danced with were constantly being replaced with younger models…. Maybe this is the reason that if asked for a favorite tap dancer? the answer is usually a male. Their careers tended to last longer and they were seen as distinguished as they grew older, unlike women who end up just old; a sad fact about our culture and one that is hopefully going away.

For Women’s Day, I want to acknowledge these women whose careers were hidden behind the men and need more recognition. I know growing up I lacked a female tap dancer’s influence. There were only two I had ever watched, Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen, actually tapping (since they usually did other styles and the men did the tapping), and while I enjoyed their performances and wanted more, it was very difficult to find. YouTube has helped, but the fact remains that for the golden age of movie musicals, the men’s careers were longer and thus helped them to be remembered as legends of musicals.

Even as much as it pains me (because I love watching him), Gene Kelly stated “I think dancing is a man’s game and if he does it well he does it better than a woman.” He did an episode on Omnibus in 1958 titled Dancing is a Man’s Game, where he showed the athleticism involved in dance and performed with various athletes such as Edward Villella, Dick Button, Mickey Mantel, Sugar Ray Robinson and Johnny Unitas. Again, this shows a change in culture since many athletes would not be caught dancing these days (though I love those who do Dancing with the Stars).

do find it funny how dance is seen as a woman’s game in most genres, but tap and hip-hop seem to possess some masculinity that allow men to enjoy it without ridicule as well these days (as compared to Ballet), but seem to have created a barrier for women to succeed in these styles as well. Recently, the Syncopated Ladies created by Chloe Arnold have brought tap dance to the media and feature a full female tap group! I love this group and they have so many fantastic videos for you to watch on their YouTube channel. I choose the link below in honor of Women’s Day, but please check out more!

Here’s a taste of Girl Power Tap Dancing to celebrate Women’s Day!

And in case you still want more, here is one of my favorite numbers in memory of an amazing legend! A tribute to Prince by the Syncopated Ladies.

Now check out my first podcast where I talk about all things tap with an emphasis on Women’s Day!

Interview with Lisa, a College Student

Hey y’all! I also was able to Q&A a local college student, Lisa Smith, about her feelings and thoughts about tap. She attends Texas A&M University and is majoring in dance. Check it out!

What are your feelings about tap? What do you like about it?

I love tap dancing. There is a freedom about it that is invigorating. It is a matching of sounds like a drummer. A tapper strives to copy or compliment the beat within the music. As your skills improve, you can achieve a feeling of flying across the dance floor in a flurry of motion exhibiting great joy and passion!

What made you start tap? Why did you stick with it?

I started tap as part of a combination class for ballet and tap, really wanting to take ballet. But once I had those tiny tap shoes on my feet and heard the different, fun  noises I could make with the various movements of my feet, I was hooked! It was so much fun and just made me happy! I had to learn more and the more complicated and more sounds I could achieve, the better I liked it.

Personally, what do you believe the appeal of tap as a dance style is as compared to other styles?

I think the greatest appeal of tap is anyone can do it from very young to old, male to female, and novice to advanced, and you can dance it! The simplest of steps when presented in the right manner can look and sound impressive. Also, there does not seem to be the gender gap that seems to plague so many other art forms like Ballet. Male tap dancing is acceptable (similar to Hip-Hop) and even considered preferable by some. Most of the famous tappers I could name of the top of my head are all male.

Do you feel that tap is under stated in the dance market? Why or why not?

Tap definitely gets overlooked in the dance world. Many times at dance competition there would be little to almost no tap solos, duet, trios or even group dances. Good tappers make it look easy thus making it seem to not be as physically and mentally challenging as other forms of dance. Those who tap know what a lie that truly is! In tap dancing, your feet never stop moving. Your feet are generally moving at a fast pace and yet your arms are moving in a slow, fluid movement. Think of rubbing your stomach and tapping your head at the same time…. not everyone can do that. Tap is basically the same concept. Now add in the clicking of your heels, toes, shuffles, spins, leaps, and traveling across the dance floor and you have an exciting, mentally and physically challenging dance to match any other form of dance.

Many universities do not have tap classes in their dance programs. Why do you think tap is missing from various college dance programs?

Lack of interest and lack of instructors could be why universities don’t offer more tap classes, especially at advanced levels. Until recently, tap was not as featured on Broadway or other form of entertainment. I hope this will change and I wish I had been able to take some advanced tap classes here in college.

Interview with Marisa, a Studio Owner

Hey y’all! Check out this interview with Marisa Mailhes who owns the Red Door Dance Academy in Wylie, Tx. She has danced for many years in all styles, starred as Hannah on Barney and Friends the TV show, and majored in Dance at Texas A&M University. I was able to ask her some questions about tap.

What are your feelings about tap? What do you like about it?

I have always liked that tap is very mentally challenging as well as physical. The difficulty of the intricate patterns and combinations that can come with tap are such a fun challenge to me. As a kid I was very mathematically inclined and math and tap go hand in hand. I like the added layer of rhythm that comes with tap. It’s not just about what you look like when you are dancing, but also what you sound like.

What made you start tap? Why did you stick with it?

Honestly, I started tap because I told my parents I wanted to dance and the local dance studio they took me to (which became my home away from home as I got older and dance became my main activity outside of school) offered combo classes with tap and ballet. I don’t think I knew much about tap (or anything since I was four years old when I started!), but once I started, I loved it! I stuck with it because once I started I was hooked and progressing every year opened up a new array of more advanced steps and tap vocabulary to continue building on what I already knew.

Personally, what do you believe the appeal of tap as a dance style is as compared to other styles?

It does tend to be a dance style that is more about your feet and less about the rest of your body. (Don’t get me wrong- you definitely still need to be in great shape and you use your whole body, but the majority of the difficulty happens from the ankle down). I think some dancers love this about tap and some don’t. The musicality that comes with tap is very appealing and for kids the fact that you get to “make lots of noise” is always fun!

Do you feel that tap is under stated in the dance market? Why or why not? 

It depends on where you are and what area of the market you are looking at, but for the most part I do think tap is lagging a bit behind most other dance styles (at least today). Tap is almost its own little niche. It seems that studios, conventions and workshops are either tap enthusiasts and live and breathe tap or they don’t care about tap at all. Its like an all or nothing dance style.

How does the popularity of tap compare to other styles at your studio? Do you try to persuade students to take tap? If so how?

 We have built a strong tap program at our studio so it is just as strong as most other styles. We do encourage students to take tap. We do this by offering combo classes for the younger kids- meaning if they want to take ballet they have to also take tap. I believe they go hand in hand and learning one really helps you with the other. So even if a dancer doesn’t particularly love tap or want to progress with it, they will gain great skills from it that will help with all their other dancing. As for our competition dancers, they have to take tap whether they like it or not. As stated before I believe students need to be well rounded and can gain so many positive things from tap that will only improve the rest of their dancing. We also want to help keep tap alive and the only way to do that is to instill a love of tap in dancers from a young age and keep it progressing and advancing so it continues to be fun as they get older.

According to some news reports, the release of La La Land has increased the attendance in and popularity of tap classes. Have you noticed this at your studio or expect to see this? 

We have not noticed this yet, but I think the media does greatly impact interest level in dance overall. I think if La La Land were going to increase attendance in tap dancing, it would be a slow increase and we might not see it until next year. We have definitely seen and heard more interest in dance overall since the popularity of So You Think You Can Dance has grown so I would only expect La La Land to also have a positive impact, specifically on tap.

Why do you believe some studios do not include tap as an available style for classes?

As a studio owner, I have found that advanced tap teachers are hard to come by. Luckily I have been able to teach most of the advanced tap and train our current teachers at our studio until I was able to find other qualified advanced tap teachers, but I know not all studio owners are tappers. I think tap tends to be looked at as a “specialized” style of dance and so it is just not the focus. If you can’t fill all your classes or don’t have enough teachers to cover everything, tap might be the first thing to go for some studios. I think this is another reason why it is so important for us to keep tap alive and teach as many kids as we can all that tap has to offer and show them that it is also a fun dance style just like jazz, ballet and contemporary. We have to make sure there are enough tap teachers in the future to carry on the style and carry it on with proper technique.

Read more about her at this link for her studio http://dancereddoor.com/about-us/staff/

My Beginning!: Tap’s Influence in My Life

My journey probably started the same as for many of you… by your parents signing you up for a combo ballet/tap class at your local studio. However, what expanded and enhanced my love for tap was my devotion to classic musicals! My all time favorite is Singin’ in the Rain (RIP Debbie Reynolds). I watch this movie when I’m happy, sad, sick, or anytime honestly. This was my first exposure to Gene Kelly, who quickly became my favorite tap dancer. His mix of athleticism and grace was mesmerizing. This movie quickly became an anthem for my life. I even used Singin’ in the Rain to decorate my graduation cap because what is more glorious than graduating after 4 years of hard work at my favorite university! And yes that is real rain on my cap… it rained once our ceremony let out, so I might not have been singing the rain (since I’m not a singer haha) but I was definitely dancing in the rain!

Graduation Cap 2016

From my discovery of musicals, I embraced this passion many times within my own development as a tapper. Many of my competitive solos were to songs such as “Forget About the Boy” from Thoroughly Modern Millie and “With Plenty of Money” from 42nd Street. Beyond just my enjoyment of tap dance, I expanded my skills to include choreography and found that I loved using tap dance to tell stories to the audience. Throughout this blog, I hope to share my love of tap with posts about dance steps, combos, music choices, and even some history on this fantastic style!