Advice for a novice tap student
April 10, 2015 6:51 PM   Subscribe

I am learning to tap dance as an adult. I am in the Boston area. I need advice.

I took tap for a year as a four-year-old, and I've taken a few scattered classes throughout my adulthood, but only now have decided to commit to learning. I've been attempting the tap lessons on the Mahalo app, but the instructor moved too quickly, I had a hard time seeing what she was doing, and I decided with a few of the routines that I'd rather work with an instructor than potentially hurt myself trying to reproduce some of the steps.

After some trial and error, I found one class that fit my schedule, budget, and aesthetic sensibilities* on Thursday nights in Central Square. It's billed as a beginner class, but most of my fellow students have a tap background from their childhood. She moved kind of fast on a few of the steps and combinations, and I think she assumed that the students had a more extensive dance background. I'm going to give it another shot, but the class highlighted two problems I'm having with learning to tap: I'm struggling with how fast I can go, and I'm also having trouble balancing on the balls of my feet for extended periods of time.

* = I got turned off in some classes by the mix of tap and hip-hop or tap and Zumba (!!!), as well as the use of contemporary music. I like Daft Punk as much as the next hipster, but I was hoping to learn more traditional 1940s tap and hear more big band in the classes. Not sure if "Zumba Tap" is a thing, but...yeah.

The instructor recommended that I do the warmups between classes, and has emailed those to me. Obviously, practicing between classes will help me get used to the steps, but is there a way I can feel more comfortable with balancing on the balls of my feet?

Also, is there such a thing as an elementary tap class for adults that might move at a slower pace? I've only been able to find beginner classes, and that's been tough.

My background: mid/late 30s, mild/moderately active (I walk 2-4 miles a day), have taken ballet/modern classes as an adult and go blues dancing once a week. If this helps any, I'm looking for classes on the Red Line -- Cambridge/Somerville area and possibly in the Columbia Point/UMass Boston area on weekday evenings.
posted by pxe2000 to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I took Tap for the first time last year, and I am in my 40s. I also signed up for an adult beginner's class, but several of the others did have some tap background. I almost quit after the first class. I couldn't balance, and I couldn't figure out how to shift my weight quickly. It was discouraging! In fact, I waited after that first class and asked the instructor about it, and didn't feel like the advice was very helpful. (I think he said to make sure to lean forward a little. Maybe I hadn't explained my problem very well.)

But I stuck with it and was surprised by the improvement of a couple weeks. I did practice every night for the first couple weeks, and I got a little electric metronome. I think if you stick with it a few weeks, you'll feel much more confident. I was lucky to have a small class though (4-8 people), maybe your class is too big?

Also, I loved watching the Cups dance by Christopher Rice. I've always been a Gene Kelly fan but I saw this video and signed up for class. :)
posted by Glinn at 7:14 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

If it makes you feel better, tap is just crazy hard to learn. I've taken every kind of dance and tap is so so impossible.

I'm mid-40s, in a basic class. My best advice is just to keep with it. For the first six months or so, I couldn't even remember what we did so I could practice at home. I kept at it and eventually just got better. Even after a year, it's a struggle. One that's getting easier every week.

But I love it with all my heart. And look up PegLeg Bates on YouTube- he is my spirit animal!
posted by crankyrogalsky at 7:15 PM on April 10, 2015

Adding another "keep at it", dance is something that comes over time. The Dance Complex is really the best option in the area. Looks like there's another tap instructor, try that class? Finding the balance for a new type of dance is subtle and not all teachers give the best corrections. Once you find it it'll be great! Take the most basic step and do a lot, make small adjustments to your middle, belly, shoulders while listening to the change of rhythm. Keep at it!
posted by sammyo at 8:20 PM on April 10, 2015

Stand on the balls of your feet while you're waiting for elevators and crosswalk lights, while you're bushing your teeth, any time you're just standing around. When you want to practice shuffle-steps slowly, do them while pushing a grocery cart, gives you something to hang on to.
posted by aimedwander at 10:38 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

If it makes you feel any better, on So You Think You Can Dance (at least back when I watched regularly), they don't do tap routines because it's too hard to teach in a short period of time.

I agree that you need to just practice a lot. As aimedwander said, practice standing on the balls of your feet. Practice shuffle step. All the time. Annoy your friends. You'll get the hang of it!
posted by radioamy at 12:04 PM on April 11, 2015

The thing about the Dance Compex (and most adult classes, really), is that people are coming into the classes with wildly varying backgrounds. There are tons of drop in students who don't turn into regular students, so the teachers are often not giving a lot of corrections or breaking down steps into fundamentals. Some of your fellow students may have been in that class for months, so it would be unfair to them to spend a lot of time on basics. Which is really frustrating when you're the beginner! I recommend that you keep trying for two months and practice in between, then assess.

Regarding the balls of your feet thing, can you explain more? If you've been doing ballet, I would think it wouldn't be that different. (Says me, who hasn't seriously done tap for twenty years)
posted by chocotaco at 1:10 PM on April 11, 2015

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