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Jazz Tap Dancing

By: Sarah Chamberlain - Updated: 8 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Jazz Tap Percussion Beat Music Improvise

Jazz Tap is a popular dance form with a rich history. Originally an improvisational dance, jazz tap dancers perform rhythmical steps to jazz music, tapping out to the beat of the music to produce a percussive sound. Popular jazz tap dancers like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly have made the dance form famous internationally, however an early version of the style begun in the late eighteen hundreds among African American slaves. Over time, jazz tap has developed into the popular dance style we know today.

Then and Now

Tap began as an expression of Jazz music, with emphasis on the sound produced by the dancers. As Jazz itself is an improvisational musical style, based around a central theme, jazz tap started out as an ad-lib style. It was therefore highly entertaining, as the audience never knew what was coming next. Dancers would capture the audience’s attention by moving the legs and feet at great speed to intricate beats, and give the impression of almost falling over themselves, or tripping up, before skilfully saving themselves and continuing the dance. They developed a close relationship with the band, feeding off the rhythm they created and anticipating the beat. The band would often take their cue from the tap dancer, collaborating to produce the most interesting sound possible. Today, Jazz is often choreographed into spectacular routines, incorporating elaborate arm gestures and acrobatics to create a more exciting visual display. Tap sounds are either amplified to be heard over the music, or performed to no music for dramatic effect and to emphasise the purity of the sound.

Tap Shoes
It is said that the early tap dancers used wooden shoes, like Dutch clogs, to create a sound when they danced, before they thought up the notion of attaching metal plates to the soles of leather shoes. Now, tap shoes can be custom made, and are available off the shelf at specialist stores, and although they have developed into a modern style, the original notion of the tap shoe hasn’t changed greatly. Traditional tap shoes aren’t the only type of shoe that can be worn; in fact almost any shoe with a heavy sole can be incorporated into a tap routine. In recent times, west end shows like Stomp, and films such as Boot Men have encouraged a tap resurgence, as an edgy, improvisational dance style, focussing on rhythm and percussive sound.

Here are a few popular jazz tap steps:
  • Walk or step- The smallest unit of movement made with the foot - a normal step as when walking.
  • Step-heel- A step taken with the ball of the foot coming down first, then the heel, making two distinct sounds.
  • Heel-step- A step-heel in reverse.
  • Stamp- The foot is placed upon the floor rapidly, with the heel and the ball of the foot striking the ground simultaneously.
  • Ball-change- This is a pair of steps, taking a step backwards and then one forwards.
  • Hop- A jump done on one foot, landing on that same foot.
  • Spring- Similar to a hop, but landing on the other foot from which you hopped.
  • Drop- Similar to a spring, but onto a flattened foot, with the knee well bent.
  • Brush- The leg is swung forwards and/or backwards, the tap on the ball of the foot striking the floor in a sweeping motion.
  • Straight Tap- The ball of the foot strikes the ground in front of you. .
  • Toe Tap- The front of the ball area strikes the ground, generally behind you.
  • Heel- This is where the heel is brought down upon the floor.
  • Shuffle (straight)- A quick forwards and backwards movement just in front of you.
  • Side shuffle- As with a straight shuffle, but taken beside you.
  • Back shuffle- A shuffle done with the foot behind you, with the thigh pressed back, and the foot slightly toed out.
  • Cramp roll- At its most basic level this is a jump into the air, landing on the ball of one foot, then the ball of the other foot, then one heel and then the other, in an even rhythm.
  • Wing- This is quite advanced, and should be approached with care! It is a movement to the side, where the foot is dragged out to the side and brought back in towards the body, with the ball of the foot striking the ground as it comes back.
Jazz tap is a fun form of dance that develops coordination and rhythm. With a few basic steps, anyone with a sense of musicality can enjoy it. It is all about improvising with dance and sound, so get on those shoes and tap!

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