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Prepping the Kids or Preventing Mutiny

So from time to time I do some out of the ordinary things in my tap class. I may do a completely different class structure, I may use some really strange music, or I might try a whole new style (just did that the other day).

In the past when I've done these things I've noticed you can VERY quickly lose your class for any number of reasons. "What is that weird music?" you might hear or "Why are we doing this?" with that wonderful teenage tone:) In short whenever you deviate from the norm, it throws students off. Big time! And in general they don't like it. Unless it's tap games week, but other than that they are not fans of sudden change (most people fall into that category).

What I have found though, that largely mitigates this opposition to change is to simply talk to the kids at the beginning of the class and give them a heads up. If I'm using strange music, I will literally say straight up "I'm going to use some really strange music…

The Human Brain is Built to Mimic or I Talk Too Much

I just had one of the most successful in-class sessions of my entire teaching career. Why? What did I do differently this time?

I shut my mouth!

Before I get into the details let me give some quick background:

We were working on Waltz Clog Pullbacks. I have explained to the class before how to do these and the kids have had mixed levels of success with them (some get them, many don't). Usually I will explain how to do it and then give them all time to work on it while I go around giving individuals pointers to help them get it. The results of this are usually some slight improvement.

This time I did it differently. I had a contest with the kids based on them mimicking me. Basically I did a waltz clog pullback then counted them in and they all did one together. If they all do it right (for the most part) and most importantly if their sounds are all together, they get a point. If their sounds are almost all together it's a tie, and if their sounds aren't together I get a poin…

I'm Doing It Wrong Again or Reality is Unforgiving

Okay so in my last post I wrote about new warm-up:

I have all the kids get into a line.  Then I teach them a short simple pattern - step heel, step heel, step heel, stamp.  All the kids do it together first, then the first kid in line does it solo.  Then all the kids do it together again, after which the second kid in line does it solo.  And we continue to alternate from group to solo until we get through the entire line.  If I think the kids still need more work on the pattern we go through the line again

This simply doesn't work long term for warm-up. Why? Because we cover at most 4 patterns (at most). There are simply too many steps to cover that we will never get to. Also this usually takes a while so it becomes a mix of warm-up and technique. The net result is that the number of steps the kids actually do in a class is greatly reduced. Yes they are getting to really hear their own feet and yes that's helping to make their steps sound better, but too many steps simply don…

25 Years of Doing it Wrong or I'm Still Learning

After 25 years of teaching tap dance I think I've been doing warm-ups wrong the entire time.  Granted there is no official right or wrong way to do warm-ups, but I measure their success by how well my students can execute the steps we do in warm-up each week.

Before we go on I want to share my thoughts on the purpose of a warm-up.  In most cases I don't think it's really about "getting warm" or "warming up the muscles".  At least not for the young kids I teach who can break out into a full-on run with no preparation whatsoever, or who can drop into the splits without first stretching for a few minutes.  I'm a little older so for me it does serve a bit of the "warm up the muscles" before we torture them purpose.  But the kids I teach are good to go.  So why do it?

I do it for 2 reasons:

1.  Reinforce basic steps.  There is no substitute for repetition.  If you do 100 step heels a week I promise your step heels will sound infinitely better …

Partner Week or Two is Better Than One

In my never-ending quest keep class interesting, for both me and my students, I tried something new a couple of weeks ago.  We had partner week.

For warm up I pulled a student up in the front of class to be my partner (if there was an extra one to be had - an even number of students meant I was on my own).  We did a simple pattern like 4 toes together then I did two stamps and then my partner did two stamps.  The fun and interesting part is that it was all done on the fly.  I didn't go through which partner would do what part ahead of time other than some general guidelines:

1.  Sometimes you and your partner will tap together and then do separate parts (like I explained above).

2.  Sometimes you and your partner will do separate parts first and then tap together (I do step heel stamp, my partner does step heel stamp, and then together we do three step heels and a stamp).

3.  When reverse a pattern or switching to the left foot, the partner on the left (this was not me) would go…

The Big Jump or HOLY COW!

Every so often you see a student for whom everything suddenly clicks and like a rocket they take off to unbelievable heights.  I had the fortune of recently seeing this in not one, but two students at the same time. Often when a tapper reaches the top of the class I recommend they straddle classes by continuing to take the current class and also taking a class that's the next level up.

The straddlers typical have a hard time in the harder class but are usually ready for the challenge.  What I almost never see is a straddler who takes the harder class and just eats it up straight away.  I recently had two tappers do just that.  For one of the tappers I could see this coming - she's been tapping well and has been very focused in class.  The other one has always been a good student but her amazing jump came out of nowhere for me.

And Man is it EXCITING!  It's so fun to see kids suddenly make a huge jump forward like this.  As tap teachers we struggle week in and week out t…

Summer Format or Tech Ketchup

So basically from late January through June/July I have ben working on recital routines in my classes.  I did take a few weeks off here and there to work on technique but by and large I was working on routines.  Naturally when that happens I find the students (and my) technique suffers.  So as summer classes ramp up I have decided to focus almost exclusively on technique including omitting my longer combinations I usually do at the end of class.  I figured I'd share my summer class format with all of you:

First 10 minutes - Warm-up or as I call them "Drills".  I've never liked the term warm-ups for tap even though I use it.  As I get older it applies to me more and is more of a process of actually getting the body moving and warmed up but for most kids I teach - they come from other classes and are ready to go.  I prefer to call them drills because it is a chance in my view to drill steps they already know as well as easy steps and keep them strong.  We tend to thin…