Posts

Showing posts from 2010

The Element of Surprise or "Awww man..."

In order to shake things up a little in class and make things a bit more interesting I tried something new this past week.  I had each student make up their own "step" which had to consist of 7 sounds with the counts 1 & 2 & 3 & 4.  Furthermore, it had to start on the right and end on the left and be repeatable.  Other than that they could do whatever they wanted with it and many did some really cool and creative things (after teaching over 20 years it's nice to see other people's creativity, especially students).  I gave them some time to work on it and get it down and helped a few kids that were stuck.  For those kids I simply tell them to make a sound, any sound.  If they stamp their feet (for instance), then I tell them to give me a number between 1-4.  If they pick 2, then I say "there's your first two sounds, stamp stamp, now make another sound and pick another number."  That usually gives them a start.

So once they get their "st…

The Right Combination or Making Easy Steps Seem Hard

So I've been in a "back to basics" mode this year trying to strengthen my students' basics skills like shuffles, buffalos, cramp rolls, etc.  In so doing I've found that if you manage to put some of these simple steps in just the right order your students will end being really challenged by them (depending on level of course).  For instance in one class I did buffalo shuffle ball change cramp roll flap ball change.  Sounds pretty easy.  But for some reason the brain wants to do a flap ball change after the buffalo not a shuffle ball change, especially on the 2nd or third repetition of the pattern (I do this across the floor).  I also like this because it allows the kids to practice differentiating shuffle step and flap.  Some kids never ever have a problem confusing the two but others never seem able to internalize the difference.  I have tried a couple of tricks like:

Flaps go Front, Shuffle go Side (usually) noting the letter F in flap and front and the letter …

Computers Rule the Future or I'll Be Obsolete

It's a bit cliche, but we often hear about computers someday taking over the world.  So how will they affect the world of tap dancing?  Well I hope to be leading that charge in a positive way.  I've been working with a software programmer for a while and if all goes well I may end up with a computer program than can "hear" a students feet and draw their sounds onto a video screen in the exact way they tapped them.  Thus showing them visually when a sound was missing, early, or late.  It's not a substitute for listening to their own feet, but I think it will help train their ears to be better able to pick out "off" sounds.  
That's step one of course.  Step 2 is the computer understanding what mistake they're making and then telling them how to fix it.  Truth be told, if I had the money to hire as many good programmers as I need I could make that software right now.  So mark my words that's coming down the pipeline.  
Now don't misunderstan…

First Day Back or Here We Go........

Today was my first day back for normal fall lessons.  Luckily for me it was only two hours which makes for a nice easing-back-into-things start to the new season.  The kids were were attentive, eager, and in good spirits and who doesn't love to teach to that?  These classes are at a studio I'm relatively new to (just started there about 2 months ago) so the kids are still learning my terminology.

I find the terminology a tough thing.  I tell the kids to learn and remember as many names to steps as they can because that way when they take from someone else they'll hopefully be prepared for their terminology.  However regardless of how hard I try to teach new students who have had other teachers my terminology, they tend to still revert back to the very first names they learned for steps.

Anyone got a solution to that?

Rod at http://www.unitedtaps.com

The Rise of Technology or There's Four of Me!

So yesterday I made an ambitious attempt to replicate myself 3 times through the magic of modern technology, and it worked!  Here's the story:

I was scheduled to teach a production number at one of the studios I work at and all the kids were coming at the same time (as opposed to splitting them into groups and working with one group at a time).  Well I didn't want 3/4 of the kids just sitting doing nothing while I worked with one of the subgroups within the production, so I replicated myself.  The night before I was scheduled to teach I video-taped myself teaching the choreography for three of the groups.  The next day I put three of the groups each in separate rooms with a tv and had them learn the choreography off of the video while I worked with the fourth group "live."  I did have an assistant overseeing my youngest group that was learning from video.  So how did it go?

Splendid!  Worked like a charm!  So in the amount of time it would have taken me to teach one …

The Joys of Being New or Enjoy it While it Lasts

So throughout my many years of teaching I've taught at many different dance studios.  Teaching at a new place can be exciting and slightly intimidating all at the same time.  One of the perks however is that for a brief moment in time you're the "new guy" and the kids are genuinely excited to take class from you and learn all the great things you have to teach.

Like all good things though, this soon comes to an end.  Not that the kids suddenly don't like your class anymore, it's just sort of like that new toy that was the coolest thing ever when you got it and then a few weeks later it's just another toy.

Nevertheless those first few weeks are a real joy and can really remind you why you got into teaching in the first place, or perhaps why you haven't left.

Have you had the same experience?

Rod Howell at http://www.unitedtaps.com

Set Warm Up? or When Does Autopilot Kick In?

So invariably at some point I usually do a set warm-up.  It has changed throughout the years and most recently it has taken the form of some prerecorded "tap-like" sounds making the right rhythms over top a nice back beat.  This way the kids can hear how the rhythm of a step is supposed to go and then "copy" it as they do the step.  Humans are natural born imitators so why not use that to our advantage?

So what's the downside?  Well, it depends.  Some kids get bored of repetition fast and others can handle a lot (unfortunately I can handle extreme amounts so my perspective is always skewed towards more).  There's no doubt that repetition has a place in tap training.  It's quite valuable to have the muscle memory to pull off a wide range of steps without having to think about it.  On the other hand, at some point their brains will shut down and they'll just go through the motions without really trying to make everything sound good.

So what I try to…

Kids Love Games or Water is Wet

So for one of the studios I teach at today was their last summer class.  On special occasions like that I have some fun tap games I like to play.

"What step am I?" - I split the class into 2 teams and one person from each team steps forward.  I begin describing myself as if I were a tap step (often using non-related tap descriptions) and the first person to figure out what step it is and do it gets a point for their team.  For instance I might say - "You might find me on an envelope." The first person to do a stamp gets a point for their team.

"Guess by sound" - I make all the kids turn away from me and close their eyes.  While their eyes are closed I do a step like Buffalo.  Then they all turn around and each student tells me what step they think I did based upon the sound of it.  If they guess correctly they remain in the game if they guess wrong they're out.  If everyone guesses wrong we do the step again.  Also, if some people are out and the res…

New Shoes or Am I Crazy?

I finally got my new Capezio K360 Pros from http://www.dancingfair.com/ all set up with taps and rubber.  They are apparently better made than the standard K360's as they are double soled and made in America.

Up until about 2001-2002 I used K360's exclusively, but I developed tendonitis in my ankles and frankly they just weren't that comfortable for tapping 5 or 6 hours in a row.  So I switched to the Capezio Tap Sneaker.  The taps on those were horrible.  They were so curved that only a tiny part of the tap (especially the heels) touched the floor at any given time which resulted in really quiet heel sounds.  But they were comfortable.  Mostly.  You see, they actually had NO arch support at all.  After many years in those I developed a toe problem on my left foot.  I though it might be the shoe so I made my own tap sneakers (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HEzaQYcw9g - the shoes are shown at about a minute into it).  They worked okay but the toe problem remained so I turn…

One at a Time? or How to Make Your Whole Class Bored

Tap teachers face an age old dilemma.  Check the students' feet one at a time or not?  Sure you can go in medium sized groups or even twos but with several kids tapping at once it can be challenging for me to hear the flaws and often even more so for students who haven't spent their entire life listening for them.  Tapping solo in class reveals everything and students are often surprised at what they hear.  The good news is that they get instant, clear feedback on the quality of their sounds in addition to my full and immediate attention telling them exactly what to fix and how to fix it.  The downside of course is that the rest of the class is left with no choice but to watch as the same step is attempted over and over.  Sure, for the first couple of kids everyone pays close attention to learn a thing or two, but by kid number 7 they're just plain bored.

And there's also the question of how long to spend on each kid.  If a student still hasn't gotten the step aft…

Community Combo or My Back Hurts

So my back was hurting during teaching tonight (it hasn't totally locked up yet, but it's getting close) so I tried something new for a combination.  I had the kids stand in a line and asked each one to give me a step. As each person gave me a step, we added it to the combination.  I kind of coordinated and clarified the rhythm as we went, but it worked out great and we ended up with a combination that was definitely different than anything I would have normally given them.  Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you.

Rod at http://www.unitedtaps.com

Tap into the Network or Combination Burnout

I had the pleasure of teaching a class at Gregg Russell's tap intensive called Tap into the Network.  I taught a combination to an Eminem song (it was the clean version I promise).  I was VERY excited and a bit nervous to teach it.  I had created it a week before specifically for this occasion, and I was really feeling it.

Sometimes as a tap teacher you don't always really feel every combination you create.  Granted I always try to create something I like, sometimes you're just more inspired (or less fried?) than others.  Of course it's always nice when you get inspired before a big class/event like this.

One of the challenges for me since I teach at 3 different studios is "combination burn-out."  I like to create my combinations ahead of time, but I learned long time ago that it was a little crazy to have completely different combinations for every level at every studio.  Even with notes (which I use - more on that in another post) trying to load your brai…

Welcome!

Welcome tap dance teachers!  My name is Rod Howell and I've been teaching tap for a little over twenty years.  I started assisting at about age 12 and began teaching at age 14.  Teaching tap dance is what I do.  Day after day I'm in the studio either creating routines or teaching students how to shuffle.  It's an interesting and challenging career to say the least!

I was fortunate to receive excellent training from Gregg Russell and I wanted a way to give others a little bit of what I received.  I decided to do this through a website at http://www.unitedtaps.com.  There you'll find a free tap dance video dictionary and syllabus, free online lessons, as well many other resources.  It has taken me years of work to create, and I do all the work myself so I hope you enjoy it.

From here on out this blog will serve as a forum for me to share my thoughts on teaching tap dance.  I'll share the good and the bad and any great new ideas I come up with.  Thank you for stoppin…