On Tap

tap 0419I’m trying to decide if I will enjoy my tap dance class tonight. I thought I would reserve judgment, and this entry, until tomorrow, but it’s occupying a large portion of my thoughts this morning.

I have mentioned that I join a lot of groups that consist primarily of women. This would include the majority of my dance — well, let’s leave ballroom out of the mix, because there the head count is generally 50/50 — classes. Although my first tap class included Charles, perhaps twice my age, and Scott, about half my age. (Is that enough for smart people to do math?)

Charles ended up retiring (a second time — he had come out of retirement to lead a start-up congregation) closer to grandchildren, and Scott went off to college, so in short order the rest of my classmates were all women, although the classes coming along behind frequently had male participants. A couple times, back in the heyday, there were even enough men to stage “Man Tap” numbers for dance shows.

But the dance program foundered. It turns out, it was driven largely on the inexhaustible energy of Leslie Channell, and when her inexhaustibleness exhausted, the woman hired to replace her had an agenda, and it wasn’t Everyone Should Dance. It was: Teen Girls Should Dance Competitively.

Everything else was shunted to the side, the beautiful hardwood floor replaced with an awful marley surface that I gather is perfect for ballet but nearly lethal for female ballroom dancers going backward in heels (and at least one of my fellow tappers fell after catching a tap on one of the huge number of cracks) . . . pretty soon the booming program that had 45 adult tap dancers was gone completely.

The dance director went on to found her own studio, which seems to be thriving with its competitive youth angle, and after not offering any classes at all, the arts center eventually tried putting a program back together in fits and starts — and a lot of the classes get cancelled because there aren’t at least four participants.

For instance, there was just one tap class last fall, me and four or five women, mostly my age or older, all of us known commodities to one another.

In January, however, when tap resumed, it was without most of my familiar classmates. Narcissa (Leslie’s mom) now winters in Texas, Judy was going to miss the first two classes and didn’t feel like she’d ever catch up; Kim was busy with the arts center’s signature play; and Julia was helping out with college plays.

That left Sam and me. Except that Erica, a non-traditional student at Western, signed up as well. So did another local woman with limited tap experience, but she withdrew after the first night, when it became apparent that the class level was going to be above her feet. So that took us down to three, below the threshold needed for a class to make. For some reason, we were allowed to continue, and then it turned out that poor Sam had paid her $80 to not come to class, since work took her out of the valley most Tuesdays.

Karen, our teacher, is a busy woman whose own plethora of jobs often takes her out of the area. So when her session ended in early March, the next was scheduled to resume with a woman named Abby, whom none — you know, the entire three or four — of us knew.

Since the dance studio (its hardwood floor thankfully restored) is barely being put to use, the West Elk Martial Arts Club has rented it for their classes. One class ends just before mine begins (that’s a group with a much higher men-to-women ratio), and last week it was a more confusing jumble of people than it usually is when I arrive for class.

In the first place, there were a lot more women there than usual. I finally realized they were putting on tap shoes, not leaving soo bak do. They were all young, Sam’s age or younger, and they all knew each other.

But there were also martial arts guests. Susan, the owner of my bike shop, was there, and had to point out her son. He’s 12 now — twelve! — and signed up for soo bak do. He’s spent most of his life in his parents’ bike shop, and I thought I’d seen him not that long ago (summer, perhaps), but somewhere along the way, when I wasn’t looking, he went from boy to adolescent. Where does the time go?

And then Mike was in front of me, showing off his guest: daughter Sky, back to visit while on spring break. She’s somehow already working on her master’s thesis, getting ready to take the law school application (LSAT) test — where does the time go?

So I was trying to talk to all these people, and figure out which of the voluble young women across the way might be a teacher, when Erica arrived. The tallest woman detached herself and immediately asked Erica if she were there for tap, and took her over to a pile of registration forms. I followed them over and told the woman — Abby — “I’m in this class too.”

“You are?” she asked, clearly surprised. She recovered fairly well and handed me a form. I filled it out while talking with Sky, doing neither effectively. Eventually martial artists and their guests dispersed and tap class got underway.

Several things quickly became apparent. The first was that all these giggly young women were already veterans of at least one Abby class. I don’t know where this class took place. It wasn’t at the arts center, and since one of them promised to be less squirrelly (“We haven’t seen each other in two weeks,” she said apologetically to the air at large), perhaps they are all college students coming off spring break. Maybe the class was at the college, but with so few tappers around, I wonder why we are working at cross purposes.

The second thing that became readily obvious was that Abby is quite a tap dancer. And the third is that her style is going to be quite different from Karen’s, which was different — but not this much — from Leslie’s. Abby is going to use a lot more of her foot than I’m used to.

Fourth, clearly Abby was not prepared for a student like me. And at this point I mostly mean older. Even Erica, who has a 13-year-old son, is much younger — and more pliable — than me. I’m also the only student in the class who first came to dance as an adult.

I don’t know Abby at all and she doesn’t know me, and in my post-blood-donation state I doubt I made a good first impression. She was going very fast, and I don’t have any idea yet if that’s her teaching style in general, she was sizing up class ability, or she’s continuing where her last class left off, assuming everyone knows her routine. It was going so fast that I couldn’t gauge how my fellow students were faring.

Am I a level below everyone else? I don’t think so, but I couldn’t tell for sure. Am I going to have a harder time making my feet do what Abby says, at the speed she wants? Probably. I spent the whole week going over in my head, and sometimes in my feet, her “toe twister,” and my fear for tonight is that now that I have it down (as long as we’re moving slowly), she’s going to abandon that exercise in favor of a different one that I won’t grasp right away.

We’ll see. It could be a learning experience for both of us.

Tap: it’s not just for women.



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