Toe Tappin’

tap shoes 0519

I went to a tap class last night that wasn’t really, and I’m conflicted as to how I should feel about it. Instead of tapping, we spent an hour sitting in the dark watching other people tap on YouTube videos.

I stayed awake, which is always iffy in a situation like that, so that’s good, but I am wondering why I went to the trouble of putting my shoes on. And I’m extremely glad I did not drive down from Crested Butte, which turns out to be the point of origin for all the classmates I’d never seen prior to this spring session, for this “class.” One of the women there last night had missed the two previous classes; I’ll bet she was really excited to drive all that way and lace up her shoes to sit on a chair.

However, if I’m in full confessional mode, which I seem to be, I have to admit that I haven’t particularly enjoyed this session, and since we had already tapped on Tuesday, I wasn’t sure I was up for a second high-energy flailing about in one week.

Our teacher was offering a “make-up class” last night, since she had been unable to be there last week, and maybe she wasn’t feeling it in her feet. She had obviously prepared, because she had all her videos cued up on her laptop, but I think she overlooked  the possibility that watching so many others move their feet and enjoy it might inspire us to want to be moving. A half-hour of videos, followed by a light tap session, would have been a better option.

If you asked me how old my teacher, Abby, is, I would guess 25, but that could be wildly off. A safe answer would be: much younger than me. She is an extremely talented tapper, and over the course of six-ish classes (is that all? It feels much longer) has shown an enthusiasm for tap conferences and festivals, and she’s obviously been to several. Last night she gave us an unpublished history of tap put together by her mother, so it seems that she has grown up infused with the spirit of this dance form. And she’s taken classes from some of the top names in the art form.

As a teacher, though, I am not giving her high marks.

Her methodology so far has been: show it a couple of times, and then execute faster and faster, until no one in the class can keep up. And make it more complex as you go. Long before we get to that point, classmate Sam and I have just given up and are standing there, waiting to either flail at the same thing yet one more time, or move on to another combination offered in the same manner.

Now, after watching all the videos, starting with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and rolling through a bunch of famous tappers, some of whom, like the Nicholas Brothers, Gregory Hines and Savion Glover, I was familiar with, and some of whom — the Miller siblings, the Condos brothers, Dormeshia Sumbry Edwards — were new to me, it seems that the object of tap is always to move your feet as fast as you can. Before one clip, Abby told us Ann Miller was in the Guiness Book of World Records for making 200 separate taps in a minute.

My best is maybe one-tenth of that, and my goal has never been to tap as fast as possible. I signed up for tap initially because it looked like fun. And it has been, but I don’t feel like I’m having much fun this session. I am learning, so there’s that, but when I try to apply what I’ve learned and we’re going too fast, I’m just shuffling my feet.

Would I take another class from Abby? I don’t know. Tapping is better than not tapping, which has been the option for several years. Her classes are also pointing out that I’m not as in shape as I could be, as I find myself overheated and sucking air after attempting grab-offs or pullbacks across the floor. (As of this session, I have at last mastered the second sound needed for the grab-off, but that still is not translating to a pullback, the step that has been my nemesis lo these many years.)

But I’m of the same mind as my friend Julia, who offered the first tap class I ever took: I’m just fine repeating something five, six, ten times, until it gets in my feet. Going faster and faster and adding complications to the steps before I’ve grasped the basics is not really getting me anywhere.

Abby is not alone in this teaching method, I ought to note. My usual teacher, Karen, could easily be accused of teaching to the top student in her class. I took one class from her where the students consisted of Julia, me and a college student named Chelsea, who was way above the level Julia and I could manage. I floundered in that class, too, until Chelsea ducked out of a month’s worth of classes (college and tap) to go rafting the Grand Canyon (well, the Colorado River through the canyon) and Karen dialed it back to where Julia and I were actually understanding and executing the steps she was doing. Although Chelsea was a very nice girl, I liked the class a lot better when she wasn’t there.

It makes me appreciate all the more all my formative tap years under the tutelage of Leslie. You want to see a teacher in action, well, that’s Leslie. The more I study with others, the more it becomes clear that Leslie has a gift for teaching dance. Her life has moved on and she doesn’t do much dance teaching anymore, which is really kind of a shame.

She still has a cult following here in Gunnison, people who will turn out to tap for her but don’t show up for anyone else’s classes. Leslie’s nurturing manner just makes you want to do whatever she says your feet should. She also, I see more and more clearly as I go through teachers who don’t do the same, makes sure everyone is keeping up and understanding all the parts of each step.

Abby’s class runs through next week, and then tap will be done until the fall, assuming someone (probably Karen or Abby) feels up to offering a class (and at least four people sign up). I’m just not going to be as sad as I should be to see this session end.

Abby showed us this clip last night, telling us Bill Robinson kept his feet as close to the ground as possible so others wouldn’t steal his steps. I always wanted to tap on stairs; I doubt my knees are up for it.

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