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My name is Rod, and I've been a tap dance teacher and choreographer for more than 25 years. I have many things I want to tell you that I think every beginner should know.


I'll cover all the popular questions nearly every beginning tapper has, and if you have additional questions just email me - rod@unitedtaps.com - I respond to all of my emails, usually in less than 12 hours!

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Rod Howell

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Everything You Need to Know About Learning Tap Dance!

First Off…

YOU ARE NOT TOO OLD (or too young…unless your 2)! I have taught some really great ladies who were in their 80’s and to be honest they learned pretty quick, which shouldn't be surprising because adults do learn faster than children.


Yep it's true, adults absolutely do learn faster than children. They might not have the same energy a ten year old has but they do have more life experience and general intelligence both of which can be helpful when learning tap dance (you can grasp analogies that the little ones just can't).


Yes you are coordinated enough. If you know how to walk and you know your left from your right foot then yes you are plenty coordinated enough to tap dance. Now no one is saying you're going to be as graceful as Gene Kelly or as smooth as Fred Astaire, but if you can walk, I promise you can tap dance.  It’s not exactly rocket science, and in fact it's a lot more fun!


You do have a sense of rhythm! You how I know?  Because you can sing the melody of any number of popular songs (Happy Birthday, Jingle Bells, Stayin' Alive, etc.). That actually requires rhythm, which you do have! Now I'll let you in on a little secret about myself:  I took a special rhythm test in 4th grade so I could play the drums in our school band and I failed. Yes I failed my first rhythm test.  I also couldn’t count music until I was 13 years old. Contrary to what you may have been told, rhythm can be taught (I’m living proof!) - You do have rhythm, and we're going to make it even better!


You actually don't need to have tap shoes to get started. Although having a pair will sure help a lot and give you a much better feel for real tap dancing.  


Well, Where Should You Start?

You should start at the very beginning. Someone should explain the parts of the tap shoe right off the bat so you know what you're working with. You may already know your heel and toe, but are you aware of the difference between a toe and toe tip? Is a ball tap the same thing as a toe tap? These are all things you need to be taught.


You would be amazed at the number of adults who try a beginner tap class at their local dance studio and come away completely frazzled and discouraged. They were just expected to magically pick up things as the class moved along at a speed that was way too fast for them.


I get emails from them all the time. I was a slow learner (at tap dance) growing up and I've never forgotten what it feels like to need things properly explained and demonstrated at a speed a beginner can comprehend.


Now if you can find a local adult beginner class that starts from the very beginning and explains everything in detail at a reasonable pace, jump on it! They’re quite rare.  If not you have two choices:


1.  Take the only adult class you can find and just hope for the best.

Or

2.  Find a really good beginner lesson series on video and learn that way. Sure I'd love for you to learn from me, but there are other decent beginner videos out there too.


Can Someone Really Learn How to Tap Dance From a Video?

Yes and no. I can teach you all the parts of your tap shoe, the basic steps you really need to know, and even combinations that combine those basic steps together. I can even predict most of the problems you're going to have and I can tell you how to fix them!


Heck you can even email me if you have an issue and 99% of the time I can tell you how to solve your problem (this is where experience counts)! However as much as I can help you through my videos and emails, the one thing I can't do is stand right next to you and point out an issue the moment it happens. I can't physically adjust your foot position to make sure your placement is just right.


So if you want to be the next Greggory Hines, videos aren't quite going to be enough. On the other hand if you just want to learn some great tap technique and have a lot of fun doing it, my videos are a great place to start!

 

There are two additional things I'd like you to know about learning to tap dance:


1.  Different teachers teach tap differently. I know that seems obvious, but the differences can be huge. Some tap teachers have excellent training but others don't really know proper technique. You'd like to have a teacher that doesn't do everything flat footed, and differentiates between a flat foot (stamp or stomp) on the floor and just the ball of the foot (step or toe). It goes even deeper than that though. I personally focus on controlling the ankle to get an exact sound. There is another approach that stresses very loose ankles and initiating movement from the hip. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses and either is fine to learn as long your instructor really knows how to teach it!


2.  Each step/move in tap dance often has more than one name (sometimes 4!). There is a step that I call a scuffle step heel. It is also called a paddle and roll, dig brush toe heel, and paradiddle! I told you some steps have 4 names. So which name is right? They all are. This is just the way tap is (it grew up on the streets which is why it is this way). For every step I teach you, I try to give you the alternate names as well so you're not utterly confused if you ever take a lesson from a different teacher.


Okay so tap teachers and terminology vary widely. Got it. Can we start tapping now?


Soon..


Do You Need Tap Shoes? What Brand/Style Should You Get? Can You Tap On Your Kitchen Floor?

Let’s get some answers:

1.  Tap Shoes - Yes you can do your first lessons in sneakers (dress shoes with leather soles would be better) or even socks! However if you really want to learn tap dance you're just going to have to buy some tap shoes. I actually created a detailed PDF file that explains all the ins and outs of choosing a tap shoe, but it's too big to just paste right here so I'll winnow it down to a few crucial points.


- Comfort is Extremely Important. Yes those $200 pro shoes do look snazzy, but you're better off with a mid-range $75 shoe if the pro shoes hurt your feet. Everyone likes something different. Some like thick sturdy soles, while others prefer maximum flexibility. You need to find what feels good to you and your feet. A little cushion is good too - remember your going to be hitting your feet against the floor…a lot!


-  As long as your taps aren't too quiet, the sound is fine. There are some sound purists who will scoff at me for this, but in my 25+ years of teaching, only very rarely has the actual sound of a tap shoe been a problem. 99.9% of the time sound issues are caused by the tapper not the shoe! Each tap will have it's own unique sound - even on the same pair of tap shoes. This is normal. If you can easily hear the tap sounds coming from your shoes then the sound is fine.


2.  Tap Dance Floors


- Don't Ever Tap Dance on Concrete. It is bad for your feet, ankles, knees, back, and hips. Even if it doesn't hurt right away, there's a good chance that over time you will damage your body. It's just not worth it (so the garage floor is out).

- Tile or Wood Laid Directly On Top of Concrete is Just as Bad. Okay technically it may be slightly better, but it's still really bad for your body. You need some elevation and/or cushioning.

- A Wood Floor is Great, But any Hard Surface With Some Give or Cushioning Will Do. The floor I currently use in my videos starts with 2 layers of exercise mats laid on top of concrete, with 2 layers of pergo flooring on top of that (long story), and then a layer of stick-on vinyl tiles on the very top. It has a good sound and the cushion I need as well. Sure a real hardwood floor would be optimal. If you've got the funds, by all means get one, but keep in mind it will get scratched and nicked A LOT!  


How Often Should I Do a New Lesson?  How Much Should I Practice?


I generally don't recommend doing more than one lesson per day. After completing a lesson I recommend you spend some time practicing all the steps and combinations from that lesson before you move on. Here are the two ways I recommend you practice:


1.  Do each step you learned in the lesson making sure your feet sound just like mine.  Start as slowly as you need to to sound good. Gradually work your speed up until the step feels very comfortable. Make sure you work both the right and left foot. For the combinations try to do them all the way through slowly without music first so you can concentrate of how you sound. Once you have it sounding good add in the music and have some fun!


2.  Just watch/take the lesson again. Often you'll catch things you missed the first time around and you'll be strengthening your knowledge of the steps by seeing them, hearing them, and reading their names on the screen. You'll also be able to compare your sounds directly to mine to see if you've got it right.


Make sure you get all the details I explain in the lesson. You need to apply everything I say in the lessons to your footwork. Be careful to not "space out" during practicing. If you're not actively listening/watching your feet, you may be doing a step wrong…over and over and over.


When you can do all the steps as well as I demonstrate them in the video and the lesson has become “easy” you’re ready to move on. Some people progress really fast (I was not one of those people for the first 4 years I tapped), and some progress more slowly. The joy of having a video is you can go your own speed! I've have people tell me they've done 2 lessons in one day and others tell me they do about one lesson (many times) per week. It doesn't matter how slow or fast you progress. What matters is that you sound good and are having fun!


In general, the more you practice, the better you get.  I recommend shorter practices more often vs just a few long ones.  20-30 minutes a day would be really great. However if you can only squeeze in a few 15 minutes sessions a week you'll still notice some improvement.


Will My Ankles/Knees Hurt After I Tap?


They shouldn't. You may have some muscle soreness the first few times as you work new muscles you didn't know you had. But that should go away by the 3rd or 4th lesson/practice session. If you do have pain and it's not going away here's what I suggest:


1. Check with your doctor (I kind of have to say that).


2. Stretch. There was a time when I had ankle pain so bad I had to hold on to two chairs while I tap danced to get as much weight off my feet as I could. I went to a specialist (he told me just to tap less…yeah right!) and that didn't help. Finally I started doing some serious stretching before, and most importantly AFTER tapping. After about a week of this new regiment of stretching my ankles improved and I could tap without holding on to a chair again. Stretching can do miraculous things so give it a shot (it's good for your muscles anyway).


3.  Address any muscle imbalances.  I’ve occasionally had minor knee issues and again stretching, this time combined with some muscle balancing, helped fix it. My quad muscles are strong and bulky.  My hamstrings on the other hand, are much weaker.  When you have a large strong and tight muscle like a quad on one side of a joint and a weaker looser muscle on the other side the joint can become very painful due the imbalance.  Simply strengthening the weaker side and stretching out the stronger/tighter side can make a real difference. But as with anything your mileage may vary.


4.  Try different shoes or a different floor. If you've been tapping on your garage floor and you knees are hurting I'm not too surprised. You may want to find a floor with more cushioning. It's also possible your shoes are causing some pain or discomfort (a little discomfort is normal until the shoes break in - but it should not be severe and it should not persist). You might want to add some extra cushioning to your shoes (I use special inserts in mine) or try a different pair.


A COUPLE MORE THINGS


So now you have 3 great ways to get started on your tapping journey. If you need some help or have a question just email me at rod@unitedtaps.com. I promise I'll answer your email (and probably do so within 12 hours).

I also want you to know that if you purchase one fo the above options and are not happy with it for any reason we will give your money back no questions asked. Here's how easy it is:


CUSTOMER:  I hate to say it, but the lessons just didn't work for me. Can I have a refund?


ME:  Absolutely. I'll get the refund started right now and you'll receive a confirmation sometime in the next 24 hours. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you.


That’s all there is to it.  I also personally handle any support issues you may have. So you'll always be talking to me directly, not some call support center with reps who don't know the products.


At the end of the day I really want you to enjoy learning to tap dance. Sure, I’d prefer you learn from with me, but regardless of teaches you I want you to have a great time and to keep tapping for many years to come.  


Oh and one more thing...every time you purchase from us you help us continue our outreach program.  I won’t go into all the details here, but you can find out more about it on our outreach page.


Thanks for stopping by and happy tapping!


Rod Howell

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