Tap

A Cut Above: Everything You Need to Know About Cutting Contests

A cutting contest at the 2010 L.A. Tap Festival. Photo by Samantha Scipio.

Alaman Diadhiou entered his first cutting contest—an improv-based competition in which individual dancers must face off and perform on the spot to a set tempo while trying to impress a panel of judges and avoid getting cut—at the D.C. Tap Festival in 2009. Just 8 years old at the time, Alaman was one of the youngest participants. “My heart was racing,” Alaman says. “I only knew the rules: Stay in time and don’t get cut. The pressure was on.”

After three rounds of battle in which he matched his opponents beat for beat, trading steps on the fly, Alaman won the title in his age group. He’s continued that streak every year since. “It’s not about how fancy your steps are—it’s about your rhythm, creativity and timing,” Alaman says. “The contests push you to practice more and become a better dancer, and they’re fun because you get to have a ‘conversation’ with someone new, even if they don’t speak the same language as you.”

Cutting contests are the main events at many tap festivals worldwide, but you don’t have to be a master tapper to get in on the action. “I’d encourage all dancers to participate in a cutting contest, no matter their skill level, because it pushes them outside their comfort zone so they can reach their maximum potential,” says internationally renowned tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith. Intrigued? Here’s what you need to know about how cutting contests work, along with advice from veterans.

The Nitty-Gritty

Cutting contest participants are divided up by age. Each contest is officiated by a host who decides which pairs of dancers within a category will compete. At the beginning of each round, the host establishes the number of bars that the dancers will dance and sets the tempo. Then, two dancers trade improvised sequences. If both dancers lose time or exceed the number of bars set, they are each cut. If both survive the round, the judges select a winner based on originality, creativity and commitment to maintaining a steady groove (being “in the pocket”).

As the rounds progress, the host typically asks the dancers for fewer bars. Eventually the final two remaining dancers face off to win the category.

How to Prepare

Because you never know who your opponents will be, or at what tempo you’ll be dancing, it might seem impossible to prepare for a cutting contest. But honing your musicality and improvisation skills and expanding your tap vocabulary can help you get ready to face any opponent.

Play It By Ear: “Listening to music is the best way to prepare for a cutting contest, “ says Ayan Imai-Hall, 17, a member of Sean Fielder’s Boston Tap Company.

“Listen to jazz standards like ‘A Train’ and ‘Blue Bossa,’ and musicians like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis,” says Anissa Lee, a two-time L.A. Tap Fest champion and member of Sarah Reich’s company, Tap Con Sabor. “Pay attention to how they fill the space within their music, and practice doing the same with your tap sounds.”

Get Back to Basics: Lee says it’s essential to drill your basic tap steps, like shuffles, flaps and paddles, as well as more complicated steps, like wings and pullbacks.  “Strive for consistency and clarity,” she says.

Work on Your Timing: “Use a metronome to help you learn how to stay in time,” Alaman says. “It will train your mind and body to keep the beat.”

Improve Your Improv: “Play around with what you already know,” Lee says. “If you have a step that you really like and want to use, make sure you can transition into it smoothly.”

Expand Your Horizons: “Go to tap festivals and jams, and take classes with as many different teachers as you can,” Alaman says. “You will be exposed to a variety of different styles, and you can pick up other peoples’ steps.”

Above all, “When you’re dancing with another tapper, make sure you listen,” Imai-Hall says. “You want to converse with that dancer rather than just compete.” Lee adds: “It’s so easy to get caught up in what you’re doing instead of taking time to benefit from the conversations. Enjoy the memories you’re creating.”

Dance News
Photo by Jayme Thornton

Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.

Keep reading... Show less

Leap! National Dance Competition offers dancers of all skill levels an opportunity to showcase their talents in an event where the focus is on fun and competing is just a bonus!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer

Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Ballet BC's Alexis Fletcher says experimenting with structured improv can make you more comfortable with risk. (Michael Slobodian, courtesy Ballet BC)

The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.

But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?

Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.

Keep reading... Show less
Screenshot via YouTube

Look out, 'cause here they come!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News

When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.

In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.

The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."

Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Leah Morrison in Trisha Brown's If You Couldn't See Me, in which the soloist never faces the audience (photo by Julia Cervantes, courtesy Trisha Brown Dance Company)

Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.

She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.

Keep reading... Show less
Blankenbuehler (far left) with the rest of the "Hamilton" creative team scontent-iad3-1.cdninstagram.com

So book your tickets to Tulsa already, people!

Keep reading... Show less
Your Body
Amanda LaCount showing off her skills (screenshot via YouTube)

There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.

Keep reading... Show less
Watch This
Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB

Mark your calendars, bunheads! On Monday, January 29th, at 2:45 PM (EST)/11:45 AM (PST), Pacific Northwest Ballet will be streaming a live rehearsal of Act II of Kent Stowell's Swan Lake.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored