What new tap dancers need to know to shine, according to Mike Wittmers, an L.A.-based tapper who has worked on such shows as Tap Dogs.
Know your etiquette
In any tap class, whether it’s Broadway, jazz, rhythm or funk, never talk or tap when the instructor speaks or demonstrates, or when a fellow student is asked to demonstrate.
Concentrate on keeping muscles as relaxed as possible, which can be difficult for anyone trained in other dance forms. “Most jazz and ballet dancers have a lot of strength in their legs and ankles,” explains Wittmers, which can lead to tightness. “They need to loosen up to tap [properly].”
Listen, don’t look
Replicate the rhythm of each step, instead of copying the move exactly as it was demonstrated. “A common pitfall for beginners is to focus on the step they’re learning as opposed to how the step fits with the music,” says Wittmers.
Do your homework
You don’t need a hardwood floor and mirrors to hone your skills. (Save your tap shoes by wearing sneakers or slippers when practicing outside the studio.) Clear a space in your room or practice on the sidewalk to music you enjoy and know well. Experiment with moving to different rhythms. The more you play with steps, the more comfortable and confident you’ll become in developing a signature style.
Scenario: Your teacher has just begun a sequence and everyone jumps in to practice before the teacher finishes the phrase. The chaos makes it difficult to decipher your teacher’s rhythms. In this situation, it’s perfectly acceptable to raise your hand and respectfully ask the teacher to show the steps again, sans your classmates’ cacophony.
Keep cool at conventions
Slowing down can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed at crowded conventions. “It’s not a competition against the other kids to see who can get [sequences] right first or who can get [tricky moves] the best,” says Wittmers, who has taught at Triple Threat and Dance Masters of America. Focus on absorbing as much of the teacher’s expertise as possible, then put it to the test when you get back to your home studio.
Improve your improv
Improvising is an important part of tap dance, yet can be intimidating for newcomers. “You can never start the improv process too early,” says Wittmers. Think of it as “a chance for you to explore your individual style. Remember, there’s no right or wrong.” After you learn a new footwork sequence, play with it on your own without the pressure of performing in front of others. A routine can change when you practice it at home and to your favorite song. Take liberties to add pauses and accents or to speed it up or slow it down.
Attend tap jams
Ask your teacher to recommend tap jams. These informal sessions where hoofers improvise are great forums to try out new steps and to experiment with rhythms, and provide you with a support group.
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If you need a heartwarming bit of news today, look no further. American Ballet Theatre principal (and idol of budding ballerinas everywhere) Misty Copeland stopped by The Steve Harvey Show the other day to surprise a group of young ballerinas, and the result is giving us #allthefeels.
The dancers, from the Mayfair Performance Company in Chicago, were guests on Harvey's show. But little did they know, Harvey had a huge surprise for them:
As a young dancer, there's nothing more important than having a visible role model, and Copeland goes above and beyond. (Seriously, the reactions say it all.) Check out the girls' dazzling performance below. Happy Sunday, y'all.
In honor of "La La Land" being released on DVD April 25, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti declared that same day to be "La La Land Day." Because magic is real and dreams can in fact come true, the occasion was marked with aerial dancers from BANDALOOP rappelling off the side of City Hall, performing to a gorgeous medley of Justin Hurwitz's dreamy score for the film.
Without further ado, here's this week's cure for the #SundayScaries. (PS this footage was filmed from a drone. How cool is that?!)
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Noelani Pantastico is famous for her passionate stage presence and strong, powerful technique. Originally from Oahu, HI, Pantastico trained at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and frequently attended summer courses at PNB. In 1997, she joined PNB as an apprentice, and was promoted to principal in 2004. Four years later, she joined Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo as a soloist—but, in 2015, Pantastico headed back home to PNB, and she's danced there ever since. Catch her in the company's June program, which features George Balanchine's La Source, Jerome Robbins' Opus 19 and Alexei Ratmansky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Read on for her letter!
You'll soon enter a career that will shape the course of your existence. Pay attention and enjoy every moment, because it goes very quickly. Life in the dance world is beautiful, although there will be times when deep reflection is necessary, and when roadblocks will make you rethink your career path. This is normal, and it's OK. Here's some advice that will help you get through.
Don't complain, and ignore idle gossip. Negativity will do nothing for you. It's wasted energy. Your mental state is connected to your physical being and immune system—being mindful can help you stay healthy. You won't want to believe this, but the sooner you do, the sooner you'll get better and won't be dealing with so many ailments. When you're dealing with pain, injury or even a common cold, consider whether you're also going through an emotional problem or change. This is total body care.
Don't try to control the course of things. Everything that happens is meant to happen. There's a lesson in every moment. Just listen, observe and work hard. This will give you intelligence and power, and ultimately the ability to handle anything the world throws at you.
Lastly, give the best you can every day. Don't waste a minute. Remember: Life responds to you and to what you put out there. It's not about what happens to you, but about what you make of it. Be meticulous with your steps. Care for every motion. Your love and gratitude will vibrate beyond you.
I love you very much,
Photo by Angela SterlingPantastico in Jean-Christophe Maillot's "Roméo et Juliette"
"When a biology major asked if I was illiterate because I studied dance, I realized just how much of a joke my field of study is to some people."
That's how Camryn Eakes, a junior dance major, opens her incredibly powerful open letter asking fellow Chapman University students to (as the title puts it) "Recognize the complexities of the dance major." It's a frustration that's way too familiar to just about every dancer: We've all had this beloved art form of ours questioned, ridiculed, trivialized or worse.
Eakes' passionate writing speaks to so many of the misconceptions that drive dancers CRAZY, along with the huge demands our art form puts on us:
"Dance requires us to be willing, to expose our rawest self to any set of eyes. Every day, I must be willing to relive both the euphoric and depressing memories I house in the deepest depths of me. That's my job; that's our job. We are storytellers, protesters, advocators, thinkers, entertainers, actors and innovators. Studio time is our lab, our calculator, our pen and paper. It is not enough just to physically show up to class. Our growth and talent is a full-time investment inside and out of class and that's just part of being an artist. We cannot destroy our bodies with alcohol and all-nighters. Our bodies are our tools and something we can't purchase over and over again when it breaks. The professional artist lifespan is only so long as our health will last, that we cannot afford nor want to lose any time we have enjoying and delving deeper into what we cannot live without."
You can read the complete version of Camyrn's letter on The Panther's website. And check out this video of Camryn dancing—she's obviously a gorgeous mover and a beautiful writer.
In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email email@example.com for a chance to be featured!
I have super-archy feet, which is great—sometimes. But they're hard to control because they're so flexible. How can I make them stronger and easier to work with? I have a hard time even standing properly in pointe shoes.
While I'm sure many of your fellow dancers envy you, having beautiful feet can be tough! The first thing to do is to make sure you have the right pointe shoe. You need a good, strong shank to support that arch, but not a rock-hard shoe that'll keep your feet from getting stronger. Go to your local dance store and try everything. Having the right shoe can do wonders!
Establish a daily Thera-Band routine. Your super-flexible feet will need a really high-resistance band—I'd suggest either a black, gray or blue band. Do lots of simple push-through-the-feet exercises to build stability in your ankles and metatarsals.
Once you're in your pointe shoes, add extra relevés, élevés and balances to your pre-class warm-up to improve your strength. Even doing simple tendu and dégagé exercises in your pointe shoes, focusing on pushing through your metatarsals, will help your feet and ankles learn to stabilize the rest of your body. It's all about repetition and time!
Using a Thera-Band every day is super important.Photo by Nathan Sayers
I've loved dance for as long as I can remember, and I want to pursue it professionally. But lately, I haven't felt
the same joy when I dance. I'm always sad at the studio, and I'm not even sure why. I miss the old me. What should I do?
Many dancers go through a "burnout" period, either in their training or once they become professionals. Think back to why you started dancing in the first place. Was it the music? The freedom of the movement? Reconnecting with those initial feelings can help you find your joy again.
We dancers also tend to get caught up in the pursuit of perfection, and that can mess with your head. Scary as it sounds, try taking a few days, or even a week, away from dance. (Pick a time when not a lot is going on at the studio, so you won't be missing any performances or other important opportunities.) Odds are, just putting a little space—mentally and physically—between you and the dance world for a while will allow you to come back to class newly energized and excited.
However, if that time away leads you to realize that you no longer want to dance, that's OK too! It doesn't make you a failure. It just means your passions and goals have changed. And if that's the case, it's better to realize it now than 10 years down the road.
I just got a big part in my school's musical. There's a lot of dancing, which I'm not worried about at all—but I also have to sing and speak. I'm not used to using my voice onstage! What can I do to get comfortable?
The first time I had to speak and sing onstage, I was terrified. Thankfully, I had some great coaching. I'll pass along the wisdom I received!
Dancers are taught to lift up through their bodies. But if you lift up while singing, you'll run out of air. Instead, during singing and speaking passages, focus on staying grounded. Let your body relax and your weight drop into the floor—foreign as that might feel.
Be sure to actively enunciate every lyric or line of dialogue, too. In normal speech, eliding your words, so they slur together a bit, is OK. But onstage, it's not—the audience has to hear everything clearly to be able to understand you. You might feel silly hitting every "t" and "d" hard, but it's important!
Finally, focus on projecting your voice, just as you project your dancing up and out. The people in the back row have to hear you as well as see you! Well-supported breathing, using your diaphragm, will help your voice carry to the far reaches of the theater
Remember when getting a selfie/making a dance video in the Rain Room was the coolest of cool-kid things to do? Now there's a fabulous new place to create Instagram magic: The Attention Room, an immersive exhibit in L.A. promoting Charlie Puth's newest single, "Attention." It's basically a big black box filled with crazy LED projections that make you look like you're suspended in a disco queen's re-imagining of deep space.
Naturally, genius filmmaker/ultimate cool kid Tim Milgram just made a dance video there. And he casually brought Jade Chynoweth, Sean Lew, Jake Kodish and Jason Glover (to name just a few) along for the ride.
It's super trippy, and just plain super:
Angelenos, you can see The Attention Room for yourselves at 8017 Melrose Avenue, now through April 30.
When über-talented duo Chelsie Hill and Josh Killacky dropped their collab video a few weeks back, we were blown away—and so was Ellen DeGeneres. Naturally, DeGeneres (who's not-so-secretly the biggest dance fan ever) invited them to perform "Ellen" and the result was absolutely incredible.
Hill and Killacky have top-notch chemistry, their musicality is #onpoint and the choreo is so beyond perfect. We can't stop watching—see for yourselves: