Up in Arms: How Tappers Can Make Their Upper Bodies Sing
In "Sunday Candy," one of Caleb Teicher's popular "Chance Raps | Caleb Taps" videos, the Bessie Award-winning performer has as much to say with his upper body as he does with his feet. In one section, his hands whack the air in front of him as though he's at a drum set; in another, they point skyward to accent Chance the Rapper's lyrics with the precise lines of a jazz or musical theater routine. His arms help propel him off the ground for a one-footed wing, but also add style to a mambo-inspired step. The grace and musicality of his upper body in contrast to such busy footwork is a multisensory delight. It's also a lesson in how tap dancers can use their arms to their full potential.
With so much focus on your feet during tap work, it's easy to forget the importance of using your upper body properly. "You need your whole body in order to achieve the sounds you're trying to make," says Ray Hesselink, a popular teacher at Broadway Dance Center, Steps on Broadway, and the Juilliard School in NYC. "When you dance, you're sending your energy in multiple directions, so when you don't use your arms, there's a certain heaviness, a slump, to your dancing."
Common Arm Conundrums
It's obvious a tapper isn't arm-conscious when you can see tension in the upper body or flailing arms. Jeannie Hill, a professor of dance at the University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point, cites another frequent issue: limp arms that dangle by a student's sides. "I often suggest to my students that they pretend to conduct the music of what they are tapping," she says. "Use your arms to help you move your body through space, and use your hands to communicate the details of your idea."
But as you work on incorporating your arms fluidly, Hill cautions, don't do too much. "Never finding stillness in the motion of the arms and hands is akin to run-on sentences," she says.
Jeannie Hill at the Beantown Tapfest Faculty Showcase (photo by John Lohr, courtesy Lohr)
Hesselink, who teaches in a musical theater style, advocates for second position arms and other simple, classical jazz lines because they keep your spine and hips in alignment and help you initiate arm movements from your back. They also prevent your arms from flailing, especially during airborne steps like pullbacks and wings. "A simple second position keeps your arms involved and engaged," he says, "although I always recommend students keep their arms in their peripheral vision." If you hold your arms too far back, they could throw you off balance.
Hill points out that the stance for a rhythm tapper may be different. "If the footwork requires more toe drops and flat feet, the posture is more hunkered," she said. Rather than maintain the arms in a classic line, a tapper trying for more sounds and a contemporary style should focus on using the arms for balance.
Painting the Picture
Marshall Davis Jr. in a performance of "SIMPLY SAMMY" (photo by Gen Nishino, courtesy Davis Jr.)
Creating specific images for the steps you're doing can also help you use your arms, Hill says. Your arms should match your feet just as the illustrations match the words in a picture book. If you have a paddle turn in your choreography, for example, you might remember the step's traditionally straight, diagonal arms by imagining a soaring bird. Or you might keep your hands busy in another step by imagining that they're spreading a deck of cards on a table or frosting a large cake.
Marshall Davis Jr., a performer, educator, and choreographer often seen dancing alongside Savion Glover, also suggests using imagery. In order to help students find the connection between their footwork and upper body, he has them face away from the mirror. "That way, they're not caught up in just the visual, and they can understand the feel and the groove," he explains. As you become more connected to the rhythms you're making, you can think about how you want to present them in your upper body—how to "paint the picture," as Davis says.
Taking cues from the music you're dancing to is also important. "Your arms should move with the music organically," Hesselink says. "If it's a Latin song, a Latin style with your upper body, let the arms move freely and accent the rhythm. If it's a Charleston style, pin your arms close to your body." Davis Jr. agrees, saying that the pictures you create with your upper body should always reflect the story you're telling through the sounds of your feet.
A version of this story appeared in the December 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Up In Arms!"
Get in, losers. We're going to Broadway.
OK, not losers, actually—more like the bajillion die-hard fans of Tina Fey's 2004 cult hit Mean Girls, who've been wearing pink every Wednesday since a musical adaptation of the film was first teased back in 2013.
Now their world is like a cake filled with rainbows and smiles, because Mean Girls the musical, which had a trial run in Washington, DC, last fall, is set to open at Broadway's August Wilson Theatre April 8. And in a very grool twist, it turns out the show—with direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw and a book by Fey herself—is delightfully dancey.
What do you get when a hoard of dancers collaborate to the catchy tune of "Love Somebody," by the band Frenship? The most epic dance party ever, of course! Said dance party was produced by the talented Michael Riccio, who's performed in feature films, including "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" and "Shrek Forever After."
Today in Ballet Dancers Are Actual Superheroes news:
You've no doubt heard that the fabulous Alicia Vikander is playing Lara Croft in the newest iteration of Tomb Raider, which hits movie theaters this Friday. But while her training for the high-octane action role was crazy tough, she says, studying at the Royal Swedish Ballet School was far tougher.
They say there's no "I" in "team"—and nowhere is that truer than the world of college dance teams, where precision reigns, uniformity is key, and a single misstep from any given "I" can cost a group a championship trophy. So it's unsurprising that securing a spot on one of the best dance teams in the country is no easy feat.
Members of these highly athletic teams rehearse for hours every week—on top of academic classes and commitments—and perform at football and basketball games, annual concerts, and nationally televised competitions (hi, ESPN). And "no I" rule notwithstanding, each of these top teams is made up of highly trained, highly technical, highly hard-core individuals, who come together to create a ready-for-victory pack.
These six teams aren't one-off success stories—they're consistently strong, and earn the top spots at major competitions like UDA and NDA nearly every year. Up for the challenge? Here's what to know before you go to auditions.
Are you a high school senior who's been accepted to a four-year accredited college or university program? Congrats! Within the 2017-2018 season, have you competed in events run by at least two of the organizations in the above graphic? Double congrats, because the Association of Dance Conventions and Competitions, or ADCC for short, wants to give you $1,000 (!!) towards college tuition.
From dancing in music videos (including Katy Perry's "Swish Swish") to performing on reality TV shows (including "Dancing with the Stars" and "The Voice"), 17-year-old Amanda LaCount is already conquering the commercial scene. If you've ever seen her dance, you understand why: She's a hard-hitting phenom with major stage presence. But in an industry where not having the "right" look can jeopardize your career, Amanda's also blazed her own path by accepting her beautiful curvy body the way it is.
Amanda's never let body-shamers discourage her from going after her dreams. She hopes that by breaking the "dancers are skinny" stereotype, she'll give others the courage to highlight their own unique features rather than hiding them or changing them to fit repressive industry standards. She's even started a campaign, #breakingthestereotype, to inspire artists of all shapes, colors, and sizes to dance for themselves.
We caught up with this dancing maverick to get her advice on cultivating body confidence in a world that's obsessed with the "perfect" body.
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!
All the dancers in my level auditioned for a prestigious summer intensive—but I'm the only one who got in. Now everything is incredibly awkward at the studio. I'm really excited about the program, but I don't want to make my friends feel bad. What can I do?
Can't get enough of the dance party T. Swift throws herself in her "Delicate" music video? Take a look at the two making-of clips Taylor just shared on her Instagram, showing her practicing the vid's charmingly awkward choreography.