Tune Up Your Tapping Tone

Michelle Dorrance (front) in a rehearsal with Dorrance Dance (photo by Dana Pleasant)

"Imagine if a vocalist sang everything in monotone," says Michelle Dorrance, whose company will perform its evening-length ETM: Double Down in England and Germany this summer. That's the equivalent of a performance without a diverse array of flat slaps, deep-bass heel drops and high, tinkly taps—it's one-note. Tappers "are dancers and musicians, and we have such a range of possibilities within a single step, from our sound quality and pitch to volume and dynamics," Dorrance says. "In order to be a sophisticated artist as a tap dancer, developing an ear for tonal clarity and understanding the physical execution it takes to create different tones is endlessly important." Here's what you need to know to go beyond the monotone.


Map the Tap

So what is tone, exactly? "Tone is the nature and/or quality of your sound," says Dorrance. "It's the color, the timbre, the feel." And you can create different kinds of sounds out of the same tap, explains Aaron Tolson, a New Hampshire–based performer, choreographer and teacher, and the founder of Sole Power Fitness, who performed in NYC for six years. "It's not necessarily about volume or pressure, but about placement on the tap," he says.

The tip of the tap, by the front screw, for example, gives you the highest-pitched sound. The inside edge of the front tap gives a rich, deep tone. Both sound far different from the center of the tap, where most beginner shuffles live, and which gives off the flattest sound.

Your physicality, tools and environment—literally, what's under your feet—are all factors in tone too. Tolson also believes the type of shoe you wear makes a difference. He recommends a shoe with a heavy leather bottom and a wooden heel. "A professional shoe will give a better sound than an inexpensive one," he says.

Aaron Tolson performing a tap solo (photo by Andy Yu)

Throw Your Weight Around

Beyond these external factors, tone is a choice, Tolson says, so you have to be deliberate. The same attention to detail you bring to your ballet alignment will help you here, not only as you try to control the type of sound you want, but also as you work to execute the step clearly. Even subtle adjustments can make a difference. "The way the foot and leg approach the floor—the angle, strength of attack and direction—has everything to do with executing tone," Dorrance says. A sophisticated tapper will be able to replicate a clean, clear sound by understanding the physical approach.

If you like what you hear but it needs cleaning up, experiment with your physicality. Remember that the more surface area of the tap you use, the harder it is to make a clean sound, Tolson says. Try shifting your weight away from the heel of your standing leg or going into a deeper plié. Relevé slightly or as high as you can to make a little more space for your foot to meet the floor where you want the tap to strike.

Find Your Sound

" 'Reaching' is really the best word I can use for playing with tone—you're reaching for your limits in sound and range of motion," Tolson says. Ultimately, enhancing your understanding of tone will change your performance style and set you apart as an artist. "It's pretty common to see someone dance really fast and pull off a lot of tricks, but when you can shade with volume, make sophisticated choices about sound quality and tone, then you're really creating music," Tolson says. "That's masterful."

Thinkstock

You've seen it a million times: A glamorous, toned dancer posts a perfectly styled shot of her colorful smoothie bowl. The caption gushes about how great you'll feel if you eat "clean"—but what does that actually mean? DS asked registered dietitian/nutritionist Rachel Fine and holistic health coach (and founder of The Whole Dancer) Jess Spinner for all of the dirt.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Travis Kelley, courtesy Kathryn Morgan

In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email dearkatie@dancespirit.comfor a chance to be featured!

Dear Katie,

I'm being bullied by one of the girls at my studio, and it's awful. I've talked to my dance teacher and confronted the bully directly, but it hasn't made a difference. What should I do?

Faith

Keep reading... Show less
Angela Sterling

Bunheads, this one's for you. They say you can tell a Nutcracker by its "Snow" scene—and we fully believe it. There are so many versions with extra goodies—olive branches! Fake snow! Sleds! Choirs! Snow queens!—and each brings a special something to the holiday favorite. But do you know which ballet has what?

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
(Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy BAE)

Consistent turns are a must for aspiring professional dancers, but pretty much everyone struggles with pirouettes at some point. Luckily, since we're all beholden to the same rules of physics, there are concrete steps every dancer can take to reach his or her top turning potential. “Three is the new two when it comes to pirouettes, but the secret to turning is technique, not magic," says Bojan Spassoff, president and director of The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia.

Falling out of your doubles? Aspiring to go revolution for revolution with your class's star turner? No matter where you lie on the turning spectrum, our 360-degree guide to pirouettes will help you improve.

Keep reading... Show less
Parris Goebel and her ReQuest Dance Crew (via Twitter)

Are your moves smooth and sexy like Chloé Arnold's tapping Syncopated Ladies, or is your dancing bubblegum sweet like the girls of Suga N Spice? Behold, the answer:

Keep reading... Show less
(Lucas Chilczuk)

Let's face it—spare time is pretty tough to come by when you're a dancer. You're either rushing to get ready for rehearsal, rushing to rehearsal, a combo of the two, or in rehearsal (or performing, or in class, or at an audition...you get the picture). Well here at DS, we understand the struggle is REAL, which is why we've rounded up our favorite foolproof makeup hacks, approved by resident #LazyGirl when it comes to makeup (spoiler alert: it's me). On to the hacks!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Kalea Hidalgo (Photo by 567 Photography, courtesy Stacey Hidalgo)

Kalea (pronounced kah-LAY-uh) Hidalgo knows how to move. Her decisive, dynamic dancing commands the stage: She gobbles up space so confidently it's hard to believe you're watching a mere tween. Unsurprisingly, that presence and power have started turning heads in a serious way. Not only did Talia Favia choreograph one of her solos in 2017, but Kalea also recently signed with Bloc Talent Agency in L.A. and, last summer, placed first overall in the junior contemporary solo category at Radix Nationals.

"When you're out on the dance floor, don't ask for permission—ask for forgiveness."—Kalea Hidalgo
Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Swift in her latest "Making of a Song" episode (via Youtube)

Taylor Swift is #blessed in many ways: She's got a great voice, insane song writing skills, and, to quote her new hit single, she's "Gorgeous." She is not, however, blessed in the dance department. But that doesn't stop her from busting out the occasional dance move. In fact, Swift likes to playfully show off her less-than-stellar dancing, be it in her music videos (hello, "Shake It Off") or at music award shows. So we weren't surprised when during the latest episode of her "Making of a Song" series for AT&T, she unveiled a new endearingly awkward maneuver, which she's dubbed the "dolphin body roll"—and it practically had friend and producer Jack Antonoff rolling on the floor!🤣

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Ray Batten (left) teaching class at Wagner Dance and Arts in Mesa, AZ (courtesy Batten)

You rehearse your group routine to perfection, but when the big performance rolls around, everyone turns into speed demons. It's the runaway-train effect—and it only takes one loud tapper, or zippy turner, to throw the whole group off the music.

While nerves and excitement are partly to blame, the ability to keep to tempo begins in the studio. A well-developed sense of musicality is your best defense against the dreaded speed trap. "When you understand how the steps fit with the music, going too fast won't just feel like rushing," says Jeremy Arnold, lecturer of tap at the University of Texas at Austin. "It'll feel wrong." How can dancers develop that musicality? It all starts with learning to listen.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored