Dancer to Dancer

Troubleshooting Tap Turns: Tips for Pirouettes in Tap Shoes

Justin Boccitto relies on a grounded plié to create a smooth landing out of a turn. (photo by James Jin Photography, courtesy Boccitto)

You know that pirouette dream, when your placement is so perfect you can keep turning forever? That dream is the reality for highly technical tappers, who benefit from the decreased friction of their shoes. Get the placement right and, with a strong spot, they can pirouette for days.

But turning in tap shoes isn't all easy. In fact, those delightfully friction-free shoes bring their own set of challenges, and dancers can easily fall into the spinning-top trap by letting the turn control them, rather than the other way around. Here's how to harness your tap-turning potential.



Set Up for Success

As with any pirouette, preparation is key. "It's all about achieving a straight supporting leg," says Justin Boccitto, who teaches tap at Broadway Dance Center in NYC. "As you enter the relevé, think about putting tension into the floor as if you were drilling a hole." Boccitto stresses that "tension" doesn't mean an aggressive push out of the beginning plié: Just straighten the leg, and let the tap shoe do the rest of the work.

Marshall Ellis, of Marshall Ellis Dance School in Orlando, FL, also recommends a lighter push out of the preparatory position. "It's 80 percent finding the balance on your supporting leg, 20 percent pushing from the back foot," he says.

Thinking about the initial placement and movement of your arms can also contribute to a successful takeoff. Juliane Godfrey, dance captain for SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, uses port de bras to maintain technique in tap pirouettes. "At the start of the turn, bring your arms from fourth to first position a bit slower than feels natural," she says. "That will help you maintain control."

Stay in Control

Always center your weight over the supporting leg. "Once you find that sweet spot, you can't relax into the position," Ellis says. "You need to maintain your core strength and placement as you turn."

A lifted center can also help avoid the dreaded spinning-top syndrome—the tendency of some tappers to spin passively, like a dreidel. Ellis recommends a higher relevé. "In tap shoes, you usually have some sort of heel. You need to rise up out of that in the relevé, and lift through your center to avoid that spinning aspect," he says.

Juliane Godfrey recommends putting gaffer's tape on the bottom of your shoes to avoid slips. (photo by Casey Gill, courtesy Godfrey)

Controlled and distinct pirouettes also require a solid spot with a distinct rhythm that relates to the music. "You need to count!" Godfrey says. Rhythm is particularly important when coordinating multiple turning tappers. "Making sure everyone is in agreement on the exact location and counts of the spot will help synchronize turns," Boccitto says.

Know Your Exit Strategy

We think of nailing multiples as the end-all-be-all, but in tap shoes, executing a clean and controlled double is arguably more impressive than whipping out an unspecified number of pirouettes. Ellis stresses "knowing your number" before you even enter a turn to ensure a clean landing. That way, when it comes time to transition to the next step, you're not tripped up by excess power. A clean landing also requires a certain comfort level with the transition. "Know how many turns you're going to do, and where you're going afterwards," Ellis says.

According to Boccitto, landings depend upon a grounded plié. "A lot of times, we exit turns with a stamp stamp, or a flap ball change. We need to really breathe and plié into those steps to create a smooth landing," he says.

Many tappers worry about slipping as they come out of a turn. "There's a risk that your landing foot will kind of swivel under you because of the lack of friction with the floor," Boccitto says. He recommends creating tension in the leg muscles to avoid this landing swivel. "With tap dancing, we're always telling students to relax, but in this case, there has to be an element of 'good tension,' " he says. "Think about creating resistance against the floor and even against your own body. Tensing the quads and inner thighs as you touch the ground can add extra support to your landing." Godfrey also recommends using gaffer's tape on the bottom of your taps if the stage is particularly slick.


A version of this story appeared in the May/June 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Tap Turn Troubleshooting."

Show Comments ()
Dance News
"World of Dance" judges (NBC)

Dancing kween Jennifer Lopez is preparing us for the second season of "World of Dance" by dropping an insane World of Dance promo that has her slaying the dance floor like we've never seen before. If America wasn't on the edge of their seats for the May 29th premiere they are now—wondering how the contestants of "World of Dance" could possibly outdo such a performance—but there's no doubt they will. This season's roster of dancers really takes the show's name to heart cause it's out of this world, with each dancer as ferociously talented as the rest! (We don't envy J. Lo's job of having to pick just one.) We've rounded up 7 young dancers you won't want to miss.

Keep reading... Show less
Ema Peter

The Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center is the 54,000 square foot home of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, one of the largest facilities dedicated to dance on a private university campus. Designed for their innovative new curriculum, that supports a range of dance styles, the school's staff designated Harlequin to provide wall-to-wall flooring for the large 3,500 square foot Performance Studio as well as five dance studios in their new state-of-the-art building.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer

For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.

I started dance classes at a young age. By the time I was 3, I was training at The Dance Club, and I grew up there. I started with the basics—ballet and jazz—and eventually added tap, tumbling, contemporary, and hip hop.

Early on, I did compete. I remember my first time: I did a trio at a small local competition, and it got first place. The trophy was as tall as I was, and I loved it. I attended conventions as a mini, and had the opportunity to take classes from Travis Wall, Sonya Tayeh, Andy Pellick, and Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh. There was so much variety—I was in awe.

Keep reading... Show less
(From left) Danskin, Soffe, and Bloch

Considering we practically live in our dance clothes, there's really no such thing as having too many leotards, tights or leggings (no matter what our mom or friends say!). That's why we treat every sale as an opportunity to stock up. And thanks to the holiday weekend, you can shop all of your dancewear go-tos or try something totally new for as much as 50% less than the usual price.

Here are the eight sales we're most excited about—from online options to in-store retailers that will help you find the perfect fit. Happy Memorial Day (and shopping)!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

DancerPalooza, America's Largest Dance Festival, is moving to sunny SAN DIEGO, California from July 24-29, 2018.

Check out all of the NEW Intensives DancerPalooza has to offer this year!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Screenshot via YouTube

Warning: "Get Stupid" is about to be stuck in your head—again!—and you'll love every second of it.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
via @kyle_vanny on Instagram competing on World Of Dance

Kyle Van Newkirk is a tap dancer you probably remember from the premiere season of NBC's World of Dance. In case you missed it, he is also one of Showstopper's incredible convention teachers. What makes Kyle stand apart from some of today's other incredible tappers? He isn't afraid to change what tap means to his audience and even himself. This modern view of tap dancing is important because it shows us that tap dancers are just as versatile and dynamic as dancers of any other genre. We sat down with Kyle to get his advice on bringing tap dancing into the 21st century.

Keep reading... Show less
Dear Katie
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.com for a chance to be featured!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Fraser dancing in the NYC Subway (photo by Underground NYC, courtesy Fraser)

Paige Fraser has performed on world-class stages and in a video with Beyoncé—yet some of her most meaningful dance moments happened in tiny classrooms on a small island 1,000 miles from America. This past spring, Fraser, who's danced with Ailey II and is a founding member of Visceral Dance Chicago, teamed up with the non-profit Milk Carton on a String to bring dance to underprivileged children in Haiti. Fraser taught daily ballet and modern dance classes and used YouTube videos and social media to introduce the students to other aspects of dance they hadn't been exposed to.

Now, Fraser plans to continue to use dance to give back through her own newly-funded non-profit, The Paige Fraser Foundation. But instead of traveling outside the country, Fraser will be helping kids in her childhood home: the Bronx. She wants her foundation to assist aspiring dancers no matter their color or abilities.

Read our interview with the dancer and do-gooder—and discover the life-changing diagnosis that inspired her to help other dancers achieve their dreams.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored