Ryan Foley: Tap Today

Writing a “Tap Blog” is a difficult task to say the least. Where to start and what to focus on, I truly feel that I am not qualified to put my stamp on what Tap Dance is yet because I’m still learning each day what it is.

I guess a good place to start is what I’m seeing today in the competitive world of Tap Dance. I would say that 90% of the tap dance I see on stage at the competitive level is not really where I wish it could be.

It’s sad to say but to me, it’s a real fact and really too bad. I’m sure there are a ton of students out there who have a ton of natural ability and talent for tap dance but never got the chance to experience the true beauty of “The Dance,” (tap dance), because they were never taught or exposed to it properly. It all starts with mentorship and the teaching. Here is some food for thought…How many of you who teach tap dance would consider yourselves to be a “Tap Dancer” or “A Professional Tap Dancer?” This is a very important question to ask. Think about it, would you want your students to be taught ballet by a hip hop dancer? or taught hip hop by a ballet dancer?… I’m assuming no. It’s like going to the dentist to get your eyes checked. The same approach should be applied for tap dance, for all dance forms in fact! I know it’s not always easy to get a professional dancer and every genre to come and work for you and teach your students, I totally get that. But I know for a fact, that when you as a teacher and mentor are totally invested in what you do and love, it translates 10 fold into your students; in their ability, their understanding, their respect and overall drive for what they are learning. It DOES make a difference. Tap dance is no joke either, IT’S HARD!! and takes a lifetime of dedication and practice.

The things I feel that are very important and in ways missing when I’m watching these dancers tap dance are: musicianship/musicality, groove, phrasing, understanding of time and the pocket, tone and shading, although tone and shading is hard to achieve when tap dancing on Marley (which I will touch on later). Another thing, is variety of rhythms. Too much of the same thing can get tedious on both the audience and the dancer. Tap Dance is one of the only dance forms that is both a visual art form and an audible art form. A lot of times we forget about the latter of the two; the one I feel should be the main focus. The performance and visual aspect of Tap Dance will be there naturally if the passion and drive is there. A number of years ago, I learned, if we allow ourselves to just teach and stop learning and growing and DANCING we get stale and unmotivated. This can be detrimental to a student coming up through the ranks.

The next topic is huge!!!! THE FLOOR.
Too many students are tap dancing on Marley…NOT GOOD. The instrument is not just the shoe. It’s also the surface of the floor. This is SO IMPORTANT and WAY OVERLOOKED!!! Imagine a drummer, playing with rubber pads on their drums!! I feel that if you offer Tap Dance at your studio or dance competition then you are responsible to provide a proper dance floor. Tap Dancing on a Marley floor does ZERO for Tap Dance. You can’t shade, slide, create tone, sit in the groove… nothing! All that happens is “yelling.” These dancers just hit the floor as hard as they can so they can “try” to be heard. This is where the musicianship and artistry as a musician/tap dancer is lost.
Wouldn’t it be great if we all put at least one wood floor in our studios? I know there are studios out there with beautiful wood floors, but so many without. Hey listen, if you don’t offer tap dance at your studio then no problem, but if you do… then?! Same can be said for dance competitions, it’s all Marley. I understand that all genres are being danced on the same floor, but hey like I just said….if your offering all genres at your competition and charging the same amount of money for tap dance as you do for jazz, ballet, contemporary etc… then I think you should do right by it..or at the least mic your stages properly!!

This is only one person’s opinion. I’m not saying by any means “do what I say” it’s only how I feel and what I’ve been experiencing over the years. I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do… but who knows, it might help!

“Each one Teach one” Gregory Hines said it best! We can all learn from each other.