Tap Dance and Musicality
In honor of National Tap Dance Day coming up on May 25, I want to talk to everyone about a vital part of tap dance, and something that is necessary to enhance your tap dancing skills. Tap is the only form of dance where the dancer is both the performer and the musician. A dancer may know all of the technical steps, and even be able to execute them well, but it doesn’t matter without musicality. That’s what makes tap dance what it is, which is why I both love tap and find it so challenging at the same time.
Musicality is a broad topic and sometimes difficult to teach, which is why students can’t rely solely on their instructors to make them a more musical dancer. It’s time to start taking a step back and reflecting on personal strengths and weaknesses, and actively seeking out new information. Now, let’s talk about some of the basic elements of musicality and how understanding each of them can enhance your skills as a tap dancer.
1. Time- Time is the meter, the pulse, or the downbeat. It is essential that as a tap dancer, you are always keeping time, or holding the meter completely in place. When a song is being played, you may find yourself automatically nodding your head, tapping your toe, swaying, etc., which are all different ways to keep time. When your instructor snaps his or her fingers or claps his or her hands, setting the tempo, he or she is keeping time for you. It is steady, rigid, and constant. This is the most basic form of musicality you should know as a dancer.
2. Rhythm- The rhythm is the placement of sound in time, or the pattern between sound and silence. As a tap dancer, we dance to and create rhythms. Let’s say I’m keeping time in my legs by bouncing my knees on 1, 2, 3, 4, and then I start singing non-sense syllables like “ba do dah dee da do dah”. The syllables could fall on 1 & 2 & a3 4. I’ve just created a rhythm while keeping time. Try picking out rhythms in different songs and work on making your own while keeping time.
3. Feel- When a song is playing, try to get a sense of how the music feels to you. Does it feel energetic and upbeat? Mellow and relaxed? Intense and powerful? This will help to dictate the style of the dance.
4. Texture- Focus on the various layers of sound in the song. How many different instruments can you pick out? Listen for vocals, as well. The texture is how all of these layers of sound are placed together, and it could change throughout the song. Listen for accents, the volume of different sounds, etc. When we talked about feel, we focused on states of being, but there is also a textural feel. These varying combinations of sound give different textural feelings to the music. Do the textures make it feel smooth or sharp? Hard or soft? A great dance will use steps to compliment the musical textures, giving the dance and the steps dynamics.
5. Awareness- A great tap dancer consciously listens to the music! Practice being aware of what is happening in a song, what the feeling is, and understanding the structure. Pay attention to details and be present. Listen for and analyze all of the above elements in music, and your skills as a dancer will grow, not only in tap, but in all areas of dance.
Let’s work to be better musicians and dancers than we were yesterday, and to never stop learning! Happy National Tap Dance Day!