Teaching's Not the Same as Tapping or Where Did My Sounds Go?
I'm sitting here writing this in my nerdy Atari pajamas and my "I'm not a morning person." (it's true) t-shirt after a 45 minute tap workout. Faced with a gradual decline in my tap skills I figured it was time to take action. But how did I get here in the first place?
First and foremost I teach less "live" classes than ever before and most of that time lately is cleaning routines. When I tell people I'm a tap teacher they often comment how I must be in great shape. Unfortunately that's not the case. The longer I teach, the less I tap. That's because I'm spending more and more time listening and correcting my students' feet instead of working on mine. I'm not saying I don't tap at all, but my total actual tapping time for 18 "live" classes this week (some are a half hour, some an hour) was probably 1 hour. That's it. My focus is cleaning my students' formations, arms, and feet, not my own. Teaching tap is not the same as tapping.
Then there is the age thing. I'm certainly not getting any younger! It's not just that though, it's the many, many years of tapping as hard as I could for many hours a week. That takes a toll on your body. Now I deal daily with back and toe problems that often hamper my ability to push myself when I want to.
Speaking of "when I want to" - there are so many things going on in life (father of 15 month old twins for one), it's rare that I practice because I want to (or have time). That's kind of sad. Don't get me wrong I'm not looking for pity here, I make my own decisions. Unfortunately tapping for pleasure has fallen low on my to do list.
But I don't take decline lying down! Eventually, the urge to slip on the shoes and get my skills back up to snuff hits me like it did this morning in my pajamas. It was both invigorating and sad (that my skills were so bad). But most importantly, it was enlightening, in many ways.
Throughout my teaching career I have often gotten new students who were very good at the studio they came from, but who struggled with often simple things I had them do like dig toes or shuffle step. Now I know why. When you become advanced you rarely spend time doing dig toes and shuffle steps. Instead you are working on the latest 5-count wing or 6-sound pullback. But without doing those simple steps over and over, they get rusty. Really rusty. In fact I'm sweeping the rust off my practice floor right now.
In addition to that, tapping slower is actually a skill. It takes a different set of abilities to properly execute and time slower tap movements than fast ones. If you doubt this have a reasonably advanced tapper do a simple step slow, not super slow, but slower than they normally would. You might be amazed how many rhythmic or auditory inconsistencies you find. They might be amazed too!
I've always taught a variety of tap classes from beginner to advanced. Doing warm-ups in the beginner classes I did many many dig toes and shuffle steps (I often wonder how many shuffles I've done in my life...I think it has to at least be 50,000). That was a big reason my feet were always sharp and clean. Which brings me to a simple but iron-clad rule of tap dancing.
THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR REPETITION
I have many tricks to help my students (and me) get their sounds and make them clean but sometimes you just have to do a step a couple hundred times. Which is what I did today. In so doing, I caught myself trying to fix my feet with my ears. What I mean by that is that I heard a problem like an early spank in a scuffle step (dig spank step) and I kept listening to it while trying to adjust my feet. But my main focus was on listening to it not the actual adjustments I was making. When I transfered a majority of my mental focus to the specific adjustment I was making (or needed to make) I had much more success. This was enlightening and I'll be sure to pass it on to my students.