Is There An Epidemic of Not Keeping Time?

Almost always the posts made by Operation: Tap focus on the positive aspects of tap dancing, the great success stories of our masters, and the cheerleading of our current artists. I wanted to take the opportunity today to make a blog post on a topic that is of great concern to me and to the education of the young dancers that are coming up in tap dance. The question I am posing is, “is there an epidemic among young dancers in a seemingly widening gap in being able to keep and hold time?” If I had to answer this question based on the last year of traveling and teaching I would say that there absolutely is. I am writing this article today because of the danger I feel that it poses within tap education in the dance studio environment. 


When I was 16 years old I was musically awakened into tap dance and ever since that day I have focused on the nuances of keeping time and the kind of musicality it takes in becoming a more musical dancer. It is hard work, especially if it does not come naturally. It requires focus, self reflection, self correction, and most importantly to seek out information and knowledge that will be helpful in the quest to become more musical. At 31, I only am starting to really feel the results of all of these years of work paying off in performances and improvisation. These small and infrequent moments of true musical proficiency keep me practicing and keep me striving to become more musical and as I improve the ceiling for what is possible becomes higher. Having teachers who made it a priority to be musical, to count, to work on shading/dynamics, and be proficient in all of the areas of tap dance have formed my world view not only as a tap dancer but as an educator.


I have been doing some reflecting as of late. This reflection has led me to thinking about the work I do with my students and what topics and energy I want to spend in my classes. The conclusion is that for the most part the young dancers coming up in tap have an exceptional weakness in this area. The interest in the topic is non existent and the proficiency for many is at a beginner level. I am encouraging all tap teachers this year to focus on the topics of keeping time, meter, note values, counting, song forms, improvisation, musical entrances and exits, and the connection of the dancers musical facility to their technical one. This will mean having to slow down and it may mean that we ourselves as teachers have to improve on our own ability to keep time and possibly learning some basic musical knowledge.   


I have to say for the record that an advanced student in tap dancing is not someone who only knows “a lot of steps.” An advanced student in tap dancing is someone who is rooted in the musical understandings of the dance, a sense of history, and a connection to vocabulary that justifies the first two points. In many “advanced” classes recently I have had to slow the work down to a crawl because the students:


  1. Could not keep time.
  2. Have never heard the expression, “keeping time” and what it means to a tap dancer and their dancing.
  3. An inability to hear where the “one” is or maintain where it is.
  4. A lack of basic musical knowledge as it pertains to what rhythms they are playing and what song form they are playing in.
  5. An inability to count both the meter and/or the number of bars that they are working on.


If as a tap dancer you are struggling to understand what any of these sentences mean there is probably a strong probability that the quality of your training and dancing is suffering as a result of not focusing on the musical aspects of the dance. Tap dance is sound and movement, you can not have one without the other and it still be tap dance. I am pleading for focus in this area because it will be of great benefit.


For our part at Operation: Tap we will be focusing starting in the Fall on more Musicality Monday exercises to assist in this area and to bring on more guest artists who can lend their expertise to our group. Let’s make the 2016-2017 dance season a musical one. Lets put the focus on the perspective of growing our technique and musicality hand in hand.