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The Truth About Bad Teachers And Good Technique
(video 1 of 4)

In this first of four videos, I speak very candidly about bad teachers and good technique and about having a commitment to excellence in teaching. Then I quickly teach proper basic technique for Shuffle, Flap and Dig Brush Step Heel (Paddle) and end with a thought about helping students make connections.

If what I am saying resonates with you or you have a thought to share, please subscribe to the blog and let’s get a lively conversation going!

Next video on Creating A High Quality Exercise coming in two days!

Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • lee colee' atnip says:

    I teach the relaxed ankle technique but the beginning student seems to want to drag the working foot across the floor back to starting position, especially with flaps. We drill for clean sound but it seems to elude my students that feet need to articulate a rhythmic phrase or count. They get it eventually but I’d love a faster process. Any suggestions?
    Lee from Wimberley, TX
    lee@atnip.net

    • Steve Zee says:

      Hi, Lee!
      Thanks so much for writing. It is true that many people often go to a “forward” and “back” movement. That might even be what they were taught by an earlier teacher. I like to give images like “move your leg up and down like you are in a marching band” and we march for 4 counts and then flap for 4 counts and then march then flap then march then flap just to keep on trying to make the flap movement like that up and down marching movement. The other thing — and here’s the real zen moment — is that, in class, you and the student are chipping away at a huge, wonderful block of marble and it takes a long time to chip away and arrive at the beautiful statue hiding on the inside. in other words, if you are clear with your students on the correct physical technique and you have a nice exercise to help them practice and you teach them how it goes with the music, all that is left is time and repetition and there will be a happy ending. Talk to you again soon! Steve

  • Liz Kelley says:

    This is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Rafa says:

    Hi Steve, thanks for the video. I´m looking forward to seeing the next one. For what I have experienced with my tap students when they start to dance, they find the relaxed technique more difficult than the back and front one but that’s only because they think that you need to stress yourself to do any tap movement. Once they realize that they don´t need that extra strength, shuffles, flaps (specially them) or paddles become enjoyable. But it takes a lot of time and patience. That´s the “secret formula”.
    Once I began to tap professionally, I began to look for the right teaching method. In fact I´m still very interested in that process and the good point about it it´s that when you improve as a teacher you are also improving as a dancer. The “secret formula” for it? Time and patience and….. tap academy online!!! 😉
    By the way, I love your idea of the “fun uncle”. I love tap festivals because they bring you the chance to meet very nice tap dancers and find inspiration but I don´t like that obsession with rushing. Let´s stop a little bit and talk about the process. How did you get to that step or combination? Unfortunately, you don´t find that often. Let´s keep talking! Rafa

    • Steve Zee says:

      Rafa! I agree with absolutely everything you are saying. Time and patience are important. We live in a world where everything is so fast — but Amazon can’t deliver years of practicing dance or playing music or sports in 24 hours with expedited shipping. Some things take time (and I love that). I’ll send you an email soon so we can talk about many things! I’m so glad you wrote on the blog! Steve

  • Joseph says:

    Hi Steve!

    It was so nice to see you perform in San Diego last month. Xie xie ni! I saw your link on facebook and I thought it would be nice to be in touch with you again and take part in your dialogue as I admit, I am a bit of a tap nerd, haha. One question I have refers to a comment you made on shuffles, (my preferred step of choice!). My first days in tap shoes are oddly still quite vivid to me, a few years before I was able to study with Becky Twitchell, you, and other Jazz Tap Ensemble company members of the time. At the Kennedy school we were taught to make our brush motions forward and back in the form of the greatest sweeping swing that we could because with strength in the most difficult of circumstances, greater risk of losing balance, greater spacial awareness to be responsible for,etc., we’d be better equipped to make our shuffles smaller as we pleased, placing them as far as our legs could possibly reach. What do you feel is unsafe about emphasis of the “forward and back” shuffle? Secondly, I have taken part in both tap festivals and weekly tap classes in the role of student and teacher for many years. To me, each class serves as an opportunity for the teacher to impart all their tap expertise into their students so that the students can efficiently, quickly, store the information and take it to new heights right away. Essentially the teachers I’ve admired the most are those who have taught their students how to teach themselves. While a teacher may try to catch a student up on twenty years of experiences and wisdom weekly or annually, they might find that it cannot happen all in a day. So wouldn’t you say that every teacher would have to improvise their words to meet the need of their students given any length of time that they are together? What’s wrong with teachers improvising steps to assist these words, making a lesson so personal because it was made…just for them? Hope to tap with you soon again Steve!

    God bless,
    Joseph

    • Steve Zee says:

      Joseph! So great to hear from you and, for me too, it was great to see you in San Diego because you are a terrific human being in addition to being spectacularly talented — you always have been. As far as Shuffles go here is how I see it: in tap dance technique there is not one school of thought or even two or three schools of thought that everyone can agree on. Lots of people have different views and even different names for steps. There are a zillion ways of thinking about tap dancing and tap technique because one of the highest prizes in tap has always been individuality. So, all of these individuals spawn so many different schools of thought, methods of teaching, etc. . . It just happens that I come from Stan Kahn who was an “up and down guy” rather than a “forward and back” guy and because Stan’s way of teaching was so utterly comprehensive that up and down movement came in handy all of the time. In other words, Stan made that movement a foundation for many things and I come mainly from him so I tend to think a lot like him. I always refer back to up and down even when I get to riffs and double shuffles and pick ups. It’s always there for me so I stress it a lot. Your thoughts on teaching are deep — we could write a book together. So I’ve always thought that the role of a real teacher (academic, arts, whatever) was to make themselves irrelevant. Give until the student just doesn’t need you anymore and then they go on their way and continue their journey. My comment in the video about how the festival teaching is the “easier” way of teaching isn’t meant to diminish the role of the festival experience. I think it’s great for students to do festivals and get exposed to lots of ways of thinking, expand their horizons. However, when you see the same students day after day week after week year after year you can’t just make stuff up. No matter how skilled you are as a teacher, if someone is going to have 800 classes with you over the course of ten years you have to be prepared with a path, an overview, a method, one thing that builds on another rather than just the combination of the day. Also, over the course of those 800 classes you can also become a key part of the moral and ethical and social formation of that kid — and that is very, very deep. So, one of those ways of thinking about teaching is a quicker in and out and one is being there for the long haul and those are just two different mindsets, in my view. Did I hit everything? Let’s keep talking! Steve

  • Susan Filipiak says:

    I agree completely with the proper way of shuffles, flaps, paddles…..but for those beginning children and those beginning adults, I do use the “swing the leg back and forth” brush to get them started. Early success is then rewarded in future classes with the more refined technique!

    Can I suggest a topic, Steve? Weight change! So many adults walk into the classroom, freely and instinctively switching their weight from foot to foot. Then when they put tap shoes on, that instinctive skills vanishes! So simple patterns like shuffle steps, flaps, paddle and rolls, become a mysterious thing – and all just because they’re not changing their weight from foot to foot. I’ve had success when I ask them to move somewhere (moving forward or backward), but when they’re in place the skill of weight shift again vanishes. A couple weeks ago I asked them to focus on my demonstration, but look at my other leg to find the “simultaneous actions” one foot goes down – the other comes up!! What are your tips on weight change, Steve?

    • Steve Zee says:

      Susan! Wow, I think you’ve nailed one of the biggest things in the world. Lots of times when a student says “I don’t get it” what they are really saying, I think, is “My weight is in the wrong place so I can’t go on to the next thing.” Have you ever thought of trying a “walking around” kind of routine with these adults? Box steps, grapevine, front, back, side, diagonal, turn, etc with just mostly walking and executing rhythms but not with complicated tap steps? This way they could focus just on the weight changes and not have to worry about flaps and heels and such. This might be a way to get them more comfortable moving in space and doing the weight changes. What do you think?

      • Yup, I have a pocketfull of strategies about weight shift and rotate through them to get those “non weight-shifters” to transfer weight appropriately :). But for some, it’s the ultimate challenge. My warmups are full of “move around” exercises -success at weight shifting that then gets lost while standong in place. I ask students to widen their feet to really feel the shift from foot to foot. The place their feet under their hips again, but remember the sensation of weight shifts. Also, I find the problem often arises from two-sound weight shifts like toe/heel or heel/toe steps. So I reduce the skill back to one-sound to focus on feeling the weight shift, then add the second sound back in.
        I think perhaps the core of the weight shift problem in that dancers focus on the sounds to the exclusion of how the sound feels – a touch is different than a brush is different than a step… But all have one sound.
        Thanks for the jumpkick of more variety in weight shifts…. Box steps, grapevines, movement in all directions changing feet.
        Thanks for the dialogue, Steve!!!

        • Steve Zee says:

          And do you know what else is crazy? In Brazil, I have very few of these weight change issues with students. Could this be because they are a movement kind of culture? Interesting!

          • Susan Filipiak says:

            Love that you noticed different cultures ability to weight shift. Indeed, cultures who have community dance simply know how to dance! It’s generational as well. My youth back in the 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s, we danced danced danced – it was part of everyday life in the community (not just studio life). Indeed, when I ask folks who have trouble with weight-shift, they quickly admit they have never danced before (!?!) and also don’t have any experience with a musical instrument! But children hardly ever have a weight-shift problem (if there is a challenge it’s because some children just show too much favoritism on their dominant side – but that quickly vanishes with practice).

          • Steve Zee says:

            Totally. Hey, we have a lot of experiences in common, I think. Steve

  • markrichards says:

    Hi Steve,
    I am a 64-year-old beginner hoofer (1 1/2 years experience) out of Montreal, Canada and I have just joined your online school thanks to Carol. I have already starting learning some things, but I have a couple of questions, please. The demo choreography: is that integrated into one of the other three choreographies or is that a stand-alone? Secondly, would it be possible to increase the recording volume of your videos slightly, please? If I am watching them while sitting, the volume is adequate, but if I try to watch them on a computer or on a multi-media projector while I am dancing, even with speakers hooked up, it is a little difficult to hear the instructions clearly. I am a teacher in a public school and I usually practice the steps wearing runners while watching your instruction on a multi-media whiteboard in my classroom after my students have gone home. Later, I practice the steps using my smart TV at home with my taps on and dancing on a large piece of plywood. Your instructions are clear and precise, but sometimes I can’t hear them. Thank you very kindly having created this program. – Sincerely, Mark Richards

    • Steve Zee says:

      Hi, Mark! Thanks so much for writing. That little clip of choreography on the Demo page is some Eddie Brown material (one of the great old guys with whom I studied) and I haven’t finished filming/editing all of the phrases so it’s not live on the site yet. But it will be! Currently, there are the 3 choreographies in the Choreography category and, as you know now, almost every Technique course ends with a choreography, as well. Regarding the volume, let’s figure this out. Sorry for asking the very basic question but have you tried to raise the volume on whatever device you are using? You should be able to make the volume as loud or as soft as you’d like on any device you use limited only by the power and quality of the speakers you have. When I look at videos on my laptop or phone, for example, I almost always plug into speakers or wear headphones as the built-in speaker is simply not strong enough for me to fully enjoy the sound. Let’s figure it out. Steve

  • markrichards says:

    Hi Steve,
    Thank you kindly for the info on the choreography. As for the volume issue that I am experiencing, it could be a problem on my end, but I am a computer teacher and the in-house techie in my school. When I play it on the classroom computer which is a Dell, I have to turn the computer volume up full and then also fully turn up the volume on the Labtec speakers with subwoofer. I can hear it, but if I compare the volume to most YouTube videos e.g. Landfill Harmonic, the volume is maybe half to two thirds. The same would be true if I compare it to most of the music I have ripped to the hard drive. I have similar results when I play it on my Microsoft Surface Pro with a Bluetooth Harman Kardon Studio 2 Onyx Speaker. That being said, it is a very minor issue.
    I have looked at most of the videos on the site with the exception of the technique section. Today in class, I was doing flaps and front shuffles. I was thinking of you: “loose ankles, loose ankles” and trying to think of the movement as being downward rather than forward. Your lesson reinforced what I had heard elsewhere from other teachers. The result was that even though this was my first class back after the summer, the combination of practicing on my own for the last two months and then trying to integrate your wisdom into my dancing, my teacher told me that my technique has improved. Furthermore, while attempting little improvs, I have been trying to forget about specific steps and concentrate more on the rhythm and hearing the music, – so my improvisation skills are also starting to show a little progress. Thank you for all of it. – Mark

    • Steve Zee says:

      Mark! Sorry for the delay in responding. I’m so glad you are seeing results. That is wonderful! I am very curious about this volume issue and wonder why you are experiencing these issues. We can keep communicating on that if you’d like. In the meantime, when you check out the Technique category I think you’ll enjoy the exercises and exercise choreography there! – Steve

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