How to tap dance with a cane

I have some very clear opinions about tap dancing with a cane and I think they come from my theater background. When I was studying theater at UCLA, I remember learning the following quote. It’s from the famous Russian playwright Anton Chekhov:

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”

In other words, why have something onstage if you are not going to use it?

Give the Cane Purpose

I think if you come out onstage to do a tap dance with a cane and you basically strut around with it, hold it in front of you and sway side to side, tap it on the ground once or twice, put it on your shoulder like a soldier puts a rifle, then you really have no need for a cane. There’s no payoff for the audience. If you bring it out it’s got to make rhythm, it’s got to spin and flip and be there for a reason. This, of course, will take some time and practice because it’s about integrating the cane and giving it purpose rather than just holding it. If you are going to dance with a cane then, well, dance with a cane, is my view.

Why don’t I see lots of tap dances with canes now?

Tap dancing with a cane isn’t really popular anymore and that makes sense. Back when people would dance with a cane, a “walking stick” was a fashion accessory for a well-dressed man. You would see people strolling down the avenue with a bent wood cane or in white tie and tails with a formal cane. Now we think that canes are for helping people walk (and they are) but they used to be more than that.

Check out these song lyrics!

These are some of the lyrics to an old Irving Berlin song I used to use when I would audition for musical theater. The song is called My Walking Stick and it’s from the 1930’s.

“Without my walking stick
I’d go insane
Can’t look my best
I’d feel undressed without my cane.”

Wow! This person really needs their cane! We sure don’t live in that era anymore! Now the song lyrics would be something like “Without my cell phone and my bluetooth connectivity and all of the apps I’ve loaded, I would have trouble checking my email, knowing my driving directions, checking my social media, listening to music and playing games” and that just doesn’t sound like a very catchy song to me.

How I learned to dance with a cane

I don’t remember who showed me my first cane flourish, how to spin the cane through my fingers, but I remember thinking it was fun and then watching lots of movies with cane twirling tap dancers and trying to figure out what they were doing.

Over time I experimented with different styles of canes and different thicknesses and weights and I found what I prefer. In my case it’s a bent wood cane, the kind with the curved handle. I like it because of the weight and the possibilities that come with the curved handle.

Eventually I worked out my own flourishes and moves because the way other people work the cane doesn’t always feel natural to me. For example, Fred Astaire (the best of the best with canes in my opinion) loves to use his pinky with his cane moves and I don’t so I’ve found other ways. And you will, too, once you get into it.

Then the next level of practice is being able to do the manipulations and dance at the same time. I have dropped a lot of canes in the rehearsal studio, that’s for sure (stand far away from breakable things for a while, is my advice) and I’ve cracked a few canes in half, too.

You can learn how to tap dance with a cane

Now that we’ve been having this discussion, why not come and learn how to really manipulate a cane and integrate it into your tap dancing and choreography? I’ve got two full cane courses on Tap Academy Online — the first explains the different kinds of canes that you can buy and where you can buy them and then moves on to teach some cane manipulations. The second course is an actual tap dance you can learn and use onstage yourself or with your students! There is an Mp3 track included that fits the dance perfectly.

And there’s lots more other than canes on!

Learn how to tap dance online with high-quality technique, exercises, choreography, music theory, improvisation and more!

The Berry Brothers and Fred Astaire

If you cruise around the internet looking for people who dance with a cane, don’t forget to check out The Berry Brothers in the 1942 movie Panama Hattie. Not only do they dance with a cane but they mix that in with their very intense flash moves like splits and flips and a mind-blowing ending that I won’t spoil for you here.

There are many fabulous Fred Astaire cane dances. I particularly like Puttin’ on the Ritz and also Drum Crazy from the movie Easter Parade. In Drum Crazy the cane tricks are just at the very, very end of the dance. It’s actually pretty remarkable to me. Right at the end of the dance, Astaire grabs his cane and prepares to make his exit. In the last bars of the choreography he whips out a series of cane moves, as a total afterthought, that are complicated and fun and spectacular and then he dances out the door. To get the last extra surprise in at the end of a dance is classic Fred Astaire. I love him and he can really dance with a cane! And you can, too!

See you soon!

“What kind of tap dance shoes should I buy?”

“Are super budget tap dance shoes OK?”

“Is there a price point I should look at for tap dance shoes?”

“What style of tap dance shoe should I buy?”

“Where do I buy tap dance shoes?”

“What’s the best tap dance shoe?”

These are questions I get asked by a lot of people! I have students at CSU, Long Beach and Santa Monica College and at dance studios all over the world who want to know the answers to these questions. Even experienced tap dancers want to talk about what tap dance shoe is the best.

Spoiler alert: There is no best tap dance shoe because it is an extremely personal decision. (Some people like chocolate and some people like vanilla.)

A variety of tap dance shoes, learn to choose the best tap dance shoes for you!

What kind of tap dance shoes should I buy?

Option 1 – The Perfect World Scenario: In a perfect world, you want a decent quality shoe, oxford style, hard leather sole (not a floppy split-sole) that will feel comfortable and sound good. You can expect to pay somewhere between $55 and $80 for an entry level shoe in this category or as much as $300 to $450 for a pair of high end tap dance shoes.

Spoiler alert: Not every super expensive tap dance shoe is worth the money. (I always laugh at advertisements for the $5,000 handbag. What’s wrong with the $4,000 handbag? Is the $500 handbag really that horrible?)

Option 2 – The Real World Scenario: In the real world, you probably make your decision largely based on cost. My university students don’t have a lot of money and other students might not want to invest in an expensive shoe if they are just giving tap dance a try to see if they like it. Fair enough, I say. I play jazz guitar and my first guitar was a piece of junk from a pawn shop. Now I have two nice guitars!

The benefits of a quality tap dance shoe are that it will feel comfortable, last reasonably long and sound good.

The benefit of the cheap, budget tap dance shoe is that you don’t have a lot of financial skin in the game to give tap dancing a try.

Where do I buy tap dance shoes?

Buy tap dance shoes in a dance supply store, theatrical supply store or online.

For super cheap tap dance shoes:

Your first stop should be to check out a discount dance supply store near you that is maybe blowing out tap shoes for $10 or $20. Walmart, believe it or not, often has cheap tap shoes and even a reputable brand like Capezio offers a style around $35 that you could find online.

For decent lower cost tap dance shoes:

For a decent quality shoe with a hard leather sole at an entry level price point of around $60 to $80, almost every brand has their version of it. Try searching for Bloch, Capezio, Danshuz, So Dança. There are other brands but these can help you begin your search.

For medium price point tap dance shoes:

For nicer leather and better construction and comfort at a medium price point of somewhere around $100 to $200, again, almost every brand has versions of those, too. Try searching for Bloch, Capezio, Danshuz, So Dança. There are other brands but these can help you begin your search.

For high end tap dance shoes:

If you want to go high end ($200 to $500) and even have the ability to customize the shoe for insoles or orthotics or pick your own custom color, you could try Capezio, Miller & Ben, Rubén Sánchez Dance Wear. Again, there are other brands but these can help you begin your search.

And here are two more things that come up when people ask about buying tap dance shoes:

“How should my shoes feel?”

Don’t believe the salesperson who says “It’s normal for your toes to feel like they are in a vice.” It’s tap dancing, everyone, and not the Spanish Inquisition. If a shoe isn’t relatively comfortable in the store it probably never will be, just like when you buy street shoes.

“Should I buy tap dance shoes with heels?”

I tell my students that flat, oxford style shoes will most likely feel better and sound better than heels but if they are a female in the musical theater world, it could be good for them to get comfortable dancing in a character shoe. After all, if you do a production of a classic old musical like “No, No, Nanette” or “42nd Street” or “Anything Goes” the women will almost certainly be costumed in heels for the tap sequences.

The bottom line about buying tap dance shoes:

Just as a professional musician will try a few different models of an instrument before they decide what is best for them, tap shoes require a bit of experimentation over time which is a little bit frustrating because it can get expensive to experiment! I myself have a few pairs of shoes in my closet that I acquired and tried and said, “This one is OK but it just isn’t for me.”

In the end, I tell my students to buy what they are comfortable buying which usually means a discussion based on price. The more and more into tap you get you will keep on trading up on quality and you will eventually arrive at the more high end shoes. It’s almost inevitable if you become passionate about tap dancing. So start practicing and start saving your money!

I hope this answers some of your questions about tap dance shoes! Feel free to ask a question or leave a comment.

Now it’s time to learn how to tap dance!

Once you have shoes, how about coming to learn tap dance online with me? I’ve taught and performed all over the world for decades, have danced with the best of the best and trained countless tap dancers, tap dance teachers and dance studio owners.

Please check out to learn how to tap dance online with high-quality technique, exercises, choreography, music theory, improvisation and more!

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