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 www.TapAcademyOnline.com!
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!