Featured Articles

Aaron Tolson

How I teach rhythm tap

“Alright, time for some cramp-roll love,” says Aaron Tolson midway through his afternoon intermediate-advanced tap class at Broadway Dance Center in New York City. “You know how I love the cramp rolls.”

His students groan good-naturedly in anticipation of what’s coming. “C’mon, it’s good for you,” he says with a smile, rubbing his stomach. “Vegetables!”

With his lengthy mane of dreadlocks, Batman T-shirt and two-tone purple tap shoes, Tolson exudes cool as he slowly sounds out the accent he wants: “one-ee-and-a-two-ee-and-a.” He asks his dancers to step into their cramp rolls evenly, keeping the rhythm square, rather than jumping into them with a galloping rhythm. “Then the muscle memory sticks,” he explains later. “With the exception of brush, toe-heel is the foundation of tap dance.”

After a few rounds, he changes the accents so that each sound of the cramp roll’s toe-toe-heel-heel has a moment to shine (one-ee-and-a-two-ee-and-a-three-ee-and-a-four-ee-and-a). Brows furrow in concentration as his students try to punctuate each accent, sometimes jumbling up their feet in the process. But they keep going, shifting tempos, breaking into groups and, finally, demonstrating one by one.

“You’ll probably never have to do that onstage,” he tells them afterward. “But you can!”

For Tolson, challenging students with exercises slightly beyond their technical level shows them the scope of what they’re capable of. The result is greater confidence in their abilities, as opposed to frustration or discouragement. He starts out simply, gradually tacking on new layers of complexity—crossing the feet, turning, traveling—to the original phrase, allowing his students to gain thorough practice of both the fundamentals and more advanced variations.

While his drills are tough, Tolson keeps a casual demeanor, laced with light sarcasm and humorous catchphrases. (“May the floor be with you” is a frequent blessing from the self-proclaimed Star Wars geek.) “My teaching method is based on the idea that classes should be fun and lighthearted, while still challenging each person,” he says.

Tolson, who teaches at both BDC and Peridance Capezio Center, frequently drills exercises straight through to the end of class. “I never get to my combo,” he says. “I really just love to focus on technique.” His students, many of them aspiring professionals, don’t seem to mind. He often squats down to watch intently as their feet hammer the tap-battered floor, stopping to correct not only rhythmic missteps but also improper form.

For instance, in rhythm turns, he cautions against stepping on a turned-in foot after the initial shuffle. “I always say this is $50 more in your paycheck,” he says, showing a cleanly crossed foot. “The details make such a difference. When you just do this,” he says, demonstrating a sloppy example, “it becomes mush. But when you’re very specific, you become a great dancer.”

Below, Tolson and student Hannah Kravec break down three variations of rhythm turns.

 

Aaron Tolson grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, and started tapping with Joe Dussault in Lawrence, Massachusetts, at the age of 10. As a teenager, he studied under Julia Boynton and performed with Gregory Hines, Derick K. Grant and Savion Glover at the Apollo Theater. After graduating from St. John’s University, Tolson danced in a Tap Dogs training workshop and in Riverdance, and in 2010 he assistant-produced and choreographed the musical revue Imagine Tap! along with Grant. Tolson’s been on faculty at The Boston Conservatory and Plymouth State University, and he is currently on staff at Broadway Dance Center and Peridance Capezio Center. He serves as the director for Speaking In Taps, a pre-professional youth company based in Massachusetts. Together with his wife Emily and Derick K. Grant, Tolson co-directs the Tap2You competition.

Hannah Kravec is a student at Dance FX in Sunrise, Florida.

controlbar=over&file=http%3A%2F%2Fvideos.dancemedia.com/6a77d826edf163fbc1967860389a5917ec0c3164/video.mp4&image=/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/tolson_splash.jpg&&&viral.pluginmode=FLASH"/>

Photography by Kyle Froman

Show Comments ()
Dance Teachers Trending
Jenaé Elizabeth, founder of Dance Dynamix, with students. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth

No doubt turning the dream of owning a dance company into a fully operational business is a tough feat. From finding studio space, marketing, securing funding and more, it can all be very daunting. The challenge of taking a dance-related business to new heights can be even greater if you are a person of color. However, it's not impossible. According to the 2012 census, there are 27.6 million businesses in the United States, and only 2.6 million are black-owned. In honor of Black History Month, DT spoke with several black-owned dance studios and companies and asked them to reflect on the significance race has had on their efforts to run the dance company of their dreams.

Keep reading... Show less

Alexandra Costumes' bold apparel has been making its way onto stages across the nation and people are noticing. Why do coaches love these costumes so much? With years of experience in the dance industry, the minds behind Alexandra Costumes know what works for dancers—comfort, performance and stage-worthy style.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Ski ballet champion Richard Chompsky

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago back in the 1980s, ski ballet was a sport. At the Olympics. Yes, it's hard to fathom, but there was, in fact, an event, (technically a demonstration sport) at the 1988 Calgary Games and the 1992 Albertville Games, that entailed performing to music on a ski slop, with full skis and poles. One athlete even sported gold lamé sleeves on his ski suit. Although it was called "ski ballet," it's more like an eclectic celebration of ice skating meets gymnastics, with a ski base, and a dash of baton twirling.

The only question to be asked: Why is this still not a thing? Do yourself a favor, stop everything and watch these amazing highlights from this forgotten, yet wildly fantastic hybrid sport.

P.S. You're welcome.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by Joe Toreno

Every year, DT honors four outstanding dance educators. Past recipients of the Dance Teacher Awards have included studio owners, professors, program directors and more, whose specialties run the gamut of dance genres. We need your help to find this year's best in the profession. Do you know a teacher who deserves to be recognized as a leader and role model? (Of COURSE you do! Who first opened your eyes to dance? Who's mentored you in your own path to becoming a dance teacher? Who saw you hiding in the back row and sought you out after class to take an interest in your dance studies? Who introduced you to modern dance? Who helped you nail fouetté turns?) Nominate him or her for a 2018 Dance Teacher Award!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Misty Copeland. Photo by Jayme Thornton

Is anybody else confused about why dance isn't an Olympic sport, yet??? I mean, honestly. Dancers train like Olympians every day! They can stun you with their technical prowess, wow you with their uncanny athletic ability AND make you cry all at the same time. Dancers are freaking magicians, and it's time we let them into the Olympics!

Here's who we'd want to see on Team USA if dance were a part of the Olympics. This team is STACKED! Check it out!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of NYCDA

Competition and convention season can seem never-ending, but with access to the world's most popular teachers, the experience is invaluable and gives students the opportunity to learn from the best in the business.

Seth Robinson, who teaches contemporary and improv with STREETZ and REVEL dance conventions, has taught and judged thousands of dancers across the nation. Here, Robinson offers three tips to better prepare your students for dance's ever-popular, jam-packed events.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock
I'm a senior at a Performing Arts high school. I have been taking ballet for 2 years and started taking tumbling classes with a local gymnastics instructor. One of my jazz teachers advised me to stop as she said it would create bad habits. I enjoy the classes and think my dancing has improved. Thoughts?
Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored