How I teach a paddle and roll
Germaine Salsberg with Jill Kenney (left) and Shelby Kaufman (right) at Broadway Dance Center
Tap instructor Germaine Salsberg’s upright torso and pronounced posture are reminiscent of her days as a classical modern dancer with Toronto Dance Theatre. Now a renowned tap teacher for more than 20 years, Salsberg uses her modern roots to supplement her tap instruction for beginners and adults.
“I structure my classes like any ballet or modern class,” says Salsberg. “There’s an order of events leading to a final combination.” She appreciates students who have trained in other styles, because she says their sense of body awareness is heightened. “Modern dancers are used to quick weight shifts,” she says, which is very helpful when learning tap. “Tap’s shift of weight is very aggressive. You want to be completely over your standing hip and be committed to one foot—so you have time to finish a complete rhythmic structure—then change very quickly,” she says.
In order to gain what Salsberg calls “serviceable, loose feet,” necessary for tap, a dancer must allow the feet to follow the legs. The tendency for a new tapper is to want to control the ankle joints. Salsberg offers students the image of two bungee cords hanging from the ceiling and attaching to each hip bone. This gives a lift in the body, which frees the legs and prevents the lower back from swaying, without tightening up. “Although you use muscles in tap,” she says, “You don’t consciously muscle your way into sound. People who work muscularly tend to be very stiff. The trick is letting go.”
Salsberg first discovered tap as an adult when choreographer/film director Matthew Diamond asked her to tap in a dance he was choreographing. But her late introduction to tap has only amplified her teaching career. “I remember how I learned everything,” she says, “and I remember if it was a successful way of learning, or if I had to undo it six years later.” Here, Salsberg demonstrates a basic paddle and roll without using the familiar “digs” or “spanks”—language she feels inhibits students’ speed and efficiency.
After dancing with Toronto Dance Theatre for seven years, Germaine Salsberg moved to New York City, where she studied tap with Bob Audy, Charles Kelley and Danny Daniels. Salsberg was part of the Broadway production and national tour of The Tap Dance Kid, assisting Daniels and training the young dancers in the show. A tap instructor in New York for over 20 years, Salsberg currently teaches at Broadway Dance Center, Steps on Broadway, American Tap Dance Foundation and the summer program at New York University. She also performs, directs and choreographs for her Manhattan-based tap company, Les Femmes.
Shelby Kaufman, from Michigan, and Jill Kenney, from Rhode Island, dance with Les Femmes and are Salsberg’s teaching assistants.
Photo by Ramon Estevanell at Broadway Dance Center in New York City.