Claudia Rahardjanoto likes to keep her adult-beginner tap students on their toes. "The vocabulary itself is not tricky, but I make it a little bit more difficult with weight shifts," she says. "It's not always going to be the classic flap-ball-change. Maybe it's going to be a flap-heel, ball-change."
Taking basic, building-block steps—step-heels, walks, shuffles, cramp rolls, flaps—and rearranging them to create more complex phrases is fundamental to Rahardjanoto's classes at Steps on Broadway in New York City. To mix things up, she changes the timing, emphasis and sequence of steps, keeping classic tap vocabulary fresh for drop-ins and her seasoned regulars alike. Her special combination of brain-teasing exercises and a multisensory approach to tap pedagogy empowers students physically and mentally, making a beginner class feel like anything but, and in the best way.
Her first physical challenge arrives at the end of the warm-up and center work. It's what Rahardjanoto refers to as "The Marathon," and it's exactly what it sounds like: several minutes of constant movement, no stopping. The students start with some easy running flaps around the room and then transition into flap-steps, flap-ball-changes, shuffle-hops, Irishes and shuffle-ball-changes. The tempo is manageable but definitely raises the dancers' heart rates. "That takes care of the cardio part of the day," jokes Rahardjanoto.
Next up? The Quiz. She challenges her students to piece together a four- to eight-measure phrase based on terminology and rhythm alone, without her demonstrating. "OK, we're going: fa-LAP-ball-change, fa-LAP-ball-change, shuffle-step, ca-RAMP roll," she chants from her chair at the corner of the room. She gives the class a few minutes to figure out the full phrase, weaving around the room to troubleshoot problem spots with anyone who's confused. "I tell them what to do, I count it for them and I scat it for them," she says. "That way they can make sure that their brain-to-foot connection is really working."
When her students perform the combination—which always starts on the left side, as an added challenge—to music, Rahardjanoto will throw in another curveball or two, like asking her students to face the back wall instead of the mirror. "Now," she tells them, "all you have is the weight of how it feels. And you can listen to each other."
Despite so many brainteasers, the mood in the studio always remains light, thanks to her encouragement and positivity. When one student who'd been struggling with a particularly tricky across-the-floor segment finally gets it right, Rahardjanoto is right there to cheer her on. "There it is!" she says. "You got it."
Claudia Rahardjanoto is from Germany. Since 2003, she has been a professional tap dancer in New York City, and a teacher since 2004. She has performed with Michelle Dorrance, Andrew Nemr, Jared Grimes, Max Pollak, Mike Minery, Roxane Butterfly and Barbara Duffy. She currently teaches at Steps on Broadway and the American Tap Dance Foundation.
Keeko Nakadai is a freelance tap dancer in New York City.