Music for Class: Bring in the Noise

Germaine Salsberg lives to tap. In addition to being on faculty at Broadway Dance Center for over 20 years and teaching at STEPS on Broadway, she’s worked with Tony Award–winner Danny Daniels on the Broadway and national tours of Tap Dance Kid and has privately coached actors, including Liza Minnelli on the film Steppin’ Out. With a reputation for instilling a strong technical foundation through rhythm elements, it’s no wonder she recently released a CD of music for tap class. Along with pianist Kevin Cole, the two created Tap Tunes: For Tap Class and Practice. “I feel it is my obligation to acquaint students with different styles of tap. Therefore, I utilize different types of music,” says Salsberg. “Music choices need to be interesting enough to dance to, but not overwhelming.”

Artist: Gene Krupa
Song/Album: “Hodge Podge,” V Disk
“This is an oldie but goodie. It’s really a big-band sound, but it’s not so over-arranged that it takes over. It’s not real fast, but it has the Gene Krupa drive. Good for style, time steps and combinations that could incorporate a musical theater or big-band style.”

Artist: Jo Jones
Song/Album:“Jive at Five,” The Everest Years
“I did some work with Sarah Petronio in Paris, who is so swinging. She introduced me to the music of Jo Jones, a jazz drummer from the ’60s and ’70s, and boy does he swing, too! I love other songs on this album as well, so check out the entire album. The music is good for combinations—it really forces the students to listen and syncopate.”

Artist: Kenny Burrell
Song/Album: “Midnight Blue,” Midnight Blue (The Rudy Van Gelder Edition Remastered)
“This is a medium swing that keeps a very even tempo, and it goes on long enough to do long exercises (shuffles, double shuffles and triplets) at a relaxed pace.”

Artist: Jeff Golub
Song/Album: “Cold Duck Time,” Do It Again
“I fell in love with this song and found out it’s actually a jazz standard, but Golub arranged it in a jazz/funk mode. Warning—there is a variation in phrasing where he throws in a 12 measure once in a while, as opposed to the standard 8 measure. Not a fast-paced song, but there’s lots of room for double time and paddle and roll work.”

Artist: Oscar Peterson & Milt Jackson
Song/Album: “Work Song,” Very Tall
“I started using this song many years ago—and I used it and used it and used it! It’s great for warm-ups utilizing articulations and single-sound warm-ups for beginners, and I even choreographed a competition piece to it. It’s strong and driving, easy to hear, with a
certain amount of musical variation (not tempo) that keeps it interesting.”

Artist: Jane Monheit
Song/Album: “Taking A Chance On Love,” Taking A Chance On Love
“I often shy away from using vocals, because it comes across as too many elements with the tap sounds, music and the voice all at the same time. But Monheit is such a great jazz singer, and this song gives such a lift to the students. It really swings, has a great instrumental break and is quite peppy without being overly fast.”

Artist: Natalie Cole
Song/Album: “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” Unforgettable: With Love
“Cole’s voice really adds to the instrumentation. I use this all the time for my basic and beginner combinations. It is slow enough for them but does not drag and isn’t boring. It has a great musical break, and the students really listen—sometimes they even sing along.”

Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
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After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy TUPAC

When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

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