Music for Class: Gray's Got Rhythm

“I firmly believe that everybody has rhythm,” says Acia Gray, who originally found her tap-dancing beat playing the drums in R&B and country western bands. Gray co-founded Tapestry Dance Company in Austin, Texas, 20 years ago and teaches students from beginner- to professional-level at the Tapestry Dance Company Academy.

 

No matter a student’s level, Gray’s first step is to take them back to basics. Since most students learn to tap by routines, she likes to teach them, instead, to “speak tap” by practicing the fundamental elements of tap dance and playing with speed, accents and finesse. “We have to work these steps just like a piano player would with scales and arpeggios,” she says. “Then we can go on from there.”

 

Gray has danced, choreographed and taught for numerous organizations and festivals and is artistic director of TDC’s annual Soul to Sole Tap Festival. Her book, The Souls of Your Feet: A Tap Dance Guide for Rhythm Explorers, focuses, like her teaching, on returning tappers to the roots of their movement.

 

“When you listen to a piece of music, it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be, but the tap dancer should add another instrument without stepping on the rhythm that’s already there,” Gray says. “My main goal as a tap teacher is to have students understand that they are an instrument themselves.” DT

 

Click here for a video of Gray demonstrating the technique referenced in her book, The Souls of Your Feet.

 

Artist: Oscar Peterson

Album: Night Train

“These slow, spacious works help to build control. Kids, especially, move at a faster tempo and are not comfortable at a slower one where they can gain control. When using music that’s got a lot of space, students have to grab those downbeats and control their legs to stay on the beat.”

 

 

Artist: Hidden Beach Recordings

Album: Unwrapped

“This four-volume series is a cutting-edge fusion of hip-hop and jazz instrumental music. I use it in beginner or low-intermediate classes. The album’s steady hip-hop groove with a solid downbeat allows students to feel the tempo of the song, but it also exposes them to some incredible jazz solo riffs that are going all these different places.”

 

 

Artist: Club des Balugas

Album: Swop

“This lounge, nujazz project is an eclectic group that swings, hits and plays with interesting textures and grooves. Swop has a ’50s, campy, lounge music feel. The album is lighthearted and

playful, and it sets a great foundation for a fun warm-up or a teasing piece of choreography.”

 

Artist: Ellis Marsalis

Album: Heart of Gold

“Ellis Marsalis is a cool cat. This collection of standards and original works has a warm and cozy feel that lends itself to melodic play and traditional choreographic structure. The waltz selections are beautiful and a great introduction to 3/4 timing.”

 

 

Artist: Ahmad Jamal

Album: Digital Works

“This album holds great challenges in phrasing, solo voices and improvisational study for intermediate and advanced dancers, especially the versions of two songs, ‘Poinciana’ and ‘Wave.’”

 

 

Artist: Keith Terry

Album: SLAMMIN all-body band

“This has to be one of my all-time favorite albums. This brilliant group of vocal and body percussionists puts a tap dancer’s soul in a beautiful place. I’ve used this for choreography, percussive study and classes. It just makes you want to dance, and it’s a live album, so you actually hear them play off of each other. This is true rhythmic art.”

 

 

Photo by Farid Zarrinabadi, courtesy of Acia Gray

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Getty Images

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.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.