Seen and Heard at the Dance Teacher Summit
By the time he was 18, Mike Minery was already a tap innovator. It was then that he created the “shiggy bop,” a challenging step that has become a mainstay of his classes with JUMP Dance Convention. Here, he speaks with DT about teaching and choreographing tap, plus how to invent your own step.
Dance Teacher: Why is across-the-floor especially
important in a tap class?
Mike Minery: We tend to focus so much on footwork that a lot of times we forget about moving through space. You have to both sound and look good when you tap dance. I think one of the best examples is Gregory Hines in White Nights when he’s in the studio. He’s running around and traveling nonstop through that entire segment. It’s really important for kids to get used to using their space instead of standing in one spot and concentrating on technical steps all the time.
DT: So are your exercises not strictly technical? How do you switch it up?
MM: I try not to do the traditional “just do pullbacks across the floor.” I like to change it up and keep it fresh for students. There should be different layers to any exercise. I’ll start with a step I want students to work on—pullbacks for instance—then I’ll build a phrase that incorporates the step with movement that can travel. This helps me see if they’ve really mastered the step. Then I play with adding speed or maybe making it turn, all while they’re traveling. Students feel like they’re learning a combo instead of just focusing on a step, but you can give them technical pointers along the way.
DT: What does it take to create a new tap step?
MM: Tap has endless possibilities. It’s pretty much all formed from a variation of the same six steps: step-heels, dig-taps, flaps, shuffles, pullbacks and wings. It’s a very common vocabulary, but there is room for creativity. It’s kind of like music. It’s all the same chords, but there are infinite ways to arrange them.
I always encourage people to just spend time in the studio. You don’t really set out to make something up; but the more time you spend just moving, taking class or watching videos, the more ideas that just morph into something new. That’s how the shiggy bop happened. I was in the studio and started wondering what the opposite of a pullback would be, and as I played around it just happened. Later, Bob Rizzo heard me scat while I did it, and that’s where the name came from.
Photo by Mia Stringer, courtesy of Break The Floor Productions