Teachers' Tools: Up Close With Zada Cheeks

Teachers share the philosophies and materials that make them successful in their careers and classes.

Carrying nervous tension in the body can make a tricky tap combo harder than it needs to be. “Students can often be insecure about making mistakes, worrying about other people in class or

what I’m thinking of them,” says Zada Cheeks, a performer with the Chicago Human Rhythm Project and a tap teacher throughout the Chicagoland area. “I tell them just breathe, relax, take a couple of seconds. We’re good.” If a dancer struggles to pick up a step, Cheeks will have her practice it alone without music so she can better hear the details of her footwork and build confidence in her ability. “If you make a mistake, that’s fine because it means your body’s work- ing into it,” he says.

Originally trained in jazz, ballet, modern and acrobatics, Cheeks added tap to his repertoire around age 11. He frequently incorporates elements of his diverse training into his classes, pointing out similarities and differences between genres to clarify his approach. For example, while holding one’s center is essential in almost all styles, tappers apply the concept differently than classical dancers. “In ballet, you use your center to lift up, while tap dancing is grounded and low to the floor, more like modern dance,” Cheeks says. “I think those comparisons help students apply it to their own bodies.” DT

In his downtime, Cheeks is a self- proclaimed video gamer. “RPGs

[role-playing games] are my favorite,” he says. “I like to explore the world and take

my time with the game.”

“I can’t live without Snickers bars. They’re too good to give up.”

Lately, Cheeks has been favoring

Bloch’s Jason Samuels Smith tap shoes when teaching and performing.

“Whenever I mention famous dancers, I have my students go look them up on YouTube and see how well they move. I often tell people to watch the Nicholas Brothers in Stormy Weather and any videos of Savion Glover.”

“I always carry extra shoes laces, screws and a screwdriver to keep my taps solid.” (Só Dança shown.)

Photos: head shot and teaching photo courtesy of Zada cheeks; Nicholas Brothers Youtube screen grab; all others courtesy of manufacturers

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