Silva reminds her students to breathe and smile.

Tap teacher Leah Silva likes to ask her beginning students, “What are we?" They know to reply with an enthusiastic, “We are musicians!" “We're a little bit different from regular dancers," Silva explains. “We get to use our bodies to dance, but we get to make music with our feet. We have a huge responsibility to be great in both."

After landing a job as an understudy for the all-female tap ensemble Syncopated Ladies, Silva became inspired by dance captain Sarah Reich's weekly drop-in class for tappers in L.A. Shortly after, Silva decided to organize her own weekly open class in Costa Mesa, California, for intermediate to advanced students. The Sunday night two-hour sessions allow students ample time to build stamina. “I like to start with the feet first—taps and heels—nothing really complicated. After we've done enough rudiments, then we move on to flaps through an entire four-minute song," she says. She reminds her students to keep breathing and smiling throughout the exercise, so that performance mode becomes second nature.

At the halfway point of her standard classes, she takes a 10-minute break to show her students video footage of notable tap dancers past and present. She points out how they hold their arms and carry their weight while tapping. “It's important for students to know why they're dancing the artform the way they're dancing it," she says. She does a brief Q&A about the lesson and then incorporates stylistic elements into her across-the-floor combinations. “I want them to feel like history is a part of what they're doing," she says. DT

Essential fitness equipment: Brine lacrosse ball to roll out her feet. “I suffer from plantar fasciitis, and this has really helped to alleviate pain in my foot."

Must-have clothing: “My “I Love Tap" apparel from Chloé + Maud Productions! These sisters have established a fantastic line of clothes that are cute and functional and spread the love of tap."

Favorite footwear: “I love teaching in my Duran's tap shoes. They have such a wonderful sound and feel great."

Recommended reading: TAP! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories 1900–1955 by Rusty E. Frank. “It was the first book about tap dance I ever read."

For an afternoon energy boost: “I make a homemade smoothie with orange juice, frozen fruits, power greens, chia seeds, local honey and handful of vegan dark chocolate chips."

Photo (top): by Sarah Delgado, courtesy of Leah Silva; smoothie: Thinkstock

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