Teachers' Tools: Up Close With Lisa Swenton-Eppard

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

Swenton-Eppard leads rehearsal

During a Capitol Tap rehearsal, the mirrored rooms at Washington, DC’s Knock on Wood Tap Studio echo with the rhythmic clatter of shoes. Some dancers drill steps on a staircase set piece that will be used in an upcoming show. Others review or teach choreography or invent new sounds that could get added to a number. Founding director Lisa Swenton-Eppard encourages dancers, who range in age from 9 to 25, to instruct and support one another, in the spirit of tap’s social tradition. “We give the initial choreography,” she says, referring to herself and assistant director Baakari Wilder. But if dancers miss a rehearsal or need review, they learn from their peers. “I watch and make comments and give suggestions. I’m walking around to the different rooms teaching dancers how to pass on work. Everybody’s becoming a teacher.”

As a faculty member at Knock on Wood with three decades of teaching experience, Swenton-Eppard founded Capitol Tap in 2010 as the studio’s company in residence. Her goal was to give dancers—whether enrolled at the studio or not—a place to pursue rhythm tap in a pre-professional setting.

The group of dancers meets four hours a week, in addition to any regular classes they take. While they use much of that time for rehearsal, Swenton-Eppard also plans activities to enrich their learning. For instance, she may have them listen to and discuss the structures of jazz music. Recently, they spent a whole session sharpening improvisation skills with a focus on phrasing. “You have to tell a story,” she tells the dancers. “You’re not going to throw out a bunch of steps that have no connection and don’t make music. You want to create phrases that are separated by commas and then put a period at the end.” DT

To hone rhythm: “We brought in drummers who brought djembes for everybody. You’re using your hands instead of your feet, but you’re still creating music.”

Her instrument: Jason Samuels Smith tap shoe by Bloch. “They are comfortable, sturdy and the perfect price point.”

For body maintenance: “I try to squeeze in a massage as often as I can. It keeps my muscles loose, allowing more flexibility and relaxation.”

Spreading the word: In her newsletter to tappers, Swenton-Eppard includes a “weekly inspiration” link to a biography, video clip or article that ties in to what they have been working on.

Must-have Meal: Chesapeake Bay crabs are a favorite in Maryland, and sitting down at a paper-covered table each summer with family and friends is an annual tradition.”

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Photos: by James Eppard, courtesy of Lisa Swenton-Eppard; ©Thinkstock (3); courtesy of manufacturer

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