Teachers' Tools: Up Close With Sarah Reich

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

At first glance, Sarah Reich’s advanced tap master class in L.A. could be mistaken for a music lesson. A member of Chloé Arnold’s Syncopated Ladies tap band, Reich emphasizes the musicianship required to be a tapper. She has been known to hand out sheet music to students and to map out rhythm notation on a whiteboard during class. Learning to scat is a must. Reich herself almost quit dance as a child before a teacher who used scatting instead of counting helped her find a new way to understand rhythm. Today she operates by the rule, “If you can’t say it, you can’t do it.” She adds: “There’s a difference between me telling you this is the rhythm and you actually understanding. I have them sing or scat, ‘Dah, dah, diggy, diggy, dah, dah.’”

Reich encourages students to get the steps down and then make them their own. The possibilities are endless once you build the skills, she says. “It’s not like ballet, where there’s a perfect way to do the step. In tap, you can wear whatever clothes you want, whatever tap shoes you want. Unless it’s certain choreography, you can put your arms wherever you want.”

To keep students’ brains working, she’ll teach a step like a rhythm turn in straight counts, then syncopate it, changing where the accent falls. “I want them to understand that the accent is on the off beat, and that it’s my favorite thing in the entire world,” she says. The last five minutes of class are reserved for improvising. She asks students to apply what they learned during that class to their moves. “Tappers need to be great improvisers,” she says. “You should think of yourselves as a band, playing the music.” DT

For tapping her best: Capezio K360

tap shoes

Favorite dancewear brands: Jo+Jax, Lululemon and Forever 21 fitnesswear. “As a tap dancer, I can almost wear anything, as long as my ankles are free to move.”

For honing her musicianship: Reich studied drums for more than two years.

Always in her dance bag: a screwdriver. “I hate the sound of loose taps! They are high-pitched and they jingle. I can tell in one toe tap if someone’s screws are loose.”

To unwind: “I listen to some jazz albums on my record player and chill.”

 

Dance photos courtesy of Sarah Reich; shorts and shoe courtesy of manufacturers; record player: Trekandshoot/Thinkstock; screwdriver: Chimpinski/Thinkstock;

drums: James Steidl/Thinkstock

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