How I teach a rhythm turn

“In my class, you can hear yourself, says Derick K. Grant, who teaches 95 percent of his tap classes a cappella. “Students tend to hide behind the music, and it’s a false sense of security. I take out the music so that people can really hear the sounds they’re making and be in control of them.” Emphasizing rhythm-building and tone and sound development, Grant’s classes focus on elements that can help dancers develop their own styles. “I always tell them, steps don’t make the dancer; the dancer makes the steps,” he says.

An athletic and dynamic hoofer, Grant trained early on with master teacher Dianne Walker and performed alongside bandleader Cab Calloway and tap legends Chuck Green and Bunny Briggs at only 10 years old. It wasn’t until his early 20s that he became aware of his own rich sound and began developing it. “When I started dancing with Savion [Glover], he had such a strong sound. A lot of us used to stomp to compete with his volume, and we’d joke that his big, size-13 feet were behind it,” says Grant. “I started to research how I could get the most from my own feet, a humble size 11. That’s when I realized range: For as much stomping as I was doing, I could be equally as effective by lightening up. I saw how many shades there were between dark and light, soft and heavy. Once you find those nuances, you start to be responsible for your sound.”

Though his classes hardly use music, much of Grant’s inspiration comes from musicians. “I started paying attention to horn and piano players to see what I could learn from them,” he says. “I’m completely fascinated with pianists’ ability to play the bass line and melody at the same time.” Grant draws on this concept for the warm-up exercises: He sets a steady bass-line rhythm with one foot, and gradually layers onto it with the other foot. Students follow along, picking up the rhythms and mimicking his melody.

Grant doesn’t speak for much of the warm-up, challenging students to figure out the steps by listening to their sounds. And for a few minutes each session, he asks students to face the back wall and repeat the phrases that he taps in an exercise he calls “no peeky-peeky.” “They need to learn with their ears as much as they learn with their eyes,” he says. “At its basic form, this activity is about rhythm, but eventually, I want them to hear the highs and lows. It’s not enough to do a ‘boom, boom, boom,’ if I’m tapping a ‘di, di, di.’” While the individual steps aren’t important—one student may choose a flap over a shuffle for example—it’s about finding the right notes that fit the rhythm.

This exercise also helps students develop improvisational skills, since they have to think quickly to imitate Grant’s phrases. “New students often get frustrated with the fact that they constantly choose the same three or four steps,” he says. “But I say, that’s a good thing. To know yourself is power. If you feel you’re about to do the same step, change which foot you use, take a note out or try to make it a turn. Use the same ingredients to make a different dish.”

Here, Grant teaches a rhythm turn, and he offers two variations to the beginning of the basic step that challenge students’ balance and ability to transfer weight.  

Originally from Boston, Derick K. Grant studied with Andrea Major, Dianne Walker and Paul and Arlene Kennedy. After graduating from high school, Grant moved to L.A. to work with Lynn Dally’s Jazz Tap Ensemble. He received a Princess Grace Award and later performed in the original production and national tour of Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk. He was choreographer and director of the 2006 Chicago-based show Imagine Tap!, and his work has appeared on “So You Think You Can Dance.” Grant currently teaches at the American Tap Dance Foundation and Steps on Broadway in New York City, as well as countless workshops and intensives, including The School at Jacob’s Pillow, Chicago Human Rhythm Project and the DC Tap Fest. He is a founder and co-director of Tap2You, a five-city tap convention and competition.

 

Photo by Matthew Murphy at Steps on Broadway in NYC

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Mitchell Button, courtesy of the artist

Dusty Button prefers music with a range. "There needs to be a beginning, a climax and a strong ending. Like a movie," she says. The award-winning dancer, who joined American Ballet Theatre's second company, ABT II, at 18, has always been drawn to lyric-free tracks filled with dynamic phrasing, rhythms and composition. "Whether it's the violin, piano or cello, instrumental music gives me more inspiration. I want the dancers and the audience to feel something new," she adds.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

When the news broke that Prince George, currently third in line for the British throne, would be continuing ballet classes as part of his school curriculum this year, we were as excited as anyone. (OK, maybe more excited.)

This was not, it seems, a sentiment shared by "Good Morning America" host Lara Spencer.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo via Claudia Dean World on YouTube

Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.

These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox