Time steps are a basic part of the tap dance vocabulary. They come out of the Buck dancing of the 1800’s and although “rhythm tappers” are rarely found doing basic time steps these days (at least not without a bunch of fun complications and variations) time steps are still foundational to tap technique and typical steps in a musical theater setting. Everyone should learn basic time steps.

“The time step is executed in as many ways as there are tap dancers.”
Jack Donahue

There are countless time steps and modifications of time steps and you can feel free to invent your own but there are several time steps that most people know. If you walk into a musical theater audition and someone says, “Do you know time steps?” what they usually mean is a basic, traditional single, double or triple time step.

Even though these basic single, double and triple time steps are the “must know” time steps and everyone learns them from their dance teacher they are often misunderstood. Traditional single, double and triple time steps should start on 4 (or 8 if you like counting counts of 8) rather than on 1. This is so the accent will be on 2 and 4. They also traditionally begin with two sounds like with a shuffle, for example.

Teaching Basic Time Steps

All of us alter traditional steps and that is great. We can tweak and mess with any step we want to, especially when we are bending tap vocabulary to our tastes to build choreography. Anything is changeable and this goes for time steps, too. We can do with them what we will – but this is different from knowing how to teach or dance a basic traditional time step correctly. Modify all you want but teach the basics correctly.

Here’s my example: say you have a show on the Cooking Channel and your are dedicating one episode to how to make a basic pomodoro sauce. It’s your show so you decide to swap the tomatoes for oranges. (This sounds unappetizing to me, personally, but it’s your show) If you keep saying pomodoro sauce about your weird orange recipe and offer no explanation about how you have replaced the tomatoes with oranges then you are misleading people about what pomodoro sauce is because you don’t have a pomodoro sauce. You have an orange sauce. By all means make your weird sauce but be clear about the changes you have made, call it something like “No Tomato Orange Pomodoro Sauce” or something that isn’t misleading. Be clear about what is correct and traditional and what you have modified.

Modify all you want but teach the basics correctly

Back to tap dancing: I could start a basic single time step on 1 with a single wing if I felt like it but I would turn to my class and say, “Class, this is a modified single time step. We’ll start on 1 instead of on 4 and we’ll use a wing instead of a shuffle.” This way I communicate that I have something based on a traditional time step that is no longer a traditional time step.

Think about it like this:  If I teach my newly invented “Wing on 1” time step to someone and tell them it’s a “single” and then they show up at an audition and they do my Orange Sauce Time Step as a single and get told to leave in the first cut, they will be very upset with me. Modify all you want but teach the basics correctly.

There are lots of different time steps

There are other super basic time steps that are perhaps a little less danced but still traditional and worth knowing. Just off the top of my head there are:

Double Triple Time Steps
Extended Time Steps
Traveling Time Steps
Buck Time Steps
Fake Wing Time Steps

And for all of these time steps there are modifications, as well. You can alter the beginning. You can add cramp rolls and sneak in extra heels. You can replace hops with heels and on and on and on.

John Bubbles and rhythm time steps

And all of this talk of singles, doubles and triples is aside from a different category of time steps that comes from the great John Bubbles. Rhythm time steps. They typically take 2 bars (a count of 8) instead of 1 bar (4 counts) like the singles, doubles and triples we’ve been discussing. These rhythm time steps are super swinging and come with their own series of modifications, too. I enjoy these time steps quite a bit because they groove nicely and can be tweaked in a zillion fun ways.

There is a Basic Time Step course on Tap Academy Online. In it you will learn to dance basic, traditional single, double and triple time steps correctly. You will also learn some basic modifications like starting with dig brush and stomp brush instead of shuffle. Then we get deeper into the modifications like dancing the time steps both straight and swinging, not changing sides and extending them to take twice as long as a traditional single, double and triple.

In the style of Bill Robinson

In the Basic Time Step course, once we learn a basic triple time step and then modify it to not change sides, we learn Bill Robinson’s famous break that he does in lots of his choreographies. Generally speaking, Bill Robinson’s dancing contains lots of time steps and elements of time steps. This is most likely due to the period in which he grew up and learned to dance. He was born back in the 1870’s and was already well established in vaudeville by the beginning of World War I. (That’s around 1914 if you forgot your high school history!)

In future Tap Academy Online courses we’ll get into lots of additional types of time steps and modifications. There is so much to talk about with time steps!

Gene Kelly and time steps

If you are a Gene Kelly fan, there are also lots of time steps in his choreographies, too, specifically a certain traveling time step that he did in multiple dances in multiple movies. Even as I write this I am picturing him doing that particular traveling time step in S’Wonderful on the sidewalk in Paris.

Why are they called time steps?

The most plausible explanation I’ve heard is that time steps were intended to mark time. Say it’s 1920 and I’m a tap dancer. I could walk out on stage in a vaudeville show, for example, and start dancing time steps to give the tempo to the orchestra leader who could then count in the musicians. As the song begins I would shift seamlessly from my time steps to my choreography. Time steps as a way of giving tempo.

Everyone should learn basic time steps

So whether you are a musical theater lover who likes Gene Kelly or dancing like in the Broadway production of 42nd Street or you lean toward the old-fashioned 1920’s, jazz era steps like Bill Robinson or you are a hard core tapper who adores the style of John Bubbles, having these time steps in your toolkit and understanding how they work is smart. You’ll ace musical theater auditions and also be able to tweak and manipulate them to suit your tastes and choreography.

For more research:

Want to read a little bit more about time steps? In my university history course, I rely heavily on the the book “Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance,” by Marshall & Jean Stearns. In the book there is a chapter on King Rastus Brown that talks about time steps and ties in Bill Robninson, as well.

Learn to tap dance online with Tap Academy Online!

Now that we’ve had this discussion of time steps, how about coming to learn tap dance online with me? I’ve taught and performed all over the world for decades, have danced with the best of the best and trained countless tap dancers, tap dance teachers and dance studio owners. I can get you not only doing these basic time steps but really understanding them, as well.

Please check out Tap Academy Online to learn how to tap dance online with high-quality technique, exercises, choreography, music theory, improvisation and more! The Course Categories page will give you an idea of what you’ll be doing once you subscribe to the site!

(As a parting thought I’d just like to say that having orange pasta sauce is seeming more and more like a bad idea to me. I’m sorry I even brought it up!)

Steve loves his tap shoes!

How to tap dance with a cane

I have some very clear opinions about tap dancing with a cane and I think they come from my theater background. When I was studying theater at UCLA, I remember learning the following quote. It’s from the famous Russian playwright Anton Chekhov:

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”

In other words, why have something onstage if you are not going to use it?

Give the Cane Purpose

I think if you come out onstage to do a tap dance with a cane and you basically strut around with it, hold it in front of you and sway side to side, tap it on the ground once or twice, put it on your shoulder like a soldier puts a rifle, then you really have no need for a cane. There’s no payoff for the audience. If you bring it out it’s got to make rhythm, it’s got to spin and flip and be there for a reason. This, of course, will take some time and practice because it’s about integrating the cane and giving it purpose rather than just holding it. If you are going to dance with a cane then, well, dance with a cane, is my view.

Why don’t I see lots of tap dances with canes now?

Tap dancing with a cane isn’t really popular anymore and that makes sense. Back when people would dance with a cane, a “walking stick” was a fashion accessory for a well-dressed man. You would see people strolling down the avenue with a bent wood cane or in white tie and tails with a formal cane. Now we think that canes are for helping people walk (and they are) but they used to be more than that.

Check out these song lyrics!

These are some of the lyrics to an old Irving Berlin song I used to use when I would audition for musical theater. The song is called My Walking Stick and it’s from the 1930’s.

“Without my walking stick
I’d go insane
Can’t look my best
I’d feel undressed without my cane.”

Wow! This person really needs their cane! We sure don’t live in that era anymore! Now the song lyrics would be something like “Without my cell phone and my bluetooth connectivity and all of the apps I’ve loaded, I would have trouble checking my email, knowing my driving directions, checking my social media, listening to music and playing games” and that just doesn’t sound like a very catchy song to me.

How I learned to dance with a cane

I don’t remember who showed me my first cane flourish, how to spin the cane through my fingers, but I remember thinking it was fun and then watching lots of movies with cane twirling tap dancers and trying to figure out what they were doing.

Over time I experimented with different styles of canes and different thicknesses and weights and I found what I prefer. In my case it’s a bent wood cane, the kind with the curved handle. I like it because of the weight and the possibilities that come with the curved handle.

Eventually I worked out my own flourishes and moves because the way other people work the cane doesn’t always feel natural to me. For example, Fred Astaire (the best of the best with canes in my opinion) loves to use his pinky with his cane moves and I don’t so I’ve found other ways. And you will, too, once you get into it.

Then the next level of practice is being able to do the manipulations and dance at the same time. I have dropped a lot of canes in the rehearsal studio, that’s for sure (stand far away from breakable things for a while, is my advice) and I’ve cracked a few canes in half, too.

You can learn how to tap dance with a cane

Now that we’ve been having this discussion, why not come and learn how to really manipulate a cane and integrate it into your tap dancing and choreography? I’ve got two full cane courses on Tap Academy Online — the first explains the different kinds of canes that you can buy and where you can buy them and then moves on to teach some cane manipulations. The second course is an actual tap dance you can learn and use onstage yourself or with your students! There is an Mp3 track included that fits the dance perfectly.

And there’s lots more other than canes on www.TapAcademyOnline.com!

Learn how to tap dance online with high-quality technique, exercises, choreography, music theory, improvisation and more!

The Berry Brothers and Fred Astaire

If you cruise around the internet looking for people who dance with a cane, don’t forget to check out The Berry Brothers in the 1942 movie Panama Hattie. Not only do they dance with a cane but they mix that in with their very intense flash moves like splits and flips and a mind-blowing ending that I won’t spoil for you here.

There are many fabulous Fred Astaire cane dances. I particularly like Puttin’ on the Ritz and also Drum Crazy from the movie Easter Parade. In Drum Crazy the cane tricks are just at the very, very end of the dance. It’s actually pretty remarkable to me. Right at the end of the dance, Astaire grabs his cane and prepares to make his exit. In the last bars of the choreography he whips out a series of cane moves, as a total afterthought, that are complicated and fun and spectacular and then he dances out the door. To get the last extra surprise in at the end of a dance is classic Fred Astaire. I love him and he can really dance with a cane! And you can, too!

See you soon!

“What kind of tap dance shoes should I buy?”

“Are super budget tap dance shoes OK?”

“Is there a price point I should look at for tap dance shoes?”

“What style of tap dance shoe should I buy?”

“Where do I buy tap dance shoes?”

“What’s the best tap dance shoe?”

These are questions I get asked by a lot of people! I have students at CSU, Long Beach and Santa Monica College and at dance studios all over the world who want to know the answers to these questions. Even experienced tap dancers want to talk about what tap dance shoe is the best.

Spoiler alert: There is no best tap dance shoe because it is an extremely personal decision. (Some people like chocolate and some people like vanilla.)

A variety of tap dance shoes, learn to choose the best tap dance shoes for you!

What kind of tap dance shoes should I buy?

Option 1 – The Perfect World Scenario: In a perfect world, you want a decent quality shoe, oxford style, hard leather sole (not a floppy split-sole) that will feel comfortable and sound good. You can expect to pay somewhere between $55 and $80 for an entry level shoe in this category or as much as $300 to $450 for a pair of high end tap dance shoes.

Spoiler alert: Not every super expensive tap dance shoe is worth the money. (I always laugh at advertisements for the $5,000 handbag. What’s wrong with the $4,000 handbag? Is the $500 handbag really that horrible?)

Option 2 – The Real World Scenario: In the real world, you probably make your decision largely based on cost. My university students don’t have a lot of money and other students might not want to invest in an expensive shoe if they are just giving tap dance a try to see if they like it. Fair enough, I say. I play jazz guitar and my first guitar was a piece of junk from a pawn shop. Now I have two nice guitars!

The benefits of a quality tap dance shoe are that it will feel comfortable, last reasonably long and sound good.

The benefit of the cheap, budget tap dance shoe is that you don’t have a lot of financial skin in the game to give tap dancing a try.

Where do I buy tap dance shoes?

Buy tap dance shoes in a dance supply store, theatrical supply store or online.

For super cheap tap dance shoes:

Your first stop should be to check out a discount dance supply store near you that is maybe blowing out tap shoes for $10 or $20. Walmart, believe it or not, often has cheap tap shoes and even a reputable brand like Capezio offers a style around $35 that you could find online.

For decent lower cost tap dance shoes:

For a decent quality shoe with a hard leather sole at an entry level price point of around $60 to $80, almost every brand has their version of it. Try searching for Bloch, Capezio, Danshuz, So Dança. There are other brands but these can help you begin your search.

For medium price point tap dance shoes:

For nicer leather and better construction and comfort at a medium price point of somewhere around $100 to $200, again, almost every brand has versions of those, too. Try searching for Bloch, Capezio, Danshuz, So Dança. There are other brands but these can help you begin your search.

For high end tap dance shoes:

If you want to go high end ($200 to $500) and even have the ability to customize the shoe for insoles or orthotics or pick your own custom color, you could try Capezio, Miller & Ben, Rubén Sánchez Dance Wear. Again, there are other brands but these can help you begin your search.

And here are two more things that come up when people ask about buying tap dance shoes:

“How should my shoes feel?”

Don’t believe the salesperson who says “It’s normal for your toes to feel like they are in a vice.” It’s tap dancing, everyone, and not the Spanish Inquisition. If a shoe isn’t relatively comfortable in the store it probably never will be, just like when you buy street shoes.

“Should I buy tap dance shoes with heels?”

I tell my students that flat, oxford style shoes will most likely feel better and sound better than heels but if they are a female in the musical theater world, it could be good for them to get comfortable dancing in a character shoe. After all, if you do a production of a classic old musical like “No, No, Nanette” or “42nd Street” or “Anything Goes” the women will almost certainly be costumed in heels for the tap sequences.

The bottom line about buying tap dance shoes:

Just as a professional musician will try a few different models of an instrument before they decide what is best for them, tap shoes require a bit of experimentation over time which is a little bit frustrating because it can get expensive to experiment! I myself have a few pairs of shoes in my closet that I acquired and tried and said, “This one is OK but it just isn’t for me.”

In the end, I tell my students to buy what they are comfortable buying which usually means a discussion based on price. The more and more into tap you get you will keep on trading up on quality and you will eventually arrive at the more high end shoes. It’s almost inevitable if you become passionate about tap dancing. So start practicing and start saving your money!

I hope this answers some of your questions about tap dance shoes! Feel free to ask a question or leave a comment.

Now it’s time to learn how to tap dance!

Once you have shoes, how about coming to learn tap dance online with me? I’ve taught and performed all over the world for decades, have danced with the best of the best and trained countless tap dancers, tap dance teachers and dance studio owners.

Please check out www.TapAcademyOnline.com to learn how to tap dance online with high-quality technique, exercises, choreography, music theory, improvisation and more!

I am so excited to share this course! We start with a discussion of the history of the blues (the who, what, when, where, why) and then move on to a discussion of the 12 bar structure and the 3 chords that make the harmony of a basic blues. You will really be ready to dance to a blues tune! All of this is in Music Theory 7 Blues.

Have fun!

Steve

Here is something that I absolutely love to do:  Take double shuffles and replace them with thirds. That is what we work on in Technique 15 – Double Shuffle 2 (with Thirds). I find a lot of use for this technique in many different kinds of steps and working on it is great to simply improve your overall technique, staying relaxed and trying to dance without tension. Have fun!

Steve

Here is Technique 14 Double Shuffle 1 an entire course on basic double shuffles! There are a total of 7 videos dealing with technique, music, counting and tonality and we end by dancing an exercise made up of 4 practice phrases. Have fun mastering your basic double shuffles!

More coming soon, as always!

Steve