Tap dancing re-do


By Marla Boone

Contributing columnist

When I last left you hanging, perhaps while doing the pose known as the tree, the discussion hinged on how good yoga is for you. Skipping right over all the obvious benefits, I’m going to hone in on one that doesn’t spring immediately to mind. Oh sure, all that stretching and bending and limbering up keeps the ol’ joints lubricated. But another great advantage to being a yoga practitioner is how much it helps a person’s tap dancing. Didn’t see that coming, did you?

Thirty years ago, when I was looking at 40 from a very intimate perspective, I took one year of tap class. The late, great Steve Boone, while always supportive, lived in fear that at some point there would be a recital. He pictured himself sitting in the audience, amid a sea of parents filming their particular sun flower. What he especially dreaded was someone leaning over to ask him, “Which one is yours?” To which he was prepared to answer, “The tall one.” In the course of a year, I acquired knowledge of many little steps, of a couple of little dances, and of the realization that I was not a natural in the world of step ball change. There were three of us in the class, and we counted the session as successful if none of us fell down. Not falling down, you understand, sets the standard pretty low. Even so, the sessions were not always successful.

Despite the fact I wasn’t very good at tap, I liked it. This phenomenon has been repeated recently with my foray into pickle ball. I thought pickle ball was for old people looking to get out of their rocking chairs for an hour a day. Hah! If being wrong has degrees, this is as wrong as a person can get. Pickle ball is a game for people (old, young, and in between) looking to spike a yellow plastic orb at warp speed into any available body part of their opponents. The face is a particular favorite. (Not really…I’m just a sore loser. Literally and figuratively.) But we’re talking about tap here. Not pickle ball. We’re not talking about the fact that I have no backhand and my serve is uneven. And I can’t return a ball with back spin on it. Or determine, within several feet, where my shots are going to end up. Most of the people I play have all the above facts figured out in about four minutes. This is not restful, not to mention not conducive to winning.

Tap. Focus on tap. In the past 30 years, many things have not improved and my tap skills are one of them. For me, two vitally important components of tap have changed, shall we say, precipitously. One increased, one decreased. The thing that increased is the apparent distance between my brain and my feet. The nice teacher shows us a step. We go over it and over it. And over it and over it. She talks us through every single movement. My brain hears her words. Technically, my ears hear her words but my brain is involved in the process at some point. The time it takes for my brain to inform my feet what they are supposed to be doing is appalling. Whole minutes go by while my brain tries to tell my feet to, for the love of Pete, shuffle not flap and right foot not left. A normal person could actually shuffle all the way off to Buffalo in the time it takes my brain to get the message to my feet to do it once. The thing that has decreased is my ability to balance. A great deal of tap dancing is done on one foot. You can’t make that lovely “tap!” sound with your feet flat on the floor, you know. You have to stand on one foot while the other shuffles or flaps or spanks or does a pull back or some other arcane maneuver. And standing on one foot takes balance. The studio where I, for the lack of a better word, dance, has, like most dance studios, a wall of mirrors. In the mirror, we see the reflection of the graceful instructor performing some step. To either side of her, we see the reflection of other women (no men have come forward to join us) who are waving their arms like windmills trying to keep their balance while they segue from a Cincinnati into a Shirley Temple. (Neither of these, alas, are drinks.)

I have found it helps things if I write down each element of the steps. If I can keep the notebook in front of me, I do pretty well. It seems to speed up the transmission from brain to foot. Unfortunately, dancing while holding a notebook is not the way to win a starring role in “A Chorus Line.” I chanced a peek in the implacable, malevolent, ever-present, never-blinking mirror one day and discovered I looked like a choir member with a very bad case of restless leg syndrome. Give my regards to Broadway, which will have to shuffle off without me.

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