I was on board with Broadway Weekends – an online platform of classes that aims to connect theatre lovers to professional performers – even before I read its origin story. It was founded by two British sisters, Jeanna and Dani de Waal, who grew up obsessed with Broadway shows and went on to perform in a load of hits. Jeanna is currently playing Diana in the musical about Lady Di; Dani has become a software engineer (yes, Oliver Dowden, she could work in cybersecurity). None of this made me any more coordinated for Beginner Tap, but it all contributed to an overwhelming feeling of being among my own people.
Everyone else in the Zoom class was American – or, at least, I assumed so because they were smiling all the way through, and had very large windows. The tutor, John Scacchetti, has a CV as long as a Hamilton song, including 42nd Street, My Fair Lady (the Matthew Bourne revival) and Gypsy… and a little dog that he kept having to ask his flatmate to remove.
We started with two very simple moves: a shuffle and a flap. You should concentrate, and if you have any headroom, take notes. All the terminology is very 1930s. You think you can Google it afterwards, only to find it has been repurposed for porn.
The shuffle is the natural tap step you do when you first get your shoes and want to make a load of noise. It consists of a brush (strike your foot forward), and a spank (strike it backwards). Even as you get faster, in a single motion, this is pretty simple. The flap is just a brush and then a step. It doesn’t feel technical, and yet it is: try to freestyle for one second and you’ll find your weight is on the wrong leg, and your foot is in the wrong place, and wherever you’re trying to get to you can’t start from here.
These steps power you forward, and I crashed into my desk a number of times, but so slowly it was more of a graze. We didn’t start setting steps to music until we got to the waltz clog, so-called because it’s a waltz time, with an English clog step. This is when I started making a phenomenal amount of noise. A message from my Mr flashed across the screen, saying: “The dog thinks the sky is falling in.” Luckily, I’d switched off my camera. How does he know what the dog is thinking, anyway?
The waltz clog was our first official time step: a flap, a shuffle, a ball change; again on the other side; back to the first side; some connecting manoeuvres I didn’t quite catch; back to the start; set to Summertime. I want to say I was flying, but in fact I was a picture of confusion.
The absolute golden rule is that you learn each step incredibly slowly, then, when it’s baked into your muscle memory, speed it up. It’s the ultimate in incrementalism, which cannot be called challenging in a cardio sense. The day I break into a sweat doing a waltz clog is some way off. I think of it more as a mental exercise. Tap is not for sissies. Tap is for people who stick at things.
What I learned
You can make a step sequence look completely different if you change from an even rhythm to a swing rhythm. It’s really engrossing.