It’s not as effortless as it looks, as Estelle Low finds out during a beginner class at Stepping Out Studios.
Claire and Estelle are dancing gracefully like Emma Stone, thanks to instructor Chelsea.
Our writer and intern are a picture of focus during the class.
Watching Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling tap dance in the recent La La Land movie, I was completely enthralled. There they were, two actors with no dance backgrounds, moving in perfect harmony and synchrony as though they’ve been doing it all their lives.
Of course that’s what actors – especially award-winning ones like them – do: Practise for hours every day for months until they look and act the part.
Their coordination was so strong and the on-screen chemistry so sizzling, I fantasised about doing a partner dance with my husband. Throw in the fact that both Emma and Ryan made tap dancing look as straightforward as running, and I became convinced I could do it too.
WHAT TO WEAR.
Studio attire like tights and a comfortable top. Tap shoes (available from Sonata Dancewear, www.sonata.com.sg) are the most ideal footwear. They are leather boots with metal pieces attached to the soles to let you get a good ground feel, slide and spin easily, and tell whether you’re doing the moves right from the sound of your taps. Sports shoes are acceptable for first-timers and beginners.
The metal pieces attached to the soles produce a nice clicking sound when you tap correctly.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling tap dancing in La La Land.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO TAP DANCE? As my idealistic self soon realised, it isn’t easy at all. In fact, it’s the most challenging dance I’ve tried (and I’ve done Chinese dance and belly dance, and dabbled in hip-hop, jazz and contemporary dance).
It’s not just about body awareness and coordination, like all dances require. Tap dancing, in particular, revolves around ultra-fine and quick movements of the feet and ankles. One second, you’re doing a heel strike; the next, you’re on the balls of your feet.
By quick, I’m talking about dancing to songs that are at 90 beats per minute (bpm) and above, with at least one step matching each beat. I could feel my legs cramping from doing a multitude of unfamiliar movements at once: stomp, heel drop, step-kick, step-hop, shuffle, et cetera, which are crazy-fast.
An idea of how fast: Intern writer Claire and I spent one hour learning steps that filled just 20 seconds of the La La Land song Another Day of Sun. Imagine how many more moves we would have to eke out to the 3½-minute song!
Senior dance teacher Chelsea Trathen, also the manager of Stepping Out Studios, led us through a good variety of basic moves and how to piece them together. Once we were familarised with the steps, we had to speed up to match different song beats.
A sense of rhythm is critical. It helps to understand beats and time signatures, so each move can be executed in sync with the music. I reckon 20 years of playing the electone gave me a leg up in following the tempo.
You’ll also need to be meticulous and agile. Otherwise, tap dance trains you to be. There’s no break in the routine; the moves come together as a flow. Every step counts (literally) in moving to the beat, so it takes just one wrong move to throw you off. Many times, my legs couldn’t catch up with the speedy pace and constant change of movements, and I ended up skipping steps.
The key is to keep thinking ahead. I found that I could slip back into the choreography if I continued counting beats. Don’t dwell on mistakes. As with any dance, stay relaxed and think about enjoying yourself. When I wasn’t stressing over the steps, I could do them more naturally.
By the end of the class, I was seriously fatigued. My legs were sore, and my brain was in overdrive from trying to digest the steps, put them together, and recall the next move while doing another. I suppose this can only be a good thing, honing both my physical and mental reflexes.
Emma and Ryan, you’ve set the bar very high.
Preview Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s tap dancing scene at http://bit.ly/lalaland-tapdance.
Located at #08-05 City Square Mall (tel: 6509-4300), Stepping Out Studios offers beginner, intermediate and advanced tap classes for adults and children. It is open daily from 10am to 10pm. Visit www.steppingoutstudios.com.sg for more information.
FUN FACTOR 10/10.
What’s not to love about tap? The steps you learn can be applied to any song, upbeat ones preferably. You’ll get to move to your favourite hits while looking cool. My tap class used groovy pop songs like Justin Bieber’s What Do You Mean and Charlie XCX’s Boom Clap, which put an irrepressible grin on my face. Imagine breaking into those moves at a social event. Everyone will be wowed!
FIT FACTOR 6/10.
Tap dance works a lot of the legs: thighs, calves, ankles and various parts of the feet. Because of the turns, hops and jumps, you’ll be relying on your core as well as hips for stability. Your balance will improve too, from doing plenty of weight shifts as you jump from one move to another. Plus, chalk up a lot of steps – and sweat – in this action-packed class!
FEAR FACTOR 1/10.
Aside from forgetting steps and being out of sync, which is more embarrassing than scary, there’s nothing to be afraid of. The environment at Stepping Out Studios is super-positive, thanks to the encouraging instructors who are able to break down the moves into simple parts and explain them clearly.