Tapping My Way to Reality: Class No. 1

>> Tuesday, October 9, 2007


My first thought upon entering Activity Room 1 for Beginner’s Tap, was: Huh -- no one’s wearing tap shoes, followed by, Oh my God -- no one’s wearing tap shoes!

I knew I was in the right class, but it never occurred to me that in this beginning tap class, students might wait to get their shoes after the first class. I momentarily panicked at the thought of everyone silently tapping in sneakers while I was unable to conceal my offbeat clanking in Grade-A Certified Tap Shoes. After all, it’s much easier to fake it when your feet don’t sound like gun blasts. Curse my over-prepared self!

My mind eased when a student pulled out his taps. I wanted to kiss him, but instead said “hi”. He said “hi” quickly and turned his attention back to the beautiful, curly haired Isabel who wore Irish dance shoes. More people arrived and ultimately half the students brought taps. Thank frikkin' God.

Our group consisted mostly of college girls fresh from Rhetoric classes and weekend keggers. There were three oddities thrown in the mix, including Mark, the token male tap dancer with prior tap experience; me, a 36 year-old wife and mother of two and total tap virgin; and Debra (Babbs?), a 50-something Jewess with wild black hair who came in late and wore a black-leather hip purse throughout the entire class.

Our teacher, Leesa, was a petite black woman in her late 20’s /early 30’s. I liked her as soon as she said, “This is not going to be a traditional tap class.” She liked to dance to modern and alterna-pop music. She plugged her iPod into the sound system. She had tattoos. Clearly, this wasn't going to be my grandma’s tap class.

She taught us some of the basics and made it look easy. Of course it wasn’t. I could tap in time if I sacrificed technique. I could barely manage technique if I sacrificed tapping in time. And there were many times when I couldn’t tap well or in time.

As usual, I tried to ease my insecurity with occasional inappropriate laughter. But I’ve never seen so many serious faces. I found it impossible to crack a joke. At one point as we tapped backwards, I thought I’d lighten the mood by pretending to run into the girl behind me. After all, wasn’t this supposed to be fun? But when I saw her unamused expression I stopped, ate my tap shoes, and walked away.

I don’t blame them. I blame their moods on fear. This tapping skill requires total concentration and every one of us feared looking like an idiot. The only person in the room who looked cool while tapping was the teacher. Even the students with experience looked awkward. I was reminded of those tap dancing recitals I used to mock, where young girls with red lips and bow-ties to match rigidly executed tap moves with frozen smiles on their faces. After taking 60 minutes of tap lessons, I’m ready to give them a Nobel Prize in Dance (they have those, right?)

I was the most awkward dancer in class. Of course, I wasn’t watching everyone all the time, and perhaps I’m being a tad harsh. But I certainly felt like -- no, sounded like -- the worst dancer. See, that’s the problem. In tap, everyone can hear when you screw up. When I forgot how to count and kept tapping after the others had stopped, everyone heard it.

Plus, I’m just not that coordinated. I tapped with my left foot when I should have tapped with my right. I performed some maneuver that looked like moonwalking which would have been cool if I wasn’t trying to tap backwards. Even Debra (Babbs?) almost ran me over at one point because I was going too slow. I jumped out of the way just in time to avoid a mouthful of fuzzy hair and a sharp stomp on my foot.

But this was just the first day. Tonight I’ll Google what I learned and loosen the taps on my shoes. (Apparently they’re “too tight” -- go figure.) This week I’ll scratch my taps on cement (for better sound) and practice like crazy in the family room. And then, in my next lifetime, I’ll actually learn how to tap. Because it would take a lifetime to get good at it, and I’m already 36 years behind schedule.

In the meantime, I’ll concentrate on all the fun I’m having.




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