Adult Beginner Tap, Part I

“People. We’ve got to work on these flaps,” Miss Deede says. She ambles toward the line of students holding on to the barre, her staccato taps jangling when she walks, like John Wayne in spurs. Miss Deede likes the sound she makes, and she busts off a combination, rocking from side to side, drumming out a beat. “That’s all flaps,” she says. She makes it look quite simple.
Deede claims to be seventy, but the owner of the studio says that she has claimed seventy for a while now. “No one knows how old she really is,” Janna says, “but she was my first dance teacher. Jana’s mid to late 50s, I guess. Deede may be over 70, but she looks 60 and moves like she’s 30.
I feel 70 when I dance. I’m in my third month of adult beginner tap now, about an hour and a half a week. I’m at the studio anyway. Both my daughters take dance three days a week, and since we live an hour away, there’s nothing else to do but read or grade papers.
“I just don’t want to embarrass myself,” I told Jana before the class began.
She reassured me that it will only feel awkward for a few weeks, then said, “Tap is just counting: “One and two and three and four and five and six and seven and eight. You’ll love it.”
I can understand the patterns my feet are supposed to follow when they are broken down slowly. At the end of every class the other newbies pull out their smart phones and record Deede going through the steps. But there’s something disconnected between my mind and my feet. Deede sets us an exercise and then progressively speeds up the music as we dance toward the big mirror on the front wall. As the music gets faster, I make approximate movements with my feet, often not even hitting the floor with my taps, or else hitting the floor with the wrong part of the shoe—tap shoes shouldn’t squeak, I think, hoping no one else notices. Even when my feet do the steps right, my upper body doesn’t move, and I look like a zombie with strangely animated feet as I watch myself in the mirror.
I come by my dance clumsiness naturally, having grown up in the Church of Christ in the 60s and 70s, where dancing was one of the deadliest of sins, right next to “mixed swimming,” instrumental worship music, and reading any other version of the Bible than the King James. Dancing with girls, we were taught, led to impure thoughts and premarital sex. A Teenage boy and girl stepping on to the dance floor were seconds away from stripping off their clothes and ravishing one another to the tune of “Free Bird,” right there in front of God and everyone. Pretty much anything we might want to do in the 70s led to premarital sex, we were told. Dancing was a powerful gateway sin that once entered, led to destruction.
“I do a lot of flaps in my choreography,” Deede says, and she demonstrates again. A flap is where you brush the toe forward and then stick it to the floor. It’s a quick motion, she tells us. “Think of it like a magnet pulling your toes down to the floor.
A flap by itself isn’t so hard, especially when holding on to the barre, but when I have to flap across the room, or use the flap in a combination, like a flap-ball-change, a rocking back and forth step that allows you to switch the lead to the opposite foot and advance across the floor, I feel like Eugene Levy, the comedian in the movie Best of Show, who literally had two left feet.
Deede makes us take turns flapping across the room, with the rest of the class watching. I have to go twice. “You’ve got to work on loosening up that upper body,” she says. If this were football I’d have to run laps at the end of practice.


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