As a regular convention faculty member, Debbi Dee is a pro at teaching tap to teachers. Named a “Living Treasure in American Dance” by Oklahoma City University in 2011, she will be teaching at the Dance Teacher Summit in August. Dee spoke to DT about her unique method for increasing tappers’ speed and accuracy:
Dance Teacher: How did you develop the 123/ABC Breakdown Theory?
Debbi Dee: That came out of frustration. I could get so fast with my feet, but I wasn’t able to communicate that to my students. I locked myself in a room and dissected the movement and realized I was dancing on all angles of the tap. I finally understood what my own teacher had been trying to tell me, that the metal plate is an instrument. In order to really define where I wanted students to tap on their instrument, I divided the tap into sections: “1” is inside, “2” is center, “3” is outside, “A” is on the tip, “B” is coming down and “C” is tapping flat.
When you concentrate on such a small area, it not only helps with speed but also takes care of your shading and accents without you even realizing you’re doing it. Sometimes people work the entire leg, but when you divide the tap up so precisely, you can’t do that. You’re forced to use more of the foot and the instrument. Taking away that extra movement makes you automatically faster.
DT: Why are dancers tempted to use their whole leg when tapping, even though it’s so inefficient?
DD: In the beginning I was teaching things so big just to get my point across. And then I realized I’d have to undo all of that as students got older. Sometimes I see teachers showing a shuffle as almost a brush-kick forward and a brush-kick back. When I teach beginners, I start the shuffle in the rebound position, almost like a parallel passé, and then I just have the foot come down and touch on A and come back up on B. I ask them to move the leg down and up instead of forward and back. In ballet class, you go thru demi- and grand plié because you need them for certain things. But you will never need a shuffle that big, so why teach it that way? And that goes for almost every basic step in tap. —Andrea Marks
Photos courtesy of Debbi Dee