OnlineRock: Empowering Musicians  
OnlineRock Guest Column  

Drummers in Tights: Tap Dancing Can Add Grace and Endurance to Your Footwork

By Bruce Shutan
© 2000 Bruce Shutan. All rights reserved

Imagine this: a drummer in tights. It’s not a pretty sight, especially if we’re talking about the most macho of male musicians prancing around on a hardwood floor with a legion of lovely ladies at a tap dancing class. But it may be one of the best moves a drummer can make.

Tap, a sort of kissing cousin of all things percussion, can add not only a measure of both aggression and grace to your footwork, it also can improve general endurance. Like drumming, tap dancing looks a heck of a lot easier when seen in performance than it is when an amateur puts on a pair of taps and attempts his best Gregory Hines impersonation.

By the end of your first lesson, you’ll be huffing and puffing your way off the dance floor. No joke. It was a hard lesson I learned after signing up for six weekly classes last year – something I had put off for years for fear of how I’d look or being viewed as having way too much time on my hands to even think about doing such a thing. You’ve really got to be flexible and in great shape to pull it off – and if you’re not, you sure will be by the end of the course. This alone is worth the potential humiliation, a feeling deep in the pit of your stomach that quickly fades once you start brushing and shuffling across the dance floor.

One of the biggest similarities between drumming and tapping is that both feature a series of rudiments and fills that are nearly identical – the only real difference being that one involves the hands, the other the feet.

Like the drums, tap has its own version of "trading fours" – in this case, dancers trying to top one another by creating their best routines for four measures before yielding to the next performer.

Also consider the following comparisons:

  • In tap, a "brush" is executed by hitting the floor with the ball of the foot in a pushing motion. This technique – and sound – are duplicated on a snare drum with (coincidentally enough) a brush or brushes. Same logic applies to a "pull," which involves a brush back with the ball of the foot.
  • A "shuffle," which involves a brush forward with the ball of the foot that’s pulled back with the ball, can sound like a shuffle beat on the drums with a slight ruff thrown in if repeated enough.
  • A "riff" (brush-scuff forward that ends in the air) or heel-toe combination may sound like a flam that starts with the kick and ends on the snare. Similarly, a "flap" (brush forward and down on the ball with weight) or toe-heel combination sounds like a snare flam or one that starts on the snare with either a brush or stick (remember that slight ruff) and ends with the kick.
  • A "cramp roll" – essentially four steps crammed together in the form of toe, toe, heel, heel – has the makings of a paradiddle, the mother lode of all drum rudiments. The steps can start with either the right or left foot, and if they’re done as a pickup to a downbeat they can be performed in 'triplet-down' fashion "with the free foot lifted as the last heel drops," according to a popular tap dancing Web site.
  • A "timestep" (4-count combination starting on the fourth count) is usually done in 4/4 time – talk about the ultimate rock ’n roll time signature.

These are among the reasons it should come as no surprise that drumming and tapping can – and probably should – be mentioned in the same breath. Not long ago, the two disciplines were brilliantly fused in the theatrical touring phenomenon "Stomp," aptly described in a review appearing in the Savannah Morning News as "a dazzling displace of drumming, dancing, athletic prowess and improvisation."

I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

About the Author: Bruce Shutan, an L.A.-based freelance writer, has been playing the drums since 1970. He has performed and recorded in numerous bands – and attended four of six tap dancing classes last summer.

AboutOnlineRock RecordsPress RoomContactAdvertisePrivacyShop