Daily Bruin columnist Christi Carras’ limited dance background consists of bingeing episodes of “So You Think You Can Dance,” grapevining her way through high school show choir and stumbling through rehearsals at a daycare-like dance studio until the age of 8. As a personal experiment, she attended workshops and lessons for 10 campus dance groups fall quarter and documented her experience as a nondancer for Dance Break.
“So You Think You Can Dance” never assigns a tap routine to a contestant who does not specialize in tap. Now I understand why.
Tap dance is not a genre anyone can just step into – a lesson I quickly learned while participating in Bruin Rhythm Operation’s first tap rehearsal of the year. I’m sorry to report that I came out of the Oct. 15 workshop with no fancier feet than I brought in. However, watching the seasoned tappers around me defy all conventions of gravity and coordination while dancing a raw, heel-toe rhythm made the trip to Kaufman Hall well worth my while.
Before the session began, we circled up for introductions and icebreakers. I think the idea behind the exercise was to meet everyone face-to-face, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of the ring of feet, which led to a few observations.
For one, mine were the only pair in the circle not donning the appropriate footwear – my dingy, white knock-off Converse looked even less impressive when toe-to-toe with the sleek, metal-bottomed array of black and white tap shoes.
I also disappointed in the sock category. While I wore one of my 10 pairs of drab gray-and-white Hanes, others sported eye-catching ruffles, stripes and patterns.
As we went around recalling our first forays into the style, I realized I had arrived to the tap scene more than a decade too late. Most of the participants began tapping from the ages of 5 to 7 years old, and only one person in attendance, besides me, had just begun tapping within the past five years. The experience gap set me back significantly for the dance portion of the meeting.
Needless to say, I found just about every step impossible to execute, beginning with what seasoned tappers would consider warmups. I looked on in disbelief as the dancers shuffled across the floor in lines, performing some of the fundamental tap steps.
To my naked eye, no one move looked too different from another; the dancers maneuvered their feet at too high a speed to distinguish intricacies. Yet the alternate rhythms each step brought onto the wood floors of the dance studio revealed several nuances.
For example, at a glance, “pull backs” don’t appear discernible from “draw backs” – both moves involve propelling oneself backward by the feet to the other side of the room. Dissected, however, a pull back involves brushing only one’s toes on the ground before landing, while a draw back engages the heels as well.
Though several members of the group made valiant attempts to teach me the subtle weight shifts necessary to carry out the steps, I pretty much just scooted my way around in the general direction of each exercise, afraid to roll an ankle.
Putting all of the fundamentals together and adding in some advanced combinations for the actual routine proved even more difficult. But judging by the exasperated exhales from the rest of the group, I was not the only person struggling with the material.
At the end of the rehearsal, I made the executive decision to sit out as the dancers filmed themselves performing what we had learned so far to use later for practice. Observing the stomp spectacle, I decided that was exactly where I belonged – sitting in the audience watching the real tappers tap.