Students research and discuss the history, characteristics, and art of tap, then create a performance critique that they will use as they watch a tap performance.
- Length: 1 class period
- Grades: 6-12
- Students will research the development of tap and understand how it reflects the influence of time and place.
- Students will identify characteristics of the tap style.
- Based on their understanding of tap, students will observe and critique a tap performance.
Vocabulary, Materials, and Handouts
dance criticism, describe, interpret, movement theme, purpose, style, tap
TV/VCR or DVD player
Instructional Strategies and Activities
Before watching the “Tap and Percussive Dance” program from DanceSense, find out what students already know about tap. How would they describe tap dance? Have they ever seen a tap performance? Have they ever taken tap lessons or tried to tap on their own? Someone in the class or within the school might be willing to demonstrate some steps.
Ask: Who are some famous tappers? If they watched Sesame Street as youngsters, they may know one of the nation’s best contemporary tappers, Savion Glover. They may also have seen him on commercials. Perhaps they’ve seen some older tap dancers, like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Fred Astaire, or Gregory Hines.
Watch: Program 10, “Tap and Percussive Dance,” from DanceSense.
Discuss: Use the Viewing Guide from the “Understanding Tap” lesson plan and the Tap Dance Discussion Questions handout to initiate a discussion about tap. Have students discuss the history and development of tap dance. Discuss the direction tap is now going in: To what type of music is it now being performed? Who is its audience now? In what venues is it being performed? What does the future look like for tap dance?
Now that you have discussed its history and future, have students discuss what has kept tap dance alive. What makes tap so appealing? What about it is interesting to watch? Why are Americans generally so captivated by tap dance?
Create Dance Critique Guidelines
Divide the class into groups to create dance critique guidelines. These will be leading statements or questions that students will use while watching the “Jamaica Tap” performance in the link under Resources above (or a live performance if you take your students) in order to critique the dance performance.
To jump-start the process, have students ask themselves what makes a dance performance worth watching. (For example, the dancers are together/well-rehearsed, the dance is the right length—not too long or too short, the dance entertains/moves me, the music is interesting, the costumes add to the theme of the dance, the dance has a theme, etc.) If your students have performed for one another in the past, they have seen examples of what makes a dance good or bad. They will be able to draw from their experience to accomplish this next task.
Have students create 1-3 questions for each aspect of a performance:
- Concept/Theme (e.g., Did the dance have a theme? What was it? Was it appropriate? Was it clear?)
- Elements of Dance—Space, Time, and Force (e.g., How did the dance use space? What patterns/relationships did the dancers make? Was the dance too short/too long? Did the dance use different qualities of movement?)
- Performance (e.g., Did the dancers perform well? Was it well-rehearsed? Did the dancers portray the correct theme to the audience?)
- Production (staging, lights, costumes, music) (e.g., Did the lights and costumes add to or take away from the dance? Was the music appropriate? Of good quality?)
- Personal Reaction/Opinion (e.g., Did I like the dance? Was I moved or entertained?)
After students have created their questions in groups, have the groups share their ideas. Either create a class critique guideline that uses all the groups’ ideas or have each group use its own critique.
Watch: “Jamaica Funk” or attend a live tap performance.
Critique: Have students discuss and/or write their reactions based on their newly created critique guidelines.
Extensions for Diverse Learners
- Research and compare some famous tap dancers.
- Rent one of the movies listed in the Resources section. Discuss the dance(s) using the performance critique developed with this lesson. Or discuss how the movie contributes to the development and/or popularity of the dance form.
- Create a TV broadcast about dance which includes stories about tap’s development, current events in tap, celebrities in tap, etc. Include a dance critique section where a “dance critic” delivers his/her criticism of the “latest” tap performance.
Writing To Communicate
- Attend a live performance of a tap dance and write a review, using the critique developed in this lesson.
Applications Across the Curriculum
- Using “Writing a Dance Critique” in the “Responding to Dance” section of the paper version of the Dance Toolkit binder, have students determine the purpose of their critique and its audience and write a critique according to that purpose/audience.
- Research websites that allow you and your students to explore the physics of sound.
- Research the Great Migration and have students assess the impact it had on the growth of jazz music and jazz and tap dance.
- Research and highlight contributions to tap dance by African Americans. Use this any time of the year. You are not limited to Black History Month.
- Research the possibilities of careers associated with tap dance. Locate schools/institutions that offer instruction or other educational/professional opportunities in tap dance.
Open Response Assessment
Prompt: Tap dance is an art form that is distinctly American.
- Briefly explain tap dance’s history. Be sure to include its roots, in what context it developed, the music it developed alongside, its struggles, and its recovery and future.
- Identify and explain the characteristics of tap dance.
Answer elements include:
- For tap dance history: Its roots lie in Irish step dancing, English clogging, and West African dance; the dance developed in social settings, alongside jazz music (early 1900s); it almost died out in the 1950s and was revitalized in the 1970s; etc.
- For characteristics of tap dance: It is a percussive dance form which produces sounds/rhythm/music by means of shoes with taps attached; the dancer has a relaxed upper body; student may also include syncopation or isolation in the answer.
Open Response Scoring Guide
|Student answers both parts of the question effectively, exhibiting extensive knowledge of the history and characteristics of tap dance. Student uses appropriate dance terminology and communicates knowledge and understanding effectively, with insightful use of supporting examples and/or details.||Student answers both parts of the question, demonstrating broad knowledge of the history and characteristics of tap dance. Student uses appropriate dance terminology and communicates knowledge effectively, using supporting examples and/or details.||Student answers both parts of the question, demonstrating basic knowledge of the history and characteristics of tap dance. Student attempts to use appropriate dance terminology and uses some supporting examples and/or details to communicate knowledge.||Student answers at least one part of the question. Student uses examples or details that may be irrelevant or inappropriate in his/her attempt at communicating knowledge.||Blank, no answer, or irrelevant response.|
Support - Connections - Resources - Author
- All About Tap Dance from TheatreDance.com [www.theatredance.com/tap/]
- American Tap Dance Foundation [www.atdf.org]
- Savion Glover Productions [www.saviongloverproductions.com]
- Tap! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories by Rusty E. Frank
- Inside Tap by Anita Felman
The Souls of Your Feet by Acia Gray
- Black Dance in America: A History Through Its People by James Haskins
- A Century of Dance by Ian Driver
The “Responding to Dance” section of the paper version of the Dance Arts Toolkit binder has helpful instructions for observing and responding to dance. You’ll find additional lesson plans about tap in the Toolkit and online.