Style. Elegance. Sophistication.
The absence of all these meant that in my first venture into tap, I was less Fred Astaire, more Fred West.
At the start of the class my dancing pal Sarah and I made no secret of the fact that we were novices, and as the rest of the class were little more than that our lady tap-tutor promised to keep things basic for the first lesson.
We did four-beat and five-beat cramp rolls. We did shuffles. We did time steps. We did creeping stomps to the sinisterly appropriate “The Nearness of You”. We trotted around in circles like harnessed pairs of ponies, and we did a most complicated hopping routine which our tutor promised we’d all be doing in the kitchen later that evening (I’d forgotten it by then). Having stomped and shuffled, cramp-rolled and paradiddled our way through a good half-a-dozen or so combinations in a mere thirty minutes, the tutoring fiend determined to combine all the steps we had “learned” into routines of such complexity, that the suspicion entered my mind that Sarah and I had unwittingly been press-ganged into a West-End musical production sustained entirely by slave labour. The Gulag, but glitzier.
Had I allowed my ineptitude to depress me, it would have been tortuous. But whoever let a little thing like lack of natural rhythm stop them from having fun? My heart was in it even if my feet did not follow, and that’s what counts when it comes down to it: enthusiasm. Sarah and I may have gawped at each other whenever the tap-tutor announced, after two minutes of practicing a new step, that we had “got it”; we may have even confessed to each other quietly at the back of the studio that we definitely had not “got it”; but by God we kept going.
My own enthusiasm expressed itself in pig-headedly keeping my feet moving long after my steps had lost any resemblance to the intended ones. To deflect attention away from this I attempted the floppy shoulder posture of Eric Morecambe and occasionally flailed my arms loosely in a display of carefree confidence. To adapt one of the comic’s own lines: I was doing all the right steps, but not necessarily in the right order.
This is where not having tap shoes paid off. Whereas a slip-up by our classmates was revealed by disharmony in the flint-chipping chorus, Sarah and I were at liberty to freestyle with impunity in our rubber-soled plimsolls. We speculated later that our frictional footwear held us back. It probably did, but being noiseless, it probably also made us appear better than we were. Which is all that matters: convince your audience you are a dancer, and a dancer you are.
Our tap-tutor was clearly convinced, if the speed by which she zipped through the steps is anything to go by. But perhaps she wasn’t being unreasonably quick, maybe she just knows natural talent when she sees it. For in a few weeks, who knows, Sarah and I could be dancing like this: