If you didn’t recognize the rhythmic sounds coming from Danceworks, Inc. in downtown Milwaukee on Saturday afternoons, you could easily mistake them for typewriters. Twenty, maybe 30 of them, all clicking and clacking in sync, as though composing the same message simultaneously.
At one point, you think they are writing a love letter—slowly, softly, like the pattering of butterfly wings. Then the gentle clicks turn into disruptive bangs, as if something sparked a fit of rage and led the writers into a literary tantrum. But the rage is soon replaced with excitement, a sense of accomplishment and pride, as the writers type in closing remarks.
The clicks and clacks are not the strokes of typewriter keys, but the steel heels of tap shoes. And for Amy Brinkman-Sustache, an instructor and founding member of Danceworks, dancing feet are just as much a means of communication as are words. “Tap dance is like a language,” she says. “You learn it one syllable at a time. It’s taught in a progressive sort of way, so one syllable, two syllables, and building that to make steps, to make phrases, and, basically, sentences.”
Tap is one of the studio’s most popular classes, with sessions offered for beginners, experienced tappers, and everyone in between. Introduction to Tap covers the basics, while the intermediate courses include more complicated choreography. They all share the same structure: first warming up by shuffling and tapping with the toe, heel, and sides of the feet, then practicing combinations of various steps, and finally rehearsing a routine based on those combinations.
Acing these moves involves more than just putting your feet in the right place at the right time. Tap has a certain musicality which demands knowing how each step should be executed in rhythm with other dancers. “It’s just as much exercise for your brain as it is for your body,” Brinkman-Sustache says.
It’s also a social form of exercise because you need to move and perform as a group, as opposed to working out solo at the gym. You can meet dancers of all ages and bond over the common goal of memorizing every combination, which Brinkman-Sustache assures that students always do. “I’ve never seen a person not be able to pick up on something,” she says. She’s seen beginners who can’t shuffle and who hesitated to join in the first place, complete a two-minute routine without missing a step. When they do, the reaction is always the same:“I can’t believe I waited this long to try this!”
How to not make a fool of yourself
DO: Bring your own tap shoes. Legit, hard-soled ones with metal plating. Nothing else will give you the aural and visual experience of tap. You can buy them right at Danceworks for around $30, but there are no shoe rentals.
DON’T: Think you need to commit to an entire session, especially if time and money are tight. No pressure to catch up to everyone else if you take
one class in the middle of a session. Instructors
include new students without pushing them too hard or holding the regulars back.
Where To Go
1661 N. Water St., Milwaukee
Introduction to Tap:
Saturday 1:45–2:45 p.m.
Monday 5:45–6:45 p.m.
Thursday 7:30–8:30 p.m.
$15 for single classes or $100 for an eight-week session