Tools For Tap Dance: Pocket Steps

IMAGE A woman's hand slips into her pocket IMAGEDeep Pockets

Ask tap dancer Jason Janas what he thinks about pocket steps and he will tell you, “The pocket always wins.”  Pocket steps can be current and dazzling, or classic and nostalgic. The positive response from your audience is all the proof you will need that you are indeed winning.

What Are Pocket Steps?

Pocket steps are a collection of rhythms, phrases and steps that a tap dancer accumulates and keeps in the back of their mind, ready for use at a moment’s notice. How do you accumulate pocket steps? It’s not rocket science, you make them up or you can steal them.

“You can trust me. I’m a ROCK-IT scientist.”

“You can trust me. I’m a ROCK-IT scientist.”

Stealing in tap dance is considered complimentary.  However, there is one commandment when stealing in dance, music and art:  Thou shalt not steal… exactly.

In other words, steal a step, play with a little, and change it to meet your personal taste and boom, you’ve got style, baby! Your own style, that is.

Need more advice on how to steal yourself some pocket steps? Detective Marty Tapman and the members of the Chicago tap dance company M.A.D.D. Rhythms have got you covered in this original short film by film maker Adam Salinas and Tapman Productions.


Make One Yourself

Be a step creator. Translate a drum riff from a favorite song into your dance, borrow from another dance discipline and tap-ify it. The sounds and movements that appeal to you will give every step that you create your own personal flavor.

As an example, here is an original work of mine. It was created for my dance company, The Tapmen, as choreography for our bow after a show and it is entitled… Bowography.


Watch this video on YouTube.

Bowography is meant to showcase a different sound, accent, or rhythm that I really like and am known to “pull out of my pocket” from time to time.  The 4  themes of Bowography are: basic tap “notes” of the heel, toe and side of the heel played during the dancers’ introductions, sustained heels and toes, clicks and scrapes and finally fast heels and toes.  Similar to the Shim Sham, Bowography organizes my pocket steps into 4 simple phrases, or Time Steps.


Special thanks to Bril Barrett, Jumaane Taylor, Starinah Dixon, Donnetta Jackson, Donyella Jackson and M.A.D.D. Rhythms, film maker Adam Salinas, tap dancer Jason Janas and non-profit organization Audible Odyssey.

One hand in my pocket” by Camera Eye Photography (CC by 2.0)

Tap Shoe Review: Capezio’s Boy’s Tapster

About Shoe Reviews:  For my reviews I personally wear, practice and perform in the shoes.  The demands the shoes are subjected to are rigorous and must be considered when compared to the skill level that the shoe is intended for.

Capezio Boy’s Tapster


Described as an “entry level unisex oxford”, though marketed as “boy’s”, the Tapster is a very popular shoe among beginning tap students.  The Tapster has a look that resembles more advanced tap shoes and comes with several amenities not offered by other beginner level shoes found at department stores such as Payless.  With a price tag ranging from $15-$30, the Tapster is an affordable tap shoe for beginner tap enthusiasts young and old.

Specifications for the Capezio “Boy’s” Tapster (from
  • Durable soft PU (Polyurithane/Plastic) Upper
  • Plastic heel with pre-attached riveted Tele Tone Jr.® taps
  • Cushioned foam insole with star print
  • Absorbent brushed microfiber lining
  • Plastic sole with rubber non-skid sole patch
  • Achilles notch for comfort
  • Available colors: Black, Tan

The Tapster: Deconstructed


Durable soft PU (Polyurithane/Plastic) Upper, Cushioned foam insole with star print, Absorbent brushed microfiber lining, Achilles notch for comfort, Rubber non-skid sole patch:

Tapster3The polyurethane material used for the upper of the shoe is as soft and durable as the description says.  The plastic upper is a good substitute for synthetic leather, and even resembles the real thing up close.  The foam insole is relatively comfortable and the upper encases the entire foot, and foot slippage (where the foot slips out of the shoe) is a big improvement over the bargain bin Mary Jane style of tap shoe. [Read more…]

15 Tap-Happy Treatise By Tristan

Since signing on as a regular contributor in the Spring of 2011, Tristan Bruns has added quite a collection of thorough and informative posts to Dance Advantage. Even when he’s not penning articles, he’s answering your tap questions with the same attention to detail.

Tristan has earned a little break!

While he focuses on some pet projects of his own, I thought I’d celebrate his work and give you the chance to catch up on or revisit these essential articles over the holidays.

Tap Dance Shoes by ChicaDance

Buying Shoes

With his Great Shoeganza series (still a work in progress), Tristan makes sure you are an informed buyer. You won’t find anything like his dissection of the tap shoe anywhere else online.

Deconstructing A Tap Shoe

When To Buy New Tap Shoes

Capezio And Their Tap Shoes

The Capezio K360 (Brazillian) REVIEW

Step Into History

More than a dance form, Tap is a culture and a legacy. Its long list of movement innovators is simply not covered enough in literature, online, or in classrooms, making these essays all the more valuable to tap students and teachers.

Frank Condos and 5-Count Wings [Read more…]

Tap Classics: In-The-Trenches and Over-The-Tops

Toots Davis is one of the unsung innovators of tap dance flash steps, and his contribution of the in-the-trenches step is testament to that fact.

He was a chorus member of the Darktown Follies and by 1916 worked his way up to a solo spot, where he began to develop his dancing amongst an atmosphere of competitive camaraderie. Each evening’s performance found cast members inventing new steps and embellishing on old ones.

In-the-trenches may be the most universally known flash step.

Created by Toots Davis, in-the-trenches is not limited to tap dance; jazz dancers aren’t afraid to throw down this traditional dance step.

A dancer, bent ninety degrees at the waist, alternates extending straight arms and legs, giving the performer the appearance of a full-on sprint, while at the same time being unaffected by gravity as the dancer’s staccato toe tips glide frictionless across the floor.

In-the-trenches has remained intact for just about one hundred years!  When performed correctly, it matches descriptions of the original, described as a bent over version of the popular circle dance, the cakewalk.

The origin of the step’s name has to do with a little something called [Read more…]

Tap Classics: Paddle and Roll Heroes, Lon Chaney & Bunny Briggs

Lon Chaney and Dr. Bunny Briggs did not invent the paddle and roll, but instead developed the step to its maximum potential.

IMAGE The Paradiddle rhythm in drumming IMAGEThere are four elements to the paddle and roll: a dig, a back brush of the ball of the foot, stepping on the ball of the foot, and a heel.  The “paddle” constitutes the dig and the brush, while the roll is the action of dropping the toe and heel in a smooth and controlled motion.

Other names for the paddle and roll include the drumming term paradiddles and the gangster-inspired Tommy Gun.

Some say that the paddle and roll originated in the Midwest as an answer to the East coast style of dancing, and dancer/choreographer Buddy Bradley owes the step to the Flamenco style of dancing.  Regardless of its origin, the paddle and roll has become one of the most popular tap steps and is often the first step that comes to mind when students are asked at random to show off some steps.

To say that any tap dancer is king of the paddle and roll may land you in hot water. 

There have been plenty of contenders for that title.  The first man to proclaim himself master of the paddle and roll was Walter Green, a tap dancer who had arrived in New York from Chicago in 1937.  Green put out a challenge to all dancers that no one would be able to best his superior foot technique, the paddle and roll.  Local tough guys Ralph Brown, Freddie James, Albert Gibson, and Chuck Green set him straight.

No other dancer is identified more with the paddle and roll than another tap icon, Lon Chaney. 

A short, stout man, Lon Chaney danced into the floor, and his rippling paddle and roll variations created quick, staccato tapping combined with bold phrases of rhythm.  At the end of tap dance performances, it is not uncommon for the tap dancers to form the so-called “Chaney track” or the “Hoofer’s Line”; at the climax of the show, the dancers form a line and rattle off a long stream of paddle and rolls. Each performer takes a small solo accompanied by the steady call and response chanting of “Ho-yeah, Ho-yeah, Ho-yeah, Ho-yeeaaahhh!”  Needless to say, most tap dancers hold Lon Chaney in the highest regard.

The Original Hoofers: World-tour (1976) [HD]

Watch this video on YouTube.

(Hoofer’s Line beginning at 1:12. Lon Chaney – farthest Stage Left)

IMAGE Bunny Briggs IMAGE

Bunny Briggs is the antithesis of Lon Chaney; Briggs is slender, doe-eyed, and dances his signature paddle and roll style by lightly smattering a string of bop-inspired, staccato rhythms. Peppered with comedic body gestures, these lampoon popular dance vernacular of the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s.

Bunny Briggs’ style of dancing, in contrast to Lon Chaney’s chunky rhythmic phrasing, sounds more akin to a Dizzy Gillespie melody sped up double time, which is no accident.  Commenting on his time working as a singer and dancer in Earl Hines’ band, “Both Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were in that band, and it helped me work out my own style of paddle and roll,” says Briggs.

Bunny Briggs worked with the cream of the jazz world, with musicians like Charles “Luckey” Roberts and Erskine Hawkins.  But to me and many others, it was his work with Duke Ellington, and in particular the piece David Danced before the Lord with All His Might as part of a series of sacred music concerts that Ellington toured across the country, that was a stand out example of Bunny Briggs’ style and ear for musicality.

Dr. Bunny Briggs "David Danced before the Lord"

Watch this video on YouTube.

(Bunny Briggs: The most Super-Leviathonic Rhythmaturgical Syncopated Tapstamaticianisimist)