AMERICAN TAP IN CHINA
ONE HUNDRED FLOWERS BLOSSOMING
ITA’s Chinese Members: Chen Jiefang, Fan Pei Xia, Su E , Wei Wei, Gu Ying, Jin xiao Bo
The History and Actuality of American Tap in China
With a fond remembrance of Shirley Temple and Gene Kelly, the introduction of American tap dance into China was during the 1930’s and was greatly influenced by the movie musicals. But tap dance took a new turn in China during the end of the 1990's by a Taiwanese entertainer who returned to Shanghai. The high tide of this evolution was actually raised by the Irish production of Riverdance and its popularization in the big areas of the country. The Tap Teacher Certification Program (TTCP) System of English, German, Australian, New Zealand’s and even China’s teaching foundation promoted this change of perception. And now, the present people of China speak of tap dance as Irish and not American in its roots.
The Mission of Chinese Tap Educators Teaching American Tap
The American renowned intellectual, scientific worker and teacher Noam Chomsky once said: “A teacher paying attention is not a phenomenon, but is the origin behind phenomenon. A teacher's function is to eagerly anticipate more and more and enable a person to penetrate the phenomenon and discover truth. The teaching work is not to irrigate into the empty cup, but for the process to resemble a flower growing according to its natural law”. Therefore, our Chinese tap teachers' mission should also have attention paid to the origin of American tap, not only to clarify but eagerly anticipate more and more students to know what American tap is and what is different from other percussive footwork. The teachers can then set a foundation to let the tradition grow according to its own natural progression and within a unique cultural influence of China itself. May we enable the prosperity of China’s tap dance market to truly achieve the goal of a hundred flowers blossoming with a knowledgeable base of accurate tradition.
What Are American Tap Traditions and What Can We Learn To Grow and Expand?
For anything new, understanding always starts from the outside with the goal to understand the inside – i.e., from a shallow breath to the deep. This is true when understanding American tap. When learning tap, the process may build up strength, support weight loss, entertain others and create a sense of enjoyment for the dancer and the observer. In addition, the instructional base is quite wide and the age range is very broad. Most everybody can understand these characteristics.
With its long-standing history, tap’s soul is rhythm: The one and only cultural characteristic and artistic charm that it is, and has been, known by many people. This in-depth essence is explored by two American theory monographs: Acia Gray in her book “The Souls of Your Feet” - “Tap dance is literally a language”; and Anita Feldman’s “Inside Tap” - “Tap dance as the music, rather than being to the music.” We know that the essence of tap is in-depth. We need to know the true tradition to gain depth in teaching and dancing as well.
How Do We Learn American Tap? Since tap is a language, it has no essential difference in the languages of English, or Chinese. Many of the advanced methods and mature experiences should be all suitable in teaching tap dance. For instance, modern English takes an open mouth to speak as a goal. From the very beginning, one must arrive and the correct pronunciation and shape of the mouth to be accurate. One then reads aloud and recites perhaps from classical writings, and studies or sings the original songs to communicate effectively. When studying the Chinese language for example, if you want words to flow from the mouth as from the pen of a master, you must introduce a large amount of written material in your mouth first. You must chant a poem many times before you can create one. Practice the poem hundreds of times first then improvisation will be reached naturally, and so on.
When utilizing this in teaching tap, we must study dance classics and steps fastidiously, studying the rhythm to be able to sing the beat and be stable and refined. One must also practice this “foot communication” to enable dialogue with others as in improvisation games . So the teacher must incorporate a lot of “reading aloud” and “reciting” of all previous masters' styles and techniques of tap dance so that we may better learn our predecessor's outstanding works.
The first step is to find classics and teaching foundations suitable to the majority of ordinary students here in China, so that we can then ultimately achieve the goal of pursuing higher levels of expertise to enable a deeper exploration of choreography and improvisation. For all, the goal of study must come from knowledge of tap language to express one’s self and successfully communicate with each other through the dance.
We Are Working – Our State of Education At this juncture, the ITA’s Chinese members, according the aforesaid theory, are working in a different way from each other in respect to tap education. Some, from the very beginning, grasp the rein of rhythm, unifying the soul and the body through work with the classic “Shim Sham Shimmy” as the main teaching material. Each tap step is clarified and the principals of technique and placement are stressed. While studying each “sentence”, a phrase or a chorus, they request the students to be able to sing and thus help to execute the dance steps correctly. This practice has proved that with such teaching method, the student passes through a semester (approximately 3 months) and can then successfully execute the first two chorus of the “tap dance anthem” - the Shim Sham. With another semester adds the “Shim Sham II” and “The Revenge of Shim Sham” In other words, with no experience from the beginning, a student can undergoes 6 months study and basically listen to the original jazz music and “recite” four choruses of rhythm.
The most important thing is that the student can very quickly let their feet “speak” and “sing” the poetry of a tap combination! This kind of achievement feels stimulating, strengthening and makes the busiest business men make time to squeeze out practice time every day to exceed their gymnasium exercise. This is such an important responsibility of a teacher: to inspire their students to practice by themselves.
Ideally, we start from the first class to arrange the after-class exercises. Especially when learning the “poetry” combination. We provide tap notation notes for each combination whether developed individually or based on classics or workshop material. This lets our students practice and have a goal. With these tools, tap education can proceed in a systematic way, holding the accumulation of knowledge and allowing a sustainable study of tap dance.
The important Mission of China’s Tap Teachers
China is ready for the cultural characteristic of American tap. Our country is drastically changing economically with a need of enhanced quality of life and the promotion of cultural and spiritual civilization. With this truth, the potential market for American tap will be very enormous in China. With this growth, we need to ensure high quality and standards urgently. But as American Tap is the “loan word”, its popularity in China is not simple.
Because China is the home of Confucius, education must have a solid foundation and have a strong standardization. If this almost scientific standard tap dance foundation is not set, it will not be able to reach mass popularity in this country.. Therefore, establishing a TTCP system of American Tap Dance suiting the Chinese national condition is the most important mission of China’s tap teachers currently. But, Chinese teachers cannot complete this mission independently.
The truth is very simple. If another country wanted to establish a system to learn something from Chinese culture such as Peking Opera, they must have a Chinese master to support this possibility. In comparison, we must also strive for the support from organizations such as the International Tap Association to help organize tap masters to participate in this process of growth. To be able to utilize their penetrating theories, strengths and rich experience to design instruction pedagogies and unify our preliminary foundation and set a strong Chinese educational system for American tap. Once established and effective we look forward to the true integration of tap into our national culture - taking root and blossoming in China’s dance forest.