How to Tap-Dance

Harder than it looks




It’s a Tuesday night, and I’m tap-dancing at a bus stop. It’s raining (so Gene Kelly!), and cars that pass by splash dirty street water up at me, but I keep going: Fuh-lap, fuh-lap, step. Tap, tap, tap, step, shuffle, heel, step. My moves are of a halting, pounding sort—more Fred Flintstone than Fred Astaire—but that’s typical of beginners, my teacher says. “We all over-exaggerate our movements when we’re learning,” she insists. “Subtlety comes with practice.”

In the headlights of my approaching bus, I do a giant spin, and then board.

The thing about tap is that from the first lesson, rhythms get stuck in your brain, and suddenly you’re fuh-lap-stepping your way through the Starbucks line, in every empty elevator, while standing at the stove in your kitchen. I tap constantly between my twice-weekly lessons at Society Hill Dance Academy, where owner Shana Vitoff is teaching me a gentle little routine to “Moon River.” A vibrant, throaty brunette, Shana can teach anyone how to dance to pretty much anything, but the vast majority of her students are ballroom dancers, not tappers. “Ballroom is more practical, more social, than tap,” she explains. (Proof: The academy has had 12 marriages made in 10 years of those ballroom classes.)

So, okay, tap might not land me life-altering­ passion (though my husband says he finds my tapping adorable). And yes, it is a particularly humbling dance to learn, what with the unflattering tap shoes, the echoing CLACKS announcing every misstep, the shuffle-step attempts that make me look like an extra from The Walking Dead. “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Shana says one day after I fall sideways off my toes with a deafening stomp. “Your feet will start to behave.”

Well, behave might be too strong a word, but about the time I graduate from zombie to sort-of-right, the movement starts to look—and feel—like real dance. Shana praises my stamp-brushes. It’s exhilarating. Remember that montage from Dirty Dancing where Baby dances her way across the bridge, an entirely new person now that Patrick Swayze has taught her some moves? Now, that’s me. Only with tap shoes, and SEPTA stops.

First private lesson is complimentary; dance packages (for nearly every type of dance) begin at $490 for five private dance lessons and $150 for 10 open classes. Society Hill Dance Academy, Philly and Manayunk locations.