Network Session September 2021: Tap Sounds Series – Building Tap Floors

Network Session September 2021: Tap Sounds Series – Building Tap Floors

Thursday 16 Sept 15:30 BST | 7:30 PDT | 10:30 EST/EDT | 16:30 CEST FREE

For the next few sessions we are getting in to all things tap dance and sound! Shoes, microphones, floors, live sound, recording… These sessions lead by Lee Payne and Annette Walker will share information about suppliers, contacts and resources, as well as opening up the chance to have group conversations and ask questions.

This time we revisit the subject of tap floors –  how to work with different types of floors in venues, how to build your own, and how to approach commissioning one to be made for you. Lee will share his experience of designing and building a floor for larger concert space before opening up a space for the group to share ideas, experiences and tips.

Book your pace for this FREE event

Network Session August 2021: Tap Sound Series – Shoes and Taps

Network Session August 2021: Tap Sound Series – Shoes and Taps

Thursday 12 August 19:30 BST | 11:30 PDT | 14:30 EST/EDT | 20:30 CEST FREE

For the next few sessions we are getting in to all things tap dance and sound! Shoes, microphones, floors, live sound, recording… These sessions lead by Lee Payne and Annette Walker will share information about suppliers, contacts and resources, as well as opening up the chance to have group conversations and ask questions.

This second session explores all things around shoes, taps and other ways of making sound in percussive dance styles. Learn more about the different kinds of shoes available and what different styes can offer. Have your shoes ready to ‘show and tell’ so you can share your experiences and learn from others. Get some great tips about how to maintain or adjust your shoes to achieve different sounds and fine tune your instrument.

Book your place for this FREE event

Network Session July 2021: Tap Sound Series – Floors and Mics

Network Session July 2021: Tap Sound Series – Floors and Mics

Thursday 8 July 19:30 BST | 11:30 PDT | 14:30 EST/EDT | 20:30 CEST

This first session of the series looked at floors and mics. Annette and Lee will talked about how to get set up with a portable tap floor and microphone for solo performance, as well as how to approach creating larger floors for group performances and mixing live sound for a tap ensemble and live music.

Lee and Annette shared their experiences of designing and building portable tap floors and working with sound engineers to achieve good quality live sound with a band. We then opened up a Q&A session followed up by conversations in breakout rooms so that we could get further into conversations about key topics.

Lee and Annette shared lots of links to help us navigate how to achieve our own performance set-up. We have shared these below. Annette also recommended this book which can be obtained through contacting One Dance UK- 

A handbook for dance floors by Mark Foley

First published 1991, Dance UK

The next Network Session on August 12th will be looking at different shoes and taps. But we will be coming back to the topic of flooring and microphones in the September session from the view of larger staging and ensemble tap sound in live performance. 

If you would like to contact Annette or Lee for further information or to arrange some consultancy, you can find their contact information here:

Lee Payne 

Annette Walker 



Annette’s blog about creating your own tap floor 

DIY Guides 

Andrew Nemr Gig board 

Stagestep Encore floor panels. Specs are here 

Stage Step Flooring

Recommended foam to use under tap floors


My tap flooring research led me to use “closed cell foam”. Check out the tech specs of other portable sprung dance flooring systems for comparison. For my latest tap floor experiment floor (still in progress) I ordered a sheet of 10mm thick Platazote LD45 Black ( 2m x 1m and cut it to the batten sizes I needed for a similar floor construction to this:

Network Session May 2021: Tap Dance and Vernacular Dance

Network Session May 2021: Tap Dance and Vernacular Dance

Following our session about tap dance and vernacular dance, this session explored what the benefits and challenges are of viewing tap dance from the perspective of ‘vernacular dance’.

We discussed the way in which scholars define ‘vernacular’ differently, focussing on different aspects depending on their area of interest. Some examples of this include:

“In describing the black vernacular tradition, which has been crucial to the story of American social dance, dance scholar Jacqui Malone sees it as “an evolving tradition and a vital process of cultural production”. She quotes Ralph Ellison…He refers to it as “a dynamic process in which the most refined styles from the past are continually merged with the play-it-by-eye-and-ear improvisations” (Malnig 2009, 4).

“Popular dance is also identified according to a specific process by which local, vernacular, and social dance traditions become popularized in the public sphere” (Malnig 2009, 5).

“In social dancing, a sense of community often derives less from preexisting groups brought together by shared social and cultural interests than from a community created as a result of the dancing” (Malnig 2009, 4).

“Crease (2000, p. 110) is consistent in his use of the term ‘vernacular dance’ which he describes as ‘the kind in which people dance amongst themselves, spontaneously, without professional training, in ordinary spaces without sharp borders between participants and spectators” (Dodds 2011, 47).

The Stearns define vernacular as “in the sense of native and homegrown” (Stearns and Stearns 1979, xvi).

 “It’s hallmarks are improvisation and spontaneity, propulsive rhythm, call-and-response patterns, self-expression, elegance, and control” (Malone 1996, 2).

In groups we went on to consider our own descriptions of what vernacular dance is by contrast and comparison with ‘social dance’ and ‘popular dance’ by thinking about what is the dance like? Who dances? Why do they dance? How, the and where does the dance happen? How is the dance accessed by those who do it and those who witness it?

This discussion highlighted some key issues such as:

Who gets to decide what is ‘vernacular’, ‘popular’ and ‘social’ dance and what is the motivation for naming dance practices in this way? Is this empowering or disempowering for those that doing the dance, especially if they are doing so on a professional basis?

What are the processes by which a dance form moves from being considered ‘vernacular’ to be understood as something else such as ‘popular’, ‘commercial’ or event professional art practice?

These issues are echoed in further quotes from scholars:

“We need to do away with the labels that separate popular and so-called art culture. In the case of the Lindy and so-called modern dance, these labels serve the function of racism by separating the realms of endeavor that have traditionally been reserved for blacks— that is, vernacular or pop culture— from those that are the exclusive property of whites— namely, the world of ‘art’” (Gottschild, 2000 P215). 

Dodds references dance scholar Theresa Buckland’s definition of popular dance as a “fashionable dance form: can be associated with popular music recordings. Tends to be transmitted through fashionable centres for dancing, including schools of dance, or nowadays through television. Tendency to innovation (Buckland 1983, 326)’. This brief description is part of a triadic paradigm in which the popular is set in contrast to an extended consideration of a ‘classical’ and ‘folk’ dance bianary; hence ‘the popular’ is both marginalized and defined through what it is not” (Dodds 2011, 47). 

“In jazz dance, too often that missing link is African-American vernacular dance. Acknowledging the entirety of the genre allows us to establish historical, cultural, social, and kinetic continuity, which I call a continuum” (Cohen in Oliver & Guarino, 2014 P.3). 

“I firmly hold to the view that pop music is not the future for jazz dance. It is important that jazz dance not limit itself to commercial trends and instead embrace its ability to generate new modes of movement invention through play and improvisation” (Wray in Oliver & Guarino, 2014 P.15). 

“In black vernacular dancing, improvisation means the creative structuring, or the choreographing, of human movement in the moment of ritual performance” (Jackson 2001, 44).

“Black vernacular dance aesthetics force us to rethink dualistic Platonic- Cartesian notions and the sometimes ethnocentric divisions between improvisation and so- called set choreography” (Jackson 2001, 49).

Following this discussion, we broke into smaller groups to discuss how this topic relates to key areas of our tap dance practice; teaching, musicianship and industry contexts. 

Teaching and working in educational settings – This group discussed how history, culture and musicality specific learning is largely missing in dance studio practice. The group identified a need for this to be better integrated into environments where competitions and syllabus are often the dominant approach. The group also explored the need to allow tradition to sit alongside innovation in teaching and creative work with learners.

Musicianship – This group discussed different aspects of musicianship available to tap dancers such as the tonality of the taps, and the musical role of tap dance when combined with other instruments.

Industry contexts – This group discussed the difficulties experienced by tap dance artists navigating funding and arts institutions that frame dance and music as separate disciplines. Resistance by industry ‘gatekeepers’ to accepting tap dance as being simultaneously dance, music and theatre led the group to consider the possible need to re-label tap dance in a way that reflects its roots in Africanist aesthetics.


Dodds, S. (2011) Dancing on the Canon: Embodiments of Value in Popular Dance. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gottschild, B, D. (2000) Waltzing In The Dark : African American Vaudeville and Race Politics in the Swing Era, Palgrave Macmillan,

Jackson, J “Improvisation in African-American Vernacular Dancing” Dance Research Journal, Winter, 2001, Vol. 33, No. 2, Social and Popular Dance (Winter, 2001), pp. 40-53 Published by: Congress on Research in Dance

Malnig, J. (ed.) (2009) Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Malone, J. (1996) Steppin on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance. Chicago: The University of Illinois Press.

Stearns, M. and Stearns, J. (1968) Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance. New York: Da Capo.

Wells, C. (2021) Between Beats: The Jazz Tradition and Black Vernacular Dance. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wray, S. “A Twenty-First-Centry Jazz Dance Manifesto” Oliver, W & Guarino, L (2014) Jazz dance: a history of the roots and branches. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida.

Network Session April 2021: Tap Dance and Folk Tradition

Network Session April 2021: Tap Dance and Folk Tradition

In this session we discussed academic approaches of studying folk traditions and folk dance, how folk traditions are approached in dance scholarship, and where tap dance fits into these topics. We started off the session with these questions to consider:

  • What are opportunities, challenges, impacts of thinking about tap dance from the perspective of folk tradition?
  • What makes something a Folk tradition and who decides that? Who’s tradition is it and what does that mean for how you personally engage with it?
  • How does considering tap dance as a folk tradition affect the way we tap dance, educate, create, function commercially?
  • What are we building our understandings of ‘folk tradition’ on and what does this need to evolve?
  • What is your experience of exploring Tap Dance and Folk traditions?

Sally Crawford-Shepherd shared her experience exploring the topics during her fieldwork for her PhD, specifically during an Erasmus Exchange at Norwegian University of Science & Technology (NTNU) in 2008. She introduced the disciplines and methodologies of Dance Anthropology, Ethnography, Autoethnography, Ethnology, and Ethnochoreology. She also discussed how there are different approaches and schools of thought between American/British and European approaches to these areas of study in dance scholarship:

  • American/British may focus on anthropology of human movement, meanings of movement to understand something about that society or people dancing; focus on movement systems, intentions behind the movement.
  • European may focus on the folklorist approach (focus on folk traditions) or ethnology and examine how dances develop and change over time to due to cultural context.

The discussion then shifted onto how the terms ‘folk’ and ‘ethnic’ are complicated and depending on the approach taken in dance scholarship. The term ‘folk’ is often taken from the folklorist perspective and the roots of studying folk dance rely on 19th century interpretations and associations with peasant class or rural communities. The term ‘ethnic’ can constitute dance performed by a group of people living in a group/region, defined as sharing culture, or as a dance characteristic of a particular cultural group. She discussed how looking at tap dance as a folk tradition or part of folk tradition for her particular area of research into English tap jams was difficult to fully define using this European context. She also shared her experience working in Trinidad and Tobago and how exposure to folk dance and traditions there continued to raise questions about what can be defined as ‘folk’.

The discussion among the group included resources to look at for investigating approaches to folk dance and folk tradition. The conversations in the group also covered pros and cons for looking at tap dance under the lens of folk traditions and what that could mean for how we view music, rhythm, pedagogy, preserving, and innovating the art form.

Summary of discussion points – pros and cons of thinking about tap as a folk tradition and questions:

  • Thinking of tap as a folk tradition allows us to connect to Black history through tap history.
  • How does something become a folk tradition? Is it through the synergy of a cultural practice in a point in history eg: Jazz as the folk culture of tap. Dr. Barry Harris – ‘Jazz is the folk music of tap’.
  • Considering the problematics of a term like ‘history’ and using the phrase ‘tap lore’ instead to suggest something that is rooted in the past but living in the present.
  • An understanding of folk tradition that is based upon preservation can be limiting creatively, and a barrier to innovating.
  • Is every dance and music form a folk tradition in some sense?
  • Does ‘tradition’ imply a fixed ways of doing things or an established practice of innovation? Are these ways of thinking about tradition mutually exclusive or in practice intrinsically related?
  • Can Hip Hop be considered a folk culture in the way that it brings together elements of music, visual art, movement, commentary. If so how does tap dance connect to this in its continual development?
  • What are the motivations for defining something as a folk dance or folk tradition and it that intended to be empowering or disempowering for tap dance and tap dancers? Does describing something as a folk tradition distance it from recognition as an artistic practice or not? 
  • What are the motivations behind descriptions of dance and music practices as ‘ethnic’? In what ways is this term misused as a way of ‘othering’ people?