Time to tap to another tune

Time to tap to another tune

There’s a new dance revolution hitting Hong Kong and you’re invited


Youth groups such as R&T (Rhythm & Tempo) are teaching young people how to tap.
Youth groups such as R&T (Rhythm & Tempo) are teaching young people how to tap.
Photos: R&T
In the past few years, dances such as the zumba, street dancing and ballet have been cited as great ways to keep fit. But one option that most people probably don't consider as a way to get their hearts pumping is tap dancing.

Tap dancing has its roots in lots of different styles. These include clog dances from Europe, Irish step dancing and African tribal dances brought to America by slaves. Unlike most dance forms that use the whole body, tap is all about the feet and the rhythms they create.

There are many different styles of tap, but perhaps the most popular remains Broadway tap, the style made famous by great entertainers such as Fred Astaire.

While tap dancing is common in the West, it is still relatively unknown in Hong Kong. It has been popular at international schools for some time, but it wasn't until 1994 that tap became more widely practised, when the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts (HKAPA) started offering evening classes to the public.

The HKAPA used to run a musical theatre programme, which included tap, theatre dance and jazz. The programme no longer exists, but tap remains an option for those majoring in dance.

Not only is tap being recognised as an art form - and rightly so - but people are also starting to see its fitness benefits. Mandy Petty, a lecturer at the HKAPA's School of Dance, says tap dancing is an excellent fitness regime. It is an aerobic exercise, much like jogging, that works thigh and calf muscles and, depending on the style of tap, can work arms if hand movements are included.

It is also a form of exercise that encourages relaxation, as body parts must remain loose to create the best sounds and avoid injury. It also helps dancers to keep generally in good shape.

"Tap must be done with other forms of exercise," Petty says. "If one doesn't complement tap dancing with stretching exercises, the muscles may become stiff, leading to knee injuries."

Tap can also appeal to those who don't normally enjoy sports. When you are on the track, you are just working to run faster. Many youngsters aren't attracted by sports because they don't want to go through the intense training to then face disappointment if they don't make the team.

However, tap dancing does face some obstacles. For one, finding a place to tap is no piece of cake. Because there's little demand for tap in Hong Kong, few locations are available. It also creates marks on the floor, so owners are reluctant to rent out their venues.

"Tap dance is also noisy. Hong Kong has a lot of high-rise buildings, and no one wants to hear tapping sounds above their heads," Petty says.

Some people may assume tap dancing is easy and think they can perform straight away. "People think they can do a five-minute tap show as one of their performances. It's a unique form of entertainment, and five minutes doesn't seem a long time. This is certainly not true," Petty says. "Tap takes time to learn, as it is a specialised dance form. Tap dancers require an innate sense of rhythm, much like musicians."

If you feel like you might have the rhythm and are looking for a new way to get fit in the new year, check out youth group R&T (Rhythm & Tempo). They have organised the Hong Kong tap festival for several years, and offer workshops at schools through the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

With groups like this, and increasing interest in tap dancing, teachers such as Petty are confident the dance will soon become a mainstream activity in the city. So, get tapping!

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