How Tap Dancing Made Me Fall In Love With My Body…All The Way

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Photo credit: Tammy Steele of Manamotion Photography

“Can you enter the room this year seeing a bunch of other souls who tap dance because it nourishes them, rather than seeing a bunch of other bodies to compare yourself to?”

My life coach was giving me a pep talk to prep for my two weeks of tap intensive coming up in New York.

I had a million concerns. After my parents brought up my weight gain while visiting Pennsylvania, I was feeling like a disgusting, untalented, incompetent blob. It affected me in ways I didn’t foresee, and I wasn’t feeling motivated to tap dance at all, much less make the trip to New York.

“Love is not an achievement-oriented exercise.”

On the same day as my life coach advised me on how to approach the tap intensive, my tap teacher was giving me the same advice in different words.

(One of these days I’m hoping that if I rub elbows with enough wise people, I’ll gain an inkling of Dumbledorian wisdom that will make me see clearly through all the mud. Hasn’t happened yet, but a girl can hope.)

Andrew Nemr, my tap teacher, brought up the love quote because I was telling him that after two weeks of his tap intensive, I needed to leave feeling like a badass. But I had my doubts.

I told him, I need to do this for myself. It feels like the only chance I get to really dance all year long. I want to get as much out of it as I can. I have to make the best of these two weeks.

He was like, you’re certainly putting a lot of pressure on yourself.

And I was like, this is the one thing that I love most in the world. It’s the one thing I’ve never given up on. I’ve never gotten tired of. I’ve never been “over”. I love it, and I don’t want anything to happen to screw these two weeks up.

And he said, I read something somewhere recently that stated, love is not an achievement-oriented exercise.

And as always, when Andrew says something wise, I sort of gaze off to the side for what feels like a lifetime and I try to process his words in what feels like a very tiny brain in my head.

“OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Okay. Got it.”

Andrew nodded ferociously.

When I took his inaugural intensive last summer, it changed my life. I had grown up tapping in the musical theatre genre, but had always had a knack for rhythm tap when it was thrown at me. When I had the chance to dance captain and assistant choreograph with Christopher George Patterson in 2011 and 2012, I learned that I really had a knack for rhythm tap, and I started teaching and choreographing much more because of all I learned I was capable of.

And then I took Andrew’s intensive and realized I knew nothing.

Nothing about the history of the jazz tap style. Nothing about Bunny Briggs or Jimmy Slyde or Steve Condos. Nothing about nothing about nothing about nothing.

I didn’t know you could invert cramprolls and I didn’t know how to talk to a band during a tap jam and I didn’t know how to hover and I didn’t know that I didn’t know.

It was so humbling, and so inspirational all at once.

So this year, I took two weeks of it.

And I fell in love with my body.

When you tap dance, you’re not just a dancer. You’re a musician. Your body is an instrument with which to create shapes and create sound. Most cultures have some sort of percussive dance that originated there. In America, tap is ours.

I learned that it doesn’t matter what size my body is in this style of tap dance. Sure, I can’t go play a chorus girl in 42nd Street with this body, but this body can create shapes and it can make sounds.

And I realized how much of a privilege it is that my body allows me to do that.

Last year, there were several body types in the room and I felt so ecstatic to be part of such a diverse experience.

This year, as my life coach prepared me to do, I walked into the room and tried to see everyone for who they really were – a bunch of tap dance crazy souls, who happen to be walking around in thin bodies, or fat bodies, or short bodies, or very very tall bodies. To this day, I am extremely thankful for that piece of advice she gave me. Although there were times I compared my skill level to others, I never once compared my body to theirs, and that’s a really big step for me.

After introductions on Monday morning, we started the warm-up. There my thighs were in the mirror, looking back at me, daring me to judge them.

I couldn’t do it.

I couldn’t judge the things that were enabling me to participate in this warm-up. I couldn’t scrutinize anything on my body because, how dare I.

How dare I ask this body to be anything different, when it holds me up for eight hours in a pair of hard metal shoes? How dare I ask this body to morph into something else, when it spends most of it’s time recovering from the toll my dancing takes on it? How dare I be an ungrateful bitch for all my body has survived and overcome?

We made it through the warm-up, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and on Thursday morning, I fell in love with my body all the way.

I’ve been working on that, you know, I’m sure you know. You’re here, you’ve read things.

But seeing myself on film, or hearing concerns from my parents, or not knowing how to dress myself, can put a knife in that real fast. I have days, and then I have days. You know what I mean?

To watch and listen while Andrew explained an exercise we did last year that, at the time, had gone so far above and beyond my head that I couldn’t even reach it on tip toes, and then all of a sudden feel my feet do it one year later, was almost an out of body experience.

Except it wasn’t.

My body remembered last year’s work, and even though my brain didn’t comprehend it, my muscles did.

My feet didn’t connect with my brain all that often last year – either I was over analyzing or under analyzing and I really had no idea what my feet would turn out from moment to moment – but this year, they were like, Amanda. Chill bitch. We got this.

My friend Sandra, who also took the intensive last year with me, looked at me and was near tears. “My body remembers this from last year. I’ve never been able to do stuff like this before. I can’t believe this. I am so amazed at myself!”

That’s what it was. I was literally amazed by myself. My muscles were there for me. They remembered, and they worked that shit out before I had time to even ask them to.

The trust I felt, for my body, during those two weeks of tap dance, was absolutely unlike anything I’ve ever felt. Yoga class, yea, I’ve had some moments. Teaching dance, yea, I’ve had some moments.

But tapping?

Tapping taught me to trust. To rely. To relax into myself.

It didn’t matter how far my belly stuck out, because that’s not what makes a tap dancer beautiful.

Tap dancing is beautiful when you see the person’s face completely present in making music with their feet, whether they’re smiling or not. You can see it in their eyes, their scrunched up nose, their raised eyebrows.

Tap dancing is beautiful when there’s a small victory, that opens a million doors.

Tap dancing is beautiful when it’s a group of people from all walks of life, all coming together to do the same thing with their bodies.

It’s not about the body. It’s just, about the body.

And I guess that’s why I love it.

That’s why it’s always been my passion. And I’m not sure, but I have this very strange feeling that God put it in my life twenty-five years ago so that I could have this moment, right now.

If you’ve never taken a tap class, I bet there’s a studio near you that offers one. I know we offer adult tap classes here in Kona, and I can tell you, as a tap teacher, that it’s never too late to start. In New York, for beginners, try Andrew Black’s class at Steps. I’ve talked to him about this. He invites all bodies from all walks of life to join him, and I love him for that.

If you tapped for years but hung up your shoes because someone told you that you couldn’t make it as a tapper, take them down off the wall and lace them up. You don’t have to “make it” as a tapper. You don’t have to make it a career. You are allowed to tap dance for fun. I checked. It’s permissable in all fifty states.

If you are a performer and you stopped taking tap class because you were tired of feeling you had to network all the time, or because you lost your love for the craft, go take Andrew’s class. He will renew your passion without judgement and you might walk away with your mind blown, but only in the best way possible, leaving you wanting more. If you’re not in New York, go take any class, any class at all, or search out opportunities for tap festivals and intensives like Andrew’s.

If you don’t own a pair of shoes, shuffle around in your bare feet while you make your coffee.

Like, it doesn’t matter. I just want you to know, that tap dancing is different than any other activity you’ve ever partaken in, and it has the potential to unlock a lot of appreciation and respect for your body.

If I could buy everyone shoes, we would absolutely have a tap session at Restore Your Roar. Wait, Olivia…….can we do that?????

You don’t have to be an expert. You just have to trust. And enjoy. And relax into it.

And before you know it, you’ll be making music.

And what’s life, if we can’t stop every once and a while and make a little noise?

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Thank you Andrew; thank you to my fellow tappers; thank you to all who came before us – Gregory Hines, the kindest and silliest man to walk the earth, and all who came before him, who carved out this art form for us; thank you to my mama for putting me in that royal blue leotard at age three; thank you to my boss here in Hawai’i for letting me teach one thousand tap classes to our students on the Big Island; and thank you to my body, for allowing me to do what I love for over twenty-five years.

I’m so sorry I ever doubted you. I have finally fallen, all the way in love with you.

And this is gonna be our best year yet.

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