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Loose-Ankle Tap
By OddSockPremium member Comments: 795, member since Tue Dec 20, 2005
On Wed Feb 13, 2008 06:07 PM

An article from Dance Spirit magazine:
The Physics of Footwork

Stacie Strong | October 18, 2007

What is Loose-Ankle Tap?
Loose-ankle tap is perhaps one of the profession’s best-kept secrets. Mark Yonally, artistic director of Chicago Tap Theatre and a long-time loose-ankle specialist, explains that the technique “involves a completely relaxed ankle. The movement is initiated from the hip, with everything from the knee down hanging limp, like dead weight.” He demonstrates by flexing his hip and pulsing from the thigh, causing his foot to flop loosely. “The leg acts as a lever, with all the heavy work being done by the large muscles in the thigh and hip rather than the small muscles of the ankle.”

So how much of a difference do loose ankles make? “At the highest levels of tap, it’s hard to see what someone is doing,” Yonally explains. “However, you can often hear the difference between the two styles, and you can certainly feel it.”

Why Use Loose Ankles?
Relaxing the ankle produces a clean, light, open sound. Furthermore, loose-ankle dancers can typically tap longer and faster than working-ankle dancers, since they aren’t burning out the small muscles of the ankle.

Using a loose ankle can also expand choreographic choices. Acia Gray, executive and artistic director of Tapestry Dance Company in Austin, TX, says, “Because I’m not working from my feet, I’m able to travel more onstage. By working from your pelvis—like you do in ballet or jazz dance—you can engage the energy from your core and move more easily.”

Gray knows the differences in the two styles well, having started her career as a working-ankle, bent-knee dancer. She also discovered that loose-ankle dancing is easier on the body. After she learned loose-ankle technique from master teacher and choreographer Sam Weber, the chronic pain in her knees disappeared. Yonally, who also credits Weber as his mentor, also came to the technique after a knee injury.

Weber, who was taught to use relaxed, loose ankles from his first tap lessons at age 4, is an unabashed proponent of the style. “The only way a dancer who keeps the ankle rigid can reach a high level of technical proficiency,” he says, “is by learning to relax the ankle,” either consciously or unconsciously.

Some moves are simply impossible to do with an overly-tight ankle. For example, Gray’s hallmark “one-and-a-half” involves three sounds from a straight-leg shuffle and lift. Yonally’s dancers at Chicago Tap Theatre regularly perform ripples (“side riffs”) in unison, using a twisting motion to get three rapid-fire sounds while still retaining a sweetness and clarity of tone.

Other moves can be done faster with a loose ankle. For example, you can dramatically increase the speed of your nerve taps and running front shuffle-steps by relaxing your ankle.

Dancing With Loose Ankles
Try a few basic steps:
Shuffles: “Rather than swinging from your knee or lifting and releasing your foot from your ankle,” Yonally says, “try flexing your hip, relaxing your ankle and simply dropping the leg until the toe touches the ground and then lifting the leg up again. You get two clean sounds without ever having to engage your ankle.”

Flaps: The first sound is the same as in a shuffle, but the relaxed foot slides along the floor until it’s time for the second sound. Yonally then gently snaps his knee straight, allowing the toe to pop up and down of its own accord. The resulting sound is warm and relaxed, rather than harsh and tight. When you feel like you’ve got the basic flap down, try running flaps across the room to see how much more you can travel with loose ankles!

Ripples (for advanced students): Start with the leg elevated, bent and turned out. Make the first sound on the outside of the loose foot, and as the knee straightens and the leg turns into parallel, let your relaxed foot make two more sounds, one on the inside of the tap and one in the middle. Though difficult, the final effect is both mellow and impressive.

Though most dancers don’t find loose-ankle tap until later in their careers, “beginners who are shown how to relax the ankle from the first lesson progress far more quickly than students who have been taught to hold the ankle,” Weber says. For those eager to improve quickly, there can be no better reason to take up loose-ankle tap.

Do you use this technique? If so, when did you start?
Other thoughts?

19 Replies to Loose-Ankle Tap

re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By glitterfairyPremium member Comments: 12135, member since Tue Oct 01, 2002
On Thu Feb 14, 2008 03:12 AM
Edited by glitterfairy (42646) on 2008-02-14 03:13:50 edit
Loose-ankle tap is perhaps one of the profession’s best-kept secrets. Mark Yonally, artistic director of Chicago Tap Theatre and a long-time loose-ankle specialist, explains that the technique “involves a completely relaxed ankle. The movement is initiated from the hip, with everything from the knee down hanging limp, like dead weight.” He demonstrates by flexing his hip and pulsing from the thigh, causing his foot to flop loosely. “The leg acts as a lever, with all the heavy work being done by the large muscles in the thigh and hip rather than the small muscles of the ankle.”

So how much of a difference do loose ankles make? “At the highest levels of tap, it’s hard to see what someone is doing,” Yonally explains. “However, you can often hear the difference between the two styles, and you can certainly feel it.”

I refuse to read past this bit. It is one of the all-time most stupidest pieces of tripe I've ever read in my life.

Yes my ankles and knees are relatively relaxed and flexible, but 'dead weight'? I don't think so. The reason you 'can't see what I'm doing' is because I'm controlling my movements, thankyouverymuch.

EDIT: Either this guy is stupid, or his wording is incredibly stupid. People that "tap from the hip" routinely dance far too jerkily because they don't have the fine movement in the ankles which again, requires control. Idiot.
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By oz_helenmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 11196, member since Sat Aug 10, 2002
On Thu Feb 14, 2008 03:36 AM
*snort*

This goes against EVERY form of technique I've ever come across.

It's kind of akin to those people who say, "Oh I can tap!" and just move their feet around on the floor willy-nilly.

Helen
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By adageacemember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 3982, member since Thu Sep 01, 2005
On Thu Feb 14, 2008 07:24 AM
Ok. I don't have the long-term grounding in technique that you guys do, but I can see some things that don't make sense.

I've yet to hear of any tap technique that advocates keeping the ankles rigid... I thought it was a given that even when you're controlling your movements from the ankle and articulating through that joint, there has to be some relaxation there too? That was one of the first things I learned, how to get my ankles to relax while still controlling the movements!

I also have a biiig problem with this claim:
By working from your pelvis—like you do in ballet


Now, ballet requires a very strong core. It also requires that you turnout from the hip. But this is the first time I have ever heard someone mention "working from your pelvis". Um... no. The only work you do with your pelvis is to keep your posture right. The work comes from your abs, your legs, your back... Maybe I'm misinterpreting the wording of what this person is saying, but if I am then that just means that instead of making a stupid claim, it's worded in a very stupid and misleading way.

Also I can't really see how "working from the hip" and keeping your ankle loose has any bearing on how much you travel.

If this is the standard of Dance Spirit articles, I'm glad it's not available in my town ;)
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By Ms_Mel Comments: 244, member since Sun Jan 20, 2008
On Thu Feb 14, 2008 07:18 PM
Here's a link to see Tapestry Dance Company named in this article.
youtube.com . . .

As I watched it, I can fully see what they are talking about with moving from the hip- they tap with their entire leg, which looks good for show with some of their routines. I don't think they mean to just flop your foot around with no ankle control, but if you have too much control and focus on too much control, then you can't get as many sounds as you might be able to get quickly if you loosen up a little. I think this is more of a flapper-style tap dance.

Ripples (for advanced students): Start with the leg elevated, bent and turned out. Make the first sound on the outside of the loose foot, and as the knee straightens and the leg turns into parallel, let your relaxed foot make two more sounds, one on the inside of the tap and one in the middle. Though difficult, the final effect is both mellow and impressive.


What they are describing here, I have always called this a flam. And I thought ripples were entirely different? Helen loves Ripples, is this different than what you do Helen? :) (Ooooh, I called Helen out! LOL)

For example, Gray’s hallmark “one-and-a-half” involves three sounds from a straight-leg shuffle and lift.


OK, what's a "one-and-a-half"? I'm missing something there...

Yonally’s dancers at Chicago Tap Theatre regularly perform ripples (“side riffs”) in unison, using a twisting motion to get three rapid-fire sounds while still retaining a sweetness and clarity of tone.


Again with the ripples, I'd like to know what they are talking about exactly.

“At the highest levels of tap, it’s hard to see what someone is doing,” Yonally explains. “However, you can often hear the difference between the two styles, and you can certainly feel it.”


I'd have to agree and disagree with this. If you aren't a tapper, then yeah, you're not going to know what the dancers are doing. These are the audience members who don't know the difference between a shuffle and a flap. But if you are a trained advanced tapper, yes, you can tell exactly what someone did by sight AND sound.

OK, I'm done. LOL
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By adageacemember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 3982, member since Thu Sep 01, 2005
On Fri Feb 15, 2008 04:09 AM
I don't think they mean to just flop your foot around with no ankle control, but if you have too much control and focus on too much control, then you can't get as many sounds as you might be able to get quickly if you loosen up a little.


So where's the difference between that and any other style of tap?!
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By Ms_Mel Comments: 244, member since Sun Jan 20, 2008
On Fri Feb 15, 2008 06:36 AM
I don't think there's really a difference, except when looking at some of the more Broadway style tap from about 60 years ago as compared to tap now. I'm thinking maybe the "style" is taught as opposed to the rigid Al Gilbert syllabus? In any event, it's probably just a self-named classification for the purpose of publicity. Kind of like how I never understood the hype of "Rhythm Tap" style. As far as I've ever known, isn't rhythm the whole point of tap.

I have never been taught to treat my foot as dead weight though. If you do that, I'd think you're likely going to either get more sounds than you want or not enough sounds.

Apparently it works for some people, though, if that's how they teach it and the dancers still end up looking and sounding like the rest of us. LOL
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By OddSockPremium member Comments: 795, member since Tue Dec 20, 2005
On Fri Feb 15, 2008 07:21 AM
adageace wrote:

So where's the difference between that and any other style of tap?!
Maybe it's a location thing. I don't know where some of you are from, but from my American experience, many tap dancers are trained to shuffle from their knee in a front to back movement. Loose-ankle tap uses the idea that the movement is initiated from the hip, so it's more of an up-and-down feeling. It's completely different from what I grew up doing.

Ms_Mel wrote:

OK, what's a "one-and-a-half"? I'm missing something there...
A one-and-a-half is basically a shuffle with 3 sounds. You do the up-and-down dropping type shuffle, so your leg is straight at the end, and then you lift your leg a little, making a third sound.

As far as ripples go...I don't know, it's probably just a terminology thing. I've never done a step that I call a flam.

There's a video at the bottom of CTT's homepage: chicagotaptheatre.com. Does this look a lot different than the tap dancing you guys do?

Man. You guys are probably going to think I suck now. I've been doing loose-ankle tap for almost two years now, and I thought it was awesome. Since I've been relaxing my ankles and tapping from the hip, my speed has increased (and yes, I can still keep time) and my dynamics have improved. In my case, at least, it's been a lot more efficient. It's not jerky, and it's still controlled.

Maybe it is just a really bad article. Maybe I just understood what they meant because I knew about their technique ahead of time.
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By Ms_Mel Comments: 244, member since Sun Jan 20, 2008
On Fri Feb 15, 2008 07:41 AM
So is a one-and-a-half like a flam? That's what the ripple sounded like to me in their description.

I think you may be right that the article isn't well written, meaning that whoever wrote it wasn't clear on exactly what they were talking about. "Loose Ankle" isn't a very good name for tapping because it gives a wrong idea I think.

I don't think you suck, why would anyone think that? Everyone has their own styles of dancing, and if something called Loose Ankle has done great for you, then keep at it. :)
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By Ms_Mel Comments: 244, member since Sun Jan 20, 2008
On Fri Feb 15, 2008 07:43 AM
c_jam wrote:

Maybe it's a location thing. I don't know where some of you are from, but from my American experience, many tap dancers are trained to shuffle from their knee in a front to back movement.


Where abouts are you located in the US? I'm in Texas not too far from where the Tapestry dance company is located. I may have to check them out and see what exactly this loose ankle is.
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By OddSockPremium member Comments: 795, member since Tue Dec 20, 2005
On Fri Feb 15, 2008 08:08 AM
Hmmm...I think the main difference is that a one-and-a-half is 3 sounds coming from the middle of the toe tap, and a ripple goes: outer part, inner part, outer part of the toe tap (but not the edges). They sound almost the same rhythmically, but not tonally.

I've never done flams, but I called one of my friends who grew up in Indiana, and she said that the flams she did were hitting the edge on the toe tap, and then the edge on the heel tap.

So, for the flams that you do, all your sounds come from the toe tap?

I live in Michigan, so most of the tap I've seen has been in Michigan or Chicago. I haven't seen Tapestry before (except for in the video you posted, thanks :) ) but I have seen Chicago Tap Theatre.
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By glitterfairyPremium member Comments: 12135, member since Tue Oct 01, 2002
On Fri Feb 15, 2008 03:10 PM
^ that 'friend' seems to also be describing what I know as "riffs", although we strike first on the ball of the toe tap, then the edge of the heel tap.
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By Ms_Mel Comments: 244, member since Sun Jan 20, 2008
On Fri Feb 15, 2008 06:02 PM
^^ I agree, that sounds like a riff to me. I've heard of flams also being called "hoofer shuffles", "toe riffles", "thirds" or "slurps". Heel isn't involved in the flams I learned, it's the outer edge of the toe tap, the main part of the toe tap, then the full toe tap slightly spanks up.

Check out this video from United Taps for "Toe Riffles" www.unitedtaps.com . . . It explains it, then watch the video to see what I'm talking about for flams. It takes some great ankle control (just relaxed enough but not dead weight if that makes sense), but you have to have loose thighs and hips to get all three sounds.

I'm still not too sure on the ripples, where's Helen, she needs to tell me if this ripple is the same as her ripples. Oh, Heeeellll eeeeennnn, where arrrreee yooooouuuu? LOL

See what kind of good discussion you got going because of one article? :D Terminology differs so much from school to school.

In other news, Tapestry offers adult classes on Saturdays. There's an open tap jam every Monday night from 9pm-10pm, unfortunately I can't make the hour and a half drive in time to get there. I don't get done teaching until after 8pm. :( But I'm making it a point to get to one of their Saturday sessions just to see what they are talking about. LOL I'll let everyone know how it goes. I can't go tomorrow because I'll be at competition, but next Saturday I'm going to try to make it to that class.
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By glitterfairyPremium member Comments: 12135, member since Tue Oct 01, 2002
On Fri Feb 15, 2008 07:15 PM
I mean, having watched the video there's quite a few similarities with the way I tap, as well. But the difference is that whilst I know it's important to have loose ankles, I'm not tapping from the hip.

The article sounds like it's promoting some kind of extremist Tap Dancing cult. Sure, don't tap with stiff ankles - but what kind of idiot goes so far to say that your legs should be like a 'dead weight' and all your movement is propelled by the pelvis? It's obvious from the video that it's more controlled that that (otherwise there'd be more uncontrolled hip/butt action going on). This guy is just an idiot.
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By OddSockPremium member Comments: 795, member since Tue Dec 20, 2005
On Fri Feb 15, 2008 08:00 PM
Edited by c_jam (147882) on 2008-02-15 20:01:51 picture didn't show up
Edited by c_jam (147882) on 2008-02-15 20:03:24 and now for hot linking...
Edited by c_jam (147882) on 2008-02-15 20:03:38 and now for hot linking...
I'm going to use a picture, because I don't think I'm explaining myself very well. haha
Okay...the step that my friend calls a flam looks like this:

Image hotlink - 'http://i223.photobucket.com/albums/dd23/moogle_meister/HPIM0621.jpg'

The foot is dropped to the edge like this, but the toe edge goes a little before the heel edge.

I had rehearsal tonight, so I took a survey. :)
About 1/3 learned flams like the picture above.
Another 1/3 haven't used the term at all.
The last 1/3 do the same flams that Ms_Mel does.

Hooray for videos! Ms_Mel, the toe riffles in that video are what Chicago Tap Theatre calls ripples. So...
-Ms_Mel's flams=Chicago Tap Theatre's ripples.

Glitterfairy, is this what you do for a riff? If so, then our riffs are the same: www.unitedtaps.com . . ..

Mark Yonally's description ("dead-weight", moving from the pelvis/hips) makes sense to me...I don't know, maybe it's just because I'm used to it. It's not like he just decided to make this up, he learned it from Bill Evans.
He's not the only one who taps like this.
Acia Gray says in her book, The Souls of Your Feet: "Remember: It's not your feet that tap dance. In fact, the two parts of your body that lead your rhythms are your ears and your hips!"
And so does Brenda Bufalino: "Your feet don't tap dance, your lips don't sing."
My teacher learned this technique from her teacher, Don Smith, and Don Smith learned this technique from Honi Coles.
It's just another way to do it, I guess.

Tomorrow, when I'm not so exhausted, I'll try to find my camera and tape what the shuffles look like. Maybe that'll explain the "dead weight" thing.
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By Ms_Mel Comments: 244, member since Sun Jan 20, 2008
On Fri Feb 15, 2008 08:54 PM
Oddly enough, when I make it to Austin to take a tap class at Tapestry Dance Company, Acia Gray is the teacher. Small World!

I think the difference in "flams" are similar to the difference in heel slides, heel shovels, and Shiggidy Bops. Can someone PLEASE make one dictionary of tap terms and implement it throughout the world in every language so that we all know what each other is talking about?! LOL

I figured out why Helen hasn't been in on this yet... TODAY IS HER BIRTHDAY! Woot Woot! Happy Birthday OZ_Helen!

And I have to share my current thought on the pelvis/hip movement initiation. Going off what Glitterfairy said, I can just see a bunch of brand new 7 year old students in tap shoes gyrating their bodies around a dance studio leading with their pelvis like someone tied a rope around their hips and butt and is pulling them forward. LOL Sorry, just had to share my visual with everyone!
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By oz_helenmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 11196, member since Sat Aug 10, 2002
On Fri Feb 15, 2008 09:02 PM
Edited by oz_helen (35388) on 2008-02-15 21:11:26 stuff
The ripple they described is nothing like MY ripples!

Watching the video, they definitely don't propel the movement from the hip only. There is an obvious use of control of knee movement and some fine ankle work evident. There is definitely no "dead weight" here in the better tappers, though in the first example, there were some people with serious timing issues who maybe were having difficulties moving fast enough due to being told they should be imagining the leg as a dead weight.

I have heard of the Al Gilbert syllabus, but having never seen it, I have no idea what it's like, so I can't comment on whether it's a rigid style.

The way I teach is to keep the keep the legs relaxed, but still use mostly the knee and ankle joints. Hips are only used for obviously large stylistic movements. The technique comes first to ensure that the students are hitting the floor with the correct part of the tap and allowing the sound to resonate. Movements are small but clear. Teaching students to propel from the hip could result in too-large movements that would prevent any speed being picked up.

Edit: It's Saturday here now, so my birthday is now over, but yes, Ms Mel, I was taking some family time for my birthday, which is why I was absent for a large part of the thread.

Helen
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By Ms_Mel Comments: 244, member since Sun Jan 20, 2008
On Fri Feb 15, 2008 09:23 PM
That's what I was thinking when I watched the video, too, that the movements aren't from the hip. I think perhaps this is someone's way of teaching leg movement with hopes that the sounds will all come later? If you watch closely (and have a trained eye for it), there are definitely some missed sounds in some of the steps. I think some of the video is almost like the group Iconic on America's Best Dance Crew- Broadway style trying to go "street". Not to say that Iconic is a bad dance crew, but they aren't naturally "street" dancers. Same deal, I think this loose-ankle tap is a mix of the high-up Broadway style mixed with hoofin'.

(As a side note, it's not tap, but if you go on You Tube or MTV's main US site and look for Iconic's performances from the first few weeks and compare to Kaba Modern. HUGE difference.)

I didn't think that's what you described to me as Ripples, Helen. That's why I called on you to tell what Ripples are in your syllabus. :D
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By glitterfairyPremium member Comments: 12135, member since Tue Oct 01, 2002
On Fri Feb 15, 2008 11:00 PM
Happy Belated Birthday Helen!

Glad to see I wasn't the only one to notice the timing issues in the video - although the (backrow?) guys seemed to catch up and that made me question my sanity for a moment.

One of my teachers encourages a real 'lightness' in the knees and ankles, and often gets students to tap sitting on the edge of a chair to get a feel for how 'weightless' and loose it should be.

I think any dance philosophy that remotely sounds like "Do this, and ___ will come later" is stupidity. Nothing good can ever come of a bad foundation unless there's retraining involved.
re: Loose-Ankle Tap
By tappingangel Comments: 908, member since Sun Apr 27, 2003
On Sat Feb 16, 2008 03:54 AM
...Oh man.


I remember reading this article at work (I currently work in a dance store in ventura, ca) and wondering what the *&^% it was!!!!

point one: ALL TAP REQUIRES LOOSE ANKLES. am I wrong?????

point two: DEAD WEIGHT?!?!?!?! like glitterfairy already pointed out: stupidity=no more writing dance articles.



This completely frustrated me. I haven't picked up a dance spirit magazing since.

I've done flams. Definition of a flam: two sounds on one beat. Basically, its like a "tapTAP"...don on the same beat. Not one of the "& one" counts, but just the "&" count..for example.

It's much easier to show than explain. I think mike minnery has a video about it, if i remember right??? Ill have to check my dvds later and let yall know exactly which one discussed it for me.


Also, as far as a ripple goes...I, personally, have taken a class where the "shuffle" was referred to as a "ripple." The lady teaching had her dance training a long time ago (I think she was about 80?). Just goes to show that whole, "terminology changes in each place" theory.






I vote we all write letters to dance spirit about how icky this article is. any "I second that motion"s????? haha.

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