Tap Talk: Training, Warm Up and Injury Prevention

 

 

 

tap shoes

by Janine Bryant for The Dance Journal
photo: thedancersshop.com

Tap Dance is unique, percussive, rhythmic and entertaining! Tap dancers are incredibly adept at articulating their lower extremity joints in ways that are specific to the genre. The many styles of tap dance require varying degrees of ground reaction force (GRF), attack, and nuance, which affect wear and tear of the ankles, knees, hips and lower backs of tap dancers.

Very briefly, tap dance developed in 19th century America as English and Scottish immigrants and African slaves brought their percussive movement traditions and, along with them, a passion to preserve and share this incredibly enjoyable genre. These early forms of tap were cultural expressions unique to each region with dancers wearing either soft shoes or hard clogs. By the 1920’s metal plates were attached to the soles of shoes in order to gain a heightened sound and more intricate rhythm patterns. Other styles of dance that utilize percussive footwork are Clogging, Irish Step Dancing and Flamenco. {1}

A recent search of the literature revealed very little information on tap dancers’ injuries, which may occur less frequently in comparison with dancers of other genres {2}, but significant and impactful for tap dancers, nevertheless.

Beloved Philadelphia tap master, Arthur Leo Taylor, who has been tapping professionally for over 34 years, shares his experiences:

DUING YOUR PEAK PERFORMANCE YEARS, HOW MANY TIMES WERE YOU INJURED FROM TAP DANCING?

ALT: I didn’t sustain a lot of injuries during the peak of my performance years, however, I was prone to having weak ankles, which would give way unexpectedly. This never happened on stage but, something as simple as walking on an uneven sidewalk, could make me twist my ankle. One area that did raise concern was, at the peak of my performance, both my left and right big toes would become numb, especially after a long period of performances.

DID ANY OF YOUR INJURIES EVER KEEP YOU FROM PERFORMING?

ALT: None of my injuries ever kept me from dancing – I even performed once on a twisted ankle.

WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER TAP DANCERS REGARDING INJURY PREVENTION?

ALT: I always tell dancers that they must warm up before they begin dance choreography. It is imperative and perhaps what kept me away from so many injuries.

Common injuries (injury being defined as: musculoskeletal in nature leading to time off from dance) reported by tap dancers include lower back sprain, hip sprain, strain and tendinosis, knee sprains and meniscal tears, shin splints, ankle sprains and stress fractures in various areas of the foot. The most injuries, however, as reported in a 2003 paper including results from a retrospective survey, occurred predominately in the ankle and then the knee, respectively. {3}

Another study revealed a lower incidence of injury among tap dancers as compared with ballet and modern dancers but, as stated by the authors, measured GFC’s in professional tap dancers in comparison with other dance genres while not considering less skillful/novice tap dancers, who may demonstrate higher peak forces and incur more frequent injuries. {3}

The numbness in toes experienced by some athletes during exercise may be caused by a spinal issue such as a herniated disk, low blood flow or vitamin deficiency. {4}

It appears that increased skill and fitness levels promote increased accommodation of musculoskeletal stress during activity. The genre may also select out those who are unable to handle the demands but instead attract subjects who are constitutionally able to tolerate the higher impacts and survive to become expert in the task. The relatively low peak vertical GRFs measured reflect task specificity. Unlike jumping in sports or leaping in ballet and modern dance, where height, distance, or movement aesthetic is the goal, the purpose in tap dance is to create tasteful percussive sound syncopation. Musculoskeletal forces generated by experienced tap dancers are modulated according to the sound produced. {2}

It is interesting to note that, in the above study, negligible forces were not measured but might in fact have a cumulative effect over time and, when repeatedly applied, result in injury.

Since our famous Philly tapper, Arthur Leo Taylor, recommends proper warm up for injury prevention, some effective foot and ankle warm up activities may include:

Circular ankle motions

Ankle dorsiflexion and plantar flexion

Calf stretches, both weight bearing and non-weight bearing

Articulations of the metatarsal foot (including work with a resistance band)

 

Until next time, tap healthy and strong and, by all means, warm up before you tap!

Janine Bryant
Director of Dance Programs
Eastern University, St. Davids, Pa.
jbryant3@eastern.edu

 

References:

 

  1. Knowles M, Tap Roots: The Early History of Tap Dancing. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2002.
  2. Mayers L, MD, Bronner S, PT, PhD, OCS, Agraharasamakulam S, MS, Ojofeitimi S, MPT, Lower extremity kinetics in tap dance, Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, Vol. 14 (1), 2010.
  3. Mayers, L MD, Judelson D, BS, Bronner S, PT, EdM, The prevalence of injury among tap dancers, Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, Vol. 7 (4), 2003.
  4. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003206.htm

Special thanks to Arthur Leo Taylor, master tapper and faculty member at Morgan Village Creative and Performing Arts High School, Camden, NJ.

 

 

 

 

About Janine Bryant

Janine Bryant, Senior Lecturer in Dance, Faculty of Performing Arts at University of Wolverhampton in The United Kingdom. She originally hails from Pennsylvania, USA and was the former Chair of Dance and Director of the Dance Program at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa. There she taught courses for Dance, Biokinetics/Kinesiology at the Loeb School of Education, as well as at the Campolo College of Graduate and Professional Studies. She has been teaching technique and choreographing classical and contemporary ballets for more than twenty years.

Janine received her B.F.A. in Modern Dance from the University of the Arts in 1986. Janine is an active member of the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science and was recently added to their Peer Review Board, Poster Judging Committee and Education Committee. Janine also is a member of PAMA (Performing Arts Medicine Association) and is currently earning her PhD in Dance Medicine and Science from The University of Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom.

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