How to Introduce Jazz Music into Tap Class

Published on March 18th 2021 by Hillary-Marie

As more and more  Tap Teachers learn about tap dance history, they’re appreciating the connection of tap dance to jazz music. 

And this often leads to the question…

How do I incorporate Jazz music into my Tap classes?

It’s an honest question. 

There’s no single right way to introduce your Tap classes to Jazz music, but I find that many Tap teachers are hesitant about it when they’ve never done it before. 

They don’t want their students to think jazz music is lame. 

They don’t want their students to get bored and think tap dance is lame. 

I’m here to tell you that you CAN introduce your students to jazz music, and have them fall head over heels in love with it, and therefore, deeper in love with tap dance. 

But before I talk to you about how to do it, I want to talk to you about why we do it. 

Tap Dance and Jazz Music go hand in hand with their shared histories as Black American art forms. It’s a part of Tap Dance history and Tap Dance culture. It’s where our approach to phrasing comes from. It’s where our approach to improvisation comes from. It’s where our approach to composition comes from. Jazz Music is as much a part of Tap Dance as the word “shuffle”. 

Another reason why I love to introduce my students to jazz music is because Jazz music is like a universal skeleton key that unlocks SO many doors. When you understand Jazz, you understand Classical music… Hip-Hop… Pop… R&B… and so much more. 

So how do you introduce it to your Tap classes for the first time?


The best place to start is with your across the floor combos. 

Most across the floors combinations are based in flaps, flap ball-change, front Irishes, drawbacks, etc, which are all based in swinging eighth notes and triplets. 

You don’t have to start with hardcore be-bop out the gate.

You can start with jazz songs that have lyrics. 

Songs like…

HoneySuckle Rose or Papermoon, sung by Ella Fitzgerald. 

Moondance by Van Morrison. 

The Way You Look Tonight by Frank Sinatra. 

Then you can transition to a full instrumental song, and encourage your students to tune their ears to the bass line. 

And in time, if you’re as lucky as I have been, your students will be so passionate about jazz music, that they’ll be emailing your Charles Mingus albums on the weekends that they’ve ‘discovered’ and making plans to go to their local Jazz clubs to support live music. 

There are a number of steps between that, and first introducing your students to jazz music in your tap classes, but it’s something I love discussing with iTap Teachers in the iTapOnline™ Teacher Training Program. 


I’d love to know your favorite jazz recordings that you use in your classes. Share in the iTapOnline™ Community Facebook Group. 

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