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Tips for Teaching Perfect Pullbacks

Published on January 14th 2021 by Hillary-Marie

Let’s talk tips for Perfect Pullbacks.

This question comes up all the time in the iTapOnline Community Facebook Group and I find that my best tip and trick for helping tap dancers perfect their pullbacks is in the order of operations, in the order in which those steps are introduced to them, or cleaned up if they’ve already been introduced to the technique.

I always start with a weight-change exercise.

This weight-change exercise that I teach is something I picked up from my time around Lindy Hoppers and I have found that often when tap dancers are struggling with footwork, it’s because their weight isn’t in the right place.

iTapOnline Members can access this specific weight-change exercise in my Tap Dance 101 Course in the iTapOnline Member Centers.

It’s all about knowing how to shift your weight forward and back, right to left, recognizing that you can have your weight forward on the balls of your feet with your heels still glued to the floor, or that you can have your weight on your right leg while your left foot is still on the floor.

After this 2 minute weight-change exercise, I move into doing a two-footed single pullback.

We work this out in the center, NOT across the floor. Taking it X floor straight away can build bad habits because dancers rush themselves.

After walking dancers through the technical approach to a proper pullback, I give them maybe 2-5 minutes to work it out on their own in their own time. They need to get to know the step.

Important to note: I never teach them to lean back on their heels, or chug forward and then pullback, or teach them to STAMP STAMP pullback. They need to take that pullback straight from the floor without a preparation.

After that, we go one at a time.

It’s important to know that no one in my class is shy of going one at a time because it’s a normal part of my class. If this isn’t a normal part of your class, it’s something you can build your way up to, and that’s something I discuss in my iTap Teacher Training Program.

As everyone goes one at a time, I give corrections along the way.

The most common correction I have to give is what I call an up-jump or a down-jump.

I also mention to students that while they’re called pullbacks, we should think of them more as pull ups, because proper pullbacks are so well-controlled that you don’t even move backwards. This is another reason why I teach them in the center, and not across the floor when I first introduce them,

After their two-footed single pullbacks are good to go, we move into grab-offs.

A grab-off is when you stand on the right foot, pull the right, and land on your left foot, then you pull your left and land on your right. Grab-offs are a one-footed switching pullback.

Then I teach them double pullbacks.

I teach them in this specific order because a double pullback is nothing more than spank, grab-off, land.

I’ve seen teachers try and tell students to flutter their feet in the air, or sit in a chair and go “right - left - right - left”. You don’t need all of that. It’s nothing more than spank, grab-off, land. And I teach it super slow, in a triplet (1 & a 2, 3 & a 4).

Important to note: I don’t teach any tap steps with a barre or a chair.

Whether it’s pullbacks, wings, over the tops, whatever it is. We don’t even have a barre in my studio (we don’t need it because we don’t do ballet).

After they get their double pullbacks nice and clean on the right and left side in a slow triplet,, I move to the traditional up-tempo, e&a1, e&a2.

I also recommend that when doing a double pullback on the right that they keep their right foot slightly further forward than their left, and vice versa when they’re doing their left side.

So at this point, they have learned…

  • Weight change exercises
  • Two-footed single pullbacks
  • Up-jumps vs. Downijumps
  • Double pullbacks on the right and left

Then we move on to one-footed single pullbacks.

And then from there, the sky's the limit. Double single pullbacks, double pullbacks, push fronts, you name it. Because they have a solid understanding of the proper technical approach required to bring these pullbacks to life.

And that’s how I help my students quickly and easily achieve crispy clean perfect pullbacks!

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