‘Tap boys’ at YMCA know dance not just for girls

YMCA dance instructor Brooke Farrington (second from right) shows her pupils how it’s done as they practice their steps in the boys’ tap dance class on Wednesday, Jan. 27. Students are (from left) Austin Taylor, Zander Mason and Tyler Gradeless.
YMCA dance instructor Brooke Farrington (second from right) shows her pupils how it’s done as they practice their steps in the boys’ tap dance class on Wednesday, Jan. 27. Students are (from left) Austin Taylor, Zander Mason and Tyler Gradeless. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published Feb. 4, 2016.

Some of the coolest boys at the Parkview Huntington Family YMCA wear tap shoes.

They’re really cool.

Just ask them.

“It’s really fun and really cool,” says newbie Austin Taylor, 11, of Roanoke. “It keeps my feet moving and it’s fun to learn new things.”

He’s not alone in his praise of tap.

It’s not hard to see that the boys, without exception, were having fun as they worked diligently on learning how to hoof it with metal plates on the toes and heels of their shoes.

Brooke Farrington, who teaches the tap class, says dance can be enjoyed by boys as well as girls.

“All dance is really gender neutral,” she says. “Unfortunately, society kind of gets the idea that it’s more for girls, but it’s really gender neutral. The boys really like tap in particular.”

The most recent boys’ tap class at the Y began Jan. 6. Currently, six pupils are learning the fine points of shuffling, brush step, ball change, buffalos and twirls, among other colorfully-named moves.

The young pupils learn the fundamentals of tap dancing, including footwork, timing, rhythm and balance. But Farrington says they also pick up lessons that translate from the dance floor into life outside the studio.

“There’s a lot of research that supports that all styles of dance can really impact any area of your life,” she says. “It benefits all sports … pianists will take dance classes for different balance and rhythm and to build strength.

“When I was in college we would actually do classes for the college athletes. And I think there’s also the life skills of listening and teamwork.”

Learning the steps, putting them together into a dance routine and performing them also builds confidence, a value which can serve young dancers for the rest of their lives.

“To be able to learn a skill — whether they do anything with it or not — they have that memory to say that, ‘Hey, I went up on stage and I performed,’” Farrington says. “And that takes a lot of courage to do that.”

And make no mistake: this is not a class for girls, the boys say. A few years back the class had both boys and girls, says Zander Mason, 11, of Huntington, but he’d just as soon not have to mess with the opposite gender.

“It’s been all boys for a long time,” he says. “Now there won’t have to be any drama with girls.”

Mason is a “pro” at taking tap, having begun lessons at age 6. He has made a lot of friends among the boys in his classes.

One of his favorite dance moves is called the “coffee grinder.”

“It’s really hard, but it’s like, you get on the floor, and you move your foot, then jump over it while you’re on the ground. It’s really cool,” he says.

Taylor, who is taking his first-ever dance class, says he wanted to take hip hop dance as well, but decided to try tap first.

“I like the noise level because I like to have these flaps on my shoes,” he added.

Tyler Gradeless, 11, of Huntington, also began dancing at 6 years old. In his family, movement just comes naturally. His mother, Jill Gradeless, is the dance director at the Y.

“My mom runs the entire program and my sisters were always dancing, and I came to all their shows,” he explains. “I was like, ‘Hey, that looks really cool.’ So I decided to try it for my first time and I really loved it.”

Gradeless says his favorite part of the class is the production — the finished product of all their hard work.

“I’ve always really liked learning the dance and putting that all together,” he says. “I feel like that looks really cool. Then there’s the recital. That’s always real fun.”

Gradeless says there is definitely a place for boys in dance, and it’s not for sissies. Anyone who says it’s only for girls, he says, is misinformed.

“Huh! That’s not true, I’ll give you that. It’s not true,” he says emphatically. “There’s a lot of different boys’ songs to dance to and a lot of cooler dance moves that girls wouldn’t necessarily do. I mean, dancing isn’t just for girls; it’s gender neutral, is what I’d say.”

The students in Farrington’s class also get “homework” assignments. This week they have to do 20 shuffles in each direction every day until the class meets again on Wednesday night.

The tap troupe will perform in a recital program, scheduled for May 13 at Crestview Middle School.
To learn more about dancing classes offered at the Parkview Huntington YMCA, visit huntingtony.org/programs/dance-and-the-arts/.