Have you ever caught a Riverdance performance and wished you were up on stage, your feet flying, arms swinging, and heart hammering to the beat of an Irish fiddler? Stepdancing is magical to watch and even more fun to perform.
If you’ve ever dreamed of learning to step dance but didn’t know where to start, there is one Pembroke area fiddler, singer-songwriter and step dancer extraordinaire who is here to help. Pembroke’s April Verch is a big believer that you can do anything you put your mind to, and she should know. April has been stepdancing since she was three and playing the fiddle since she was six and has spent her life working towards the goal of becoming a professional musician.
Read on and learn how to step dance like a pro with April’s help your feet will be flying in no time. Watch this video of April doing her thing to get you in the stepdancing mood. If you’re ready to launch yourself full scale into stepdancing, April also offers a stepdancing how-to video for sale on her website.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about stepdancing, so April has some tips for before you run out and buy tap shoes and a full stage to practice on.
- You don’t need tap shoes! Find a shoe with a low to medium heel and a hard sole.
- Traditionally stepdancers dance on plywood, but you can do it on anything, including linoleum, wood, or tile floors. (tip: watch out for scuff marks!)
- You only need a four-foot by four-foot area to begin dancing.
- No special clothing is required, just something that you are comfortable in and allows you to move freely.
- Find fiddle music at a slow reel (that’s in 4:4 time) to dance to while you are first learning.
Remember that in the Ottawa Valley style of stepdancing, you remain on the balls of your feet which can make it difficult to keep your balance – try holding onto the back of a chair at first, or keep one foot planted for some extra support. Also, every step gets performed twice, first starting with the right foot, then repeated, but starting with the left foot.
Learn the Shuffle
The shuffle is the base for everything associated with stepdancing so it’s a good idea to take the time to practice it until all of the sounds you create with the step are consistent. April’s instructions are easy to follow, or you can watch the YouTube video and follow along from there.
- Start with your right foot and pick it up and make a small kick “out” so that it brushes the floor, then pull it back “in” to brush the floor again, and then put it down on the ball of your foot to “step.” As you do this, say either “out, in, step” or “shuf-fle-step” and with each syllable you should have a sound on the floor. The video included below will show you how to do this.
- Practice the shuffle on your right foot, then your left foot, and then alternating feet. Start slowly, and gradually pick up the pace. Stay balanced, but loose. You don’t have to do anything in particular with your arms, just be natural and comfortable.
- Once you are finding that your shuffle is fairly consistent, turn on your music and shuffle in time, alternating feet.
Learn Your First Step
Now that you’ve mastered the shuffle, it’s time to dance your very first step. This is the first step to a routine called the “Basic Reel” which is a common routine teachers in the Ottawa Valley teach to new stepdance students. Try out the instructions below and then follow along with April’s YouTube video demonstration, above.
- Say the step out loud as you do it, and even as practice when you aren’t dancing.
- Say out loud “shuffle one, shuffle two, shuffle three, step, step.”
- With your right foot do “shuffle one” (one being the step), with your left foot do “shuffle two,” with your right foot “shuffle three” and then “step” (on the ball of your foot only) with your left foot, and then “step” with your right foot.
- Repeat everything again, but starting with your left foot this time.
Congratulations, you’ve now completed your very first step and are on your way to becoming a stepdancing master.
About April Verch
Fiddler, singer, and stepdancer April Verch, has been pursuing her goal of becoming a professional musician for most of her life. Best known for her stepdancing and for playing traditional fiddle styles from the Ottawa Valley, April’s performances also extend into old-time American, Scandinavian styles and beyond. April was the first woman to win both the Canadian Grand Masters and the Canadian Open Fiddling Championships, and has received Juno, Canadian Folk Music and Independent Music awards and nominations. In 2000, April formed The April Verch Band, and together the band has toured the world, bringing a bit of the Ottawa Valley to over 18 different countries.
Bonus: You can purchase some fun merchandise (or Verchandise as it’s called on her website!) or one of her many albums from April’s online store.