Tap, step, heel... 5 lessons from tap dancing
Tap... & Step.... two clean sounds: metal hitting wood.
Maybe they have no significance to you, but they wake me up. Not from regular sleep.
I had gotten my high-healed tap shoes two months before. The other girls looked at me in awe. Dancing was were I felt free to be me. I felt confident, especially tap dancing. Where I was usually shy and quiet, in tap class I had control of my body, I could follow the music, I could lift my head high and smile from inside, I could express myself fully. I was content.
In elementary and secondary school, I was the good student: good grades, well-behaved, helpful to others. I was also the class nerd. It was painful and lonely place, but I knew I only had to endure it until graduation.
At the dance Academy, I was also good, but I was praised for it. And most importantly, I felt whole.
That evening, after months of practice, there I was: first row, center of the stage of the National Theatre. Performing to the sound of the Light Cavalry Overture (Franz von Suppé), we tapped the “fight of our lives” as the choreography dictated. I can still feel the energy reverberating through my body. Full smiles, perfectly synchronized shoes tapping to the music; we smashed the show. Applause erupted, and we were on a high. The adrenaline kept flowing, my jaw hurt from the smiles. And then it was over. Nothing dramatic. Just over. I didn’t enjoy dancing as much after that day.
--“Why did you stop dancing Mom?”
TAP DANCING INTO BRANDING
LESSON #1: ORIGINS
Merging African and Irish American dance traditions, tap dancing emerged 200 years ago. From wooden soles to pennies glued to those soles, jazz music to Hollywood stars: Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Shirley Temple, and more contemporary Gregory Hines and Broadway’s hit The Tap Dance Kid.
The magic of tap dancing to me lies in the rhythms and sounds generated with slight but intentional movements, and a choreography filled with energy and emotion. As with any art form, it takes time to learn, plenty of practice to improve and soul to perform.
Just like building a brand.
The soul, the purpose, has to be there from the get go. It’s not visual, but it is real and visceral. It is felt. And it needs to be understood, brought from the right side to the left side of the brain. Translated from reptilian to human.
It is the origin story. It is the flagship. Intentional.
Your origin story, your reason for doing this work, bringing this product to life, reflects your why, your values, the shared emotion that your uniqueness awakens in someone else.
That’s the starting point: Find YOUR tap shoes.
LESSON #2: RELAX YOUR FEET
--“Why did you stop dancing Mom?”
I spend the days that followed that curious question in contemplation:
The adolescent brain that became obsessed with how she looked fueled by the dance teachers that had us weigh ourselves before each class, only to gain weight.
The furious journal writing that ensued after I stoped dancing, and the school teacher that said she did not understand what I wrote on my favorite essay, I stoped writing.
Those were my demons. The outside world crashing my voice. I had seemingly given my power away.
And yet I knew it was all there, dormant.
Have you ever tried to relax your feet? More than the feet, relax the ankles?
Turn them, full circles, outward, inward, x 10. Then up and down, side to side. Tension easily builds up there.
Only by relaxing can we get to tapping. The body positions, though strong, are fluid and flexible. The vagus nerve at work, purpose and values can be explored, questioned, and understood. There is no audience, no likes from outside. Only inner likes are important here. Somatic knowledge. It feels right.
When branding from purpose - you take a stand. You start from a place of inner alignment. Relaxed.
Head to toe.
Your personal life and your business life cannot be at odds. That is not strategic.
Values aren’t there for others to like the brand. They get uncovered and expressed, so that others find themselves reflected. They find commonalities there. Your alignment helps them align. If not to who they are, to who they want to be. There is no point in lying. Relax.
That’s what it means to stand out by being YOU.
LESSON #3: TAP, THEN STEP
I slowly realized that in all those growing up years one small but fundamental seed had been uprooted. I was looking outside to give my life meaning and at others to gain approval. I had many mental constructs that were damaging: feedback was heard as criticism, asking for help was “unnecessary,” speaking about my inner struggle would make me look weak, dumb even. I had created dragons and demons were there are non. Yet, I had built a huge protective castle... first the outer walls, then inwards, like a maze. I was lost in that maze for a very long time. A life projected from the outside, inwards.
I fully believe that brand building should be done from day one.
But don’t misunderstand: the logo, the assets, the colors, the Instagram matching squares, and the automated Facebook funnel that lands on a gorgeous, high conversion landing page, are not the place to start (and might not be the place to go...).
Those two basic tap dancing sounds are easy, but not simple.
Tap: the ball of your foot brushing the ground in a forward movement, not too hard, not to soft, and then lifting. No weight changing between legs. It’s all in that relaxed ankle.
Step: also the ball of your foot, this time changing weight. Step into it, lift the other foot up. But keep the heel up, knees slightly bent. You need bounce, relaxed attention and balance.
Go out there and do your thing. Tap and Step. Coach. Interview. Paint. Design. You can charge, you can volunteer, you can undercharge immensely. You can style your best friend. You can photograph the neighbor. You can do it on your free time, on your borrowed free time (hi Moms!). You can write an amazing ad for your hair salon, re-design a logo you know can be 100% better.
That’s were you get the rhythm of the music. Your music.
That’s how you find your brand voice, your brand personality. You start branding from day one from your purpose, from your values. Those stay. Everything else can evolve, change, and reinvent itself.
It’s all an iteration. Enjoy PRACTICE!
LESSON #4: Heel & Stomp.
You have a better idea, a framework, a product. Made some iterations, charged very little but learned lots. Made some money? Have some resources to invest in growth and definition? Now you can start thinking about the brand assets, in a more “traditional” sense. There are many ways to go about this. But the most important is to have clarity of your values and your purpose.
Now, decision time. Put that tap dancing heel firmly on the ground, then lift again. Stomp your foot -that’s the whole foot - firmly on the ground. Loudly. Claim your stand. It’s design time.
There is one main decision to be made: are you ready for a full branding investment or more of a DIY path? Whichever path is right for you now, choose it with peace.
I do brand design, but this is not a hire me article. There is much you can do on your own. And in most cases when starting up, it is the most affordable and simple process. The right choice.
You will need to make a set of decisions here. Heel and stomp. Don’t dwell. Breath, decide, make a note of your decision and move on. Don’t, please don’t go back. You don’t change outfits and rhythm mid choreography. And most definitely not every 8 beats.
I have compiled a list of resources and guidelines that can help you get your brand assets started. My only request KEEP IT SIMPLE. You want to choose one or two colors and one or two font-types. [here’s the link to download the guide]. Keep the space open, and use your assets with consistency.
DONE WITH YOU Show
This is where I might come in. Maybe a colleague or an agency. You have a large array of choices here. But the principle stays. Heel and Stomp. You make decisions and move on. Because this is a large investment, take the time to be clear and honest with your designer. And give her / him / them the space for their knowledge and creativity to solve this for you.
Once the assets are defined you should have a set of guidelines. Please, I beg you, follow them. And play, have fun. After all, when used well, these assets simplify your communication. You are worth trust because you show up in a consistent rhythm. Play with timing, new products and services, but don’t change the color palette. Keep dancing to the rhythm you chose. You made the choice. KEEP IT SIMPLE! Down the line you might grow, the assets might not reflect you anymore, until then, stick to the this decisions. There are there to help you do your personal rhythm and style.
It took many books, many years and becoming a mom, for me to learn about and make space for self-compassion. And with that, I understand that my stories are but a collection of thoughts. We can revisit each collection, we can even feel as if we are there again, still, but we are not there anymore. We can project these stories continuously on the screen of our consciousness or we can let quiet and silence in, and allow new thoughts, even new insights fill the space.
LESSON #5: THE JAM
The natural progression of tap dancing came from it’s Jazz influence. Tap dancing seems light, familiar, practiced and learned. But the best of it, for me, are the improvised moments. Just like a Jazz jam.
The brand assets aren’t your branding. They are decisions that bridge your values and purpose with set of rules to communicate to the world. When you play and create from that set of constraints, you communicate on a more visceral level. You help the reptilian and human brain of the other person to feel your brand. You can choreograph your message. You keep jamming, only now you have more experience, more expertise. You can stand on centre-stage and smile proudly.
Go, put on your tap shoes. It is time for reinvention. Go do your thing. I am here rooting for you! And remember, it’s your show, but the show is better together. Celebrate!
P.S. Oh, and it dawned on me that although I did stop going to dance classes, I never really stoped dancing.
P.S.S. Here is the link again for the DIY resources
P.S.S.S. Go, put on those shoes.... ok, here is a great video if you need some dancing inspiration