Dissecting the Rhythmic Surface: Embodied Choreographic Syncopations in Rhythm Tap Dance

Rachel Gain, University of North Texas

In this paper, I argue that seemingly simple motor rhythms in rhythm tap dance improvisations are often saturated with syncopations. These syncopations are not audible but rather choreographic, created through the patterns of steps that dancers use. The dancer conceptualizes the individual sounds the shoes make as grouped into units through a combination of factors including gravity and stability, genre conventions, reification through nomenclature, and parallelisms. Dancers deploy these units in a manner that goes against the underlying metric grid, with syncopations arising from groupings beginning on weak beats. While these syncopations are not necessarily perceptible to a listener or layman, the dancer experiences them through embodiment and the knowledgeable audience member through mimesis. Through a hierarchical notation system of my own creation, I reveal how rhythmically uncomplex passages in performances by Dianne Walker, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, and Jason Samuels Smith are saturated with choreographic syncopations produced by step groupings.