On The Side: Steven McRae

Tap training helps the Royal Ballet principal find his rhythm.
Published in the February/March 2011 issue.

Photo by Rosie Neave

Ballet and tap seem like polar opposites: one preoccupied with line and form, the other with rhythm and sound. But the two styles have more in common, says The Royal Ballet principal Steven McRae, than you might think.

 

“Actually, I think tap dance is an ideal companion to classical ballet training,” says McRae, who grew up studying tap and jazz in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. “Tap is intensely musical, and it teaches coordination and control of footwork. If you look at all the great Frederick Ashton ballets that The Royal does, or those of Wayne McGregor, it’s the speed and little details that are important. And that’s what tap picks up on: accuracy and precision at high speeds.” (Skeptical? Just watch McRae breeze through Colas’ fleet allegro sequences in Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée.)

 

Though McRae decided to focus on ballet as a teen, he kept up his tap classes—and he’s still tapping. “Whenever I’m in a ballet gala, I’ll do the Don Quixote pas in the first half, something really classical, and then come out and do a tap solo in the second,” he says, with a laugh. “It keeps things exciting!” And he recommends that all ballet students take a chance on a style like tap. “It’s a wise investment,” he says. “In today’s ballet companies, you need to be able to stick the double tours, yes—but you also need to be able to move.” Plus, you never know when those non-ballet classes will come in handy: “Christopher Wheeldon is making his new Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on us right now, and there’s been talk of me wearing tap shoes in it,” McRae says. “Who would have thought?”