Internationally, Al Gilbert Graded Dance Examinations, have a wide and far-reaching scope. The Gilbert tap syllabus has touched the lives of a wide variety of people, for many years. The Gilbert Syllabus has become a closely integrated part of tap, and its levels, from Primary to Grade Eight are universal tap monuments.
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From Primary to Grade Eight, each level builds on knowledge and technique from the previous levels, while remaining a separate and complete entity. In Primary, exercises introduce basic steps such as shuffle, hop, toe back, step, ballchange, dig and marches. These elements are done slowly, with many holds. This allows beginning dancers to carefully execute new movements, and gives them the opportunity to concentrate, between each movement. The slow tempo also helps young dancers who have not developed acute fine motor skills. The marching exercise gives students an opportunity to move around the room and change their focus. Interesting exercises such as Boogie Woogie and the Flash Trick Step add excitement and satisfaction for students. The division of Primary Tap into Level One and Level Two makes the exam short and tidy, and well within the attention span of young people. This avoids frustration. In Tap 1, students review many exercises from Primary. The new exercises introduce elements such as the Irish, jump, gallop, balance, cha cha cha, skips, sways and turns. These elements require a little bit more co-ordination than the Primary exercises, and a previous Primary foundation. Students get used to faster tempos gradually through progressive exercises such as shuffle step, which is done at three different speeds. Exercises such as Quarter Turns and Half Turns and Runs, introduce students to basic turns in an easy straightforward manner. In Tap 2, simple exercises involving shuffles, hops, and ballchanges are done at faster tempos, and holds are eliminated for greater fluency and definition. Elements such as the Buffalo, flap, Charleston, sugars, waltz clog time step and Maxie Ford are introduced. Many steps are put together in combinations for greater memory and sequential training. In Tap 3, shuffles are done in one count and in three directions, and flaps are combined with heel drops, front and back. Cramp rolls, military cramp rolls, Susie-Q’s, Lindy, and shim sham are introduced. These steps develop refinement of feet and sound. Paddle, chaine and pique turns develop the spot action. Mambo steps and soft-shoe essence introduce students to different dance styles. Students learn time steps with single, double and triple breaks. In Tap 4, exercises introduce the scuff, riff and stomp, which develop shading and sound quality in the feet. Turns across the floor co-ordinate spotting action and foot co-ordination. In Tap 5, students execute sophisticated shuffles with patterns and arms. Students are taught advanced steps such as pickups, pull backs, and wings in a straightforward manner. Complex turns and timesteps challenge the memory and exercises such as shim sham and military step explore different styles. In Tap 6, fast shuffles include crossing shuffles, scuffles and riffles. Pirouette breaks show overall dancer refinement. Difficult pickups, pullbacks, wings and drawbacks are integrated into turns and combinations. Pendulum and swap wings are added. Outside, inside and barrel roll turns are emphasized. In Tap 7, Barre is eliminated and students begin in the center, executing complicated combinations of shuffles, heels, ballchanges and flaps, which develop strength and memory. In Tap 8, an elaborate shuffle variation develops acute rhythm and timing. Fast nerve tap pirouettes develop speed and accuracy. Echappe pullbacks and wings, double wings, echo wings, triple wings, toe stand wings and shuffle wings develop mastery of prodigious tap skill. Long variations develop superior mental capacity.
The Gilbert Tap Syllabus has many strengths. The great variety of styles of music that complement the many styles of steps create a strong, unified and colorful syllabus. Latin music complements mambos and cha cha cha’s, while marches emphasize military cramp rolls and march steps. Lyrical pieces of music add grace to some turns and waltzed. The Gilbert Syllabus also divides work into barre, center and turns across the floor for clarity and precision. The routines are perfect for development of sequential memory skills and genuine performance quality. They give students a chance to demonstrate the skills of their level in a flashy entertaining manner. The Gilbert Syllabus also leaves the styling of arms to the discretion of teachers and students so that individuality can be addressed. This also prevents the syllabus from becoming outdated or stylized, because teachers and students can add arms which reflect the style and time era.
The Gilbert Tap Syllabus does not have very many weaknesses. One weakness, however, is the fact that the syllabus does not include some newer styles such as Hip Hop or street tap, because it is completely set. This is not usually a problem, however, because the syllabus provides dancers with a strong foundation and most students find it easy to adjust to changing styles.
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The Gilbert Tap Syllabus can have many benefits on a personal level. It can help to improve mental capacity of memory, speed and organization. Learning and executing complex steps with accurate timing and order can really organize the mind and leave one feeling revitalized. It can provide simple enjoyment and exercise and can lead to improved self-confidence and satisfaction and personal fulfillment. The feeling of accomplishment one can achieve from learning a new step or perfecting a difficult step can be amazing. The Gilbert Syllabus also can provide a personal education from the historical merit of the authentic music choices and authentic step names. The Syllabus can leave one with a greater awareness of history. It can also benefit one through musical training. Students learn to count bars of music, and learn about time signature and intricate rhythms. This musical knowledge is an extreme benefit when combined with the increased musicality one can achieve by working through the syllabus. The syllabus can also provide personal benefits by exposing individuals to a large, friendly dance community. The Dance Spectacular tribute to Al Gilbert in 1994 gave a great deal of personal fulfillment and fun to many individuals.
The Gilbert Syllabus has many merits as a teaching and learning tool. Because of the wide range of levels, it can be taught to any age category and any ability level. The syllabus is designed to accommodate the enthusiasm, as well as the lack of attention span of small children. It accommodates the growing skill and maturity of older children, and can even be used to teach beginning adults and senior citizens, because of its straightforward, un-biased manner. People of all age groups and ability levels can achieve satisfaction in a level that is tight for them. The questions asked during each exam help students and teachers to focus on the important aspects of each level and to learn in an organized, constructive manner. The syllabus is also straightforward and easy to understand as a teaching and learning tool, due to the availability of notes, music tapes and tapes with instructional voice. The Gilbert Syllabus makes it easy for teachers to separate classes by providing minimum ages for each level. This minimizes controversy over the placement of students. The syllabus is an effective teaching tool because it provides guidelines for order and etiquette. Students are required to effectively organize themselves into lines and patterns during exams. They are also required to exercise courtesy towards the examiner or teacher by bowing and saying “Thank you”.
The Gilbert Tap Syllabus is an extremely efficient tap syllabus, which helps teachers and students to progress through many constructive levels to gain personal benefits. It brings the art of tap to an international level and has touched the lives of a variety of people worldwide.