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For most of us, a Pickup (also known as pull backs) is a light, hopping step that has two sounds, done on the ball of the foot. For standard pickups, both feet take off with a brush back. Then you land on the balls of your feet at the same time. With practice, a pickup can also be done standing on one foot.

There are variations of the step of course, just like any step in tap dance. Four count (I’ve also heard them called delayed pickups) happen when one foot makes a brush, followed by the other. You then land on the first foot, and the other quickly lands after it.

However, you’ll discover the above technique has two major flaws.

The first problem – That brush back adds a “scrapey” sound. If you’ve been tap dancing for a while, you know the difference between a clear brush and a scrape. Listen to your shuffles; Your taps should resonate with a crisp sound.

The second problem – Psychologically speaking, once you brush back, your body wants to put the foot down behind you, instead of landing on your start position. This makes you travel backward (ever learned pickups traveling across the floor?) and makes it much more difficult to stay on the spot.

So how to avoid traveling, and make cleaner pickups?

Follow these three steps:

  • FIRST: Take lift off. JUMP. Don’t even think about the brush back. Spring off the balls of your feet, and only jump straight up in the air.
  • SECOND: Once you’re in mid air, quickly tap on the way DOWN. You need to time that split second before gravity pulls you back down. Tap in the space before you land.
  • LASTLY: Land on balls of your feet, making sure to bend your knees. NO HEELS! Always keep your weight on your toes.

This most likely involves reprogramming the physics that you’ve learned from previous teachers. Because tapping on the way DOWN requires a bit more stomach, thigh and shin muscle strength, as well as perfect timing. But it can be done.

Try this today, and make it a habit from now on.

The best way to perfect this is to sit in a chair, lift your feet off the floor by pushing off the balls of your feet, then tap, then land. Repeat. Once you get it, you’ll immediately hear and feel the difference in your technique.


©2008 Shawn Byfield ( is an award winning choreographer, show director and a leading expert in dance lessons and industry advice.



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