Emma Tuck

Teacher & Choreographer | World Tap Champion | Workshop Curator

Emma Tuck trained at Performers College graduating with a Diploma in Musical Theatre and ISTD Tap DDI teaching qualification in 2018. Alongside Performers College she also trained with Tap Attack’s Company in which time she became a X2 World Champion Tap Dancer as part of the GB Tap Team. Emma’s choreography also featured at the World Championships in 2016. Recently after graduating Emma decided to pursue a career in teaching after joining the Performers College Faculty in 2020 as well as teaching across the UK and USA. Her performing credits include, TriOperas promotional video (Peacock Theatre, West End), Queens of Mystery (Acorn TV), NFL Opening Ceremony (Mass Movement, Wembley Stadium), Tap United (Nancy Chippendale), IDO Tap World Championships (Reisa, Germany- Tap Attack). Emma’s choreography/judging credits include, Resident Choreographer at French Woods Festival of Performing Arts – New York (Next To Normal, IF/THEN, Violet, Mamma Mia), Competition Judge (Ultimate Dance Showcase UK), Competition Judge (Surrey University Dance Competition), IDO Tap World Championships (Reisa, Germany – Tap Attack). She is also the founder of ETW (Emma Tuck Workshops) which provides pre-vocational training for young people across Kent.

I chatted with Emma at the end of August 2020 about her career. She shares her perspective on dance training, the world of tap and curating workshops.

© TalbotLee Photography

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When did you decide to pursue a career in dance?

I have always had a passion for dance and the performing arts. However, my first love in life was trampolining in which I competed nationally across the UK. When I was 16, I suffered an injury rupturing my anterior cruciate ligament and as a consequence competing was no longer an option for me. I had always danced growing up, but this is when I began to pick up more classes and take it more seriously. Even during sixth form, I was pretty set on doing sports science at university and it was only when I started going to watch more shows in London and then went on to successfully audition for Tap Attack that I thought maybe I am good enough to peruse this as a career! A last-minute change of heart at the end of my last year at school led me to audition for full-time vocational training during a gap year, aged 18 and I haven’t looked back since!

What did you look for when choosing a dance college to train with?

It is absolutely about choosing a college that you believe is right for you and not just going somewhere you think you ‘should’ go. Knowledge is power. Find out as much as you can about all the different colleges; check out their websites, watch performances, look at the faculty, see what alumni have gone onto do and go to their open days so you can get a feel of the college environment. If you get the opportunity, speaking to students and faculty is very beneficial. A great opportunity to do this is through dance conventions such as MOVE IT and CYD. I personally knew I wanted to go to Performers College as soon as I walked in the door, there’s no other way to describe it other than I knew that it was the place I would fit in and belong. In regards to the expenses associated with training, a lot of dance colleges are becoming more accessible with the option of a degree course in which students can access a student loan. Many colleges also offer scholarships and DaDA’s (Dance and Drama Award) to make training more accessible for students.

What did you learn from your time training with Tap Attack Company?

Before joining Tap Attack, I had a good understanding/foundation of tap dance from my wonderful dance teacher Zoe Harrisis from Maidstone Dance Studios. Tap Attack opened my eyes to a whole new world of tap dance including a new range of vocabulary, artists and tap history. What Jo Scanlan and the team have created is a fantastic platform for young tap dancers to train and learn more about the fantastic world of tap dance. One of the highlights of training with Tap Attack for a lot of young dancers is getting the opportunity to compete at the IDO Tap World Championships. An inspiring opportunity for dancers to compete on a world stage with tap dancers from all around the world.

How does it feel to now be part of the Tap faculty at Performers College, where you use to train?

It is an absolute honour. It was always a dream of mine to teach at such a prestigious college and to be invited back this soon after graduating was very overwhelming, I am extremely grateful. Getting to work alongside such a talented faculty and students every day is a joy.

What is your opinion on the environment of dance training institutions that can feature pressurised atmospheres and intense schedules?

It is absolutely great for students to have a high number of contact hours. You are only training for 3 years and it goes very quickly so you want to make the most of the time you are there. I always tell my students to be sponges and soak up as much information as they can. The student’s timetables are intense but also very manageable. You just have to keep on top of it and prioritise the right things. I can only speak for Performers College in regard to mental/physical health. They have a fantastic student services support team and inhouse physiotherapists. Students can book in to see the student services team and physios whenever they feel they need to. The student services team are always setting up extra-curricular well-being activities such as wellness and yoga. They have most recently set up a mental fitness app for students and staff as yet another platform of support. They really do go out of their way to look after their students, part of why I love my job!

You have choreographed for prestigious events in the past, as well as for teaching purposes. What part of the choreography process do you enjoy most?

Choreographing is one of my favourite parts of this industry. Having a vision and seeing it come to life is magical. I wouldn’t say I have a particular favourite part however watching the first run of a whole piece is always pretty special. In regard to taking time to create for myself – I am a sucker for saying yes to everything and everyone, so I do have to remind myself to take some studio time for myself!

What has been your experience of judging dance competitions and do you think they provide a useful taster for the professional performance world?

Absolutely, I have been the head of a dance competition team for the past few years now and absolutely believe that it provides the students with a strong insight into the qualities required to be in the professional industry. Not only do they learn technical dance, but the students learn commitment, they learn to be loyal, supportive and most importantly kind individuals. Defeat is a huge part of the learning process within life not just dance. Students have to learn that defeat is not always negative and that there is always something to learn from every experience, it is what you take from that knockback that counts.

Is teaching always something you wanted to be a part of your career?

Yes, I knew I would end up teaching in some way as it is something I have always had a passion for. Every student is always going to face hurdles on their journey. I love the challenge of exploring different ways to teach in order to suit the way your student learns. When you get that ‘light bulb’ moment in a student it is so rewarding.

As a two-time world-champion tap dancer, what insights do you have from the professional tap sector for those looking to explore it?

There are certainly less opportunities for tap dancers however there are also less qualified tap dancers so overall you are working within a smaller pool. Just specialising in tap dancing is very rare, most people will dabble into other styles also. The culture of tap dance is also not just about performing it is about sharing and passing on knowledge/ideas, therefore most tap dancers will teach within their career at some point. For years tap dance was not documented as it wasn’t seen as ‘high art’ such as a genre like Ballet, so it had to be shared through word of mouth. Even though tap dance has now been documented it is still part of the tradition to share tap history and pass on where/who steps/combinations came from.

Do you think more could be done to support tap dance and expose the style to new audiences?

Yes! However, it is certainly better than it was 10 years ago and is gradually improving, but more can always be done. The general public hasn’t been exposed to tap dance as much as other genres, you therefore have a vicious cycle of whether it is too risky for a theatre to get a tap company in. Are people going to come and watch something new? Does the theatre have an audience that will trust them to produce good new content? Tap dance is now starting to receive some Arts Council funding. We can see this within two UK Tap companies Old Kent Road and Sole Rebel Tap, but funding is still limited, and Tap Dance receives significantly less funding than other dance genres. If you’ve not heard of these companies be sure to check them out! Tap Dance UK is also a fantastic platform and community for Tap Dancers within the UK. ‘A hub for Tap Dance in the UK’. ‘It provides a platform for professionals, students and enthusiasts alike to learn about the history and cultural significance of tap, share ideas and resources, and improve their skills.’

The dance industry is currently under immense pressure in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. How have the restrictions impacted your work and do you have any thoughts for those heading into training now?

My day-to-day working life during lockdown is pretty much the same timetable just all through ZOOM. We are so lucky that technology is so advanced meaning students still have the opportunity to train and we have the opportunity to teach! It comes with its challenges, but everyone is learning to be adaptable, I am very proud of my students for coping so well with everything that is being thrown at them! It certainly is daunting for students heading into an industry that is pretty much currently non-existent, but I really do believe that with time it will pick back up. I think it will be different, but it will be there. If you have a strong passion don’t let anything stop you! Performers are resilient in nature, the industry will bounce back with time.

ETW provide the opportunity for young people in Kent to take part in master classes with professional dancers. Why did you want to provide this opportunity and are you hoping to expand it further?

Setting up your own company is daunting at first you don’t know whether it will take off at the same time it’s exciting having a new challenge. Growing up there was always opportunities to work with leading professionals but you always had to travel to London, there was nothing close to home. I wanted to create this opportunity for young people in my area and give back to the community that nurtured me into this fantastic industry. I think there are endless opportunities to expand ETW, watch this space…

Do you feel there are enough opportunities for children and young people in Kent to engage with dance?

There are so many more opportunities now than when I was growing up. Young people have the option of so many dance schools, multiple performance opportunities, dance competitions, festivals, the list is endless! What I would like to see be more accessible is the link between Musical Theatre and Dance. A lot of places either specialise in dance or singing/acting, there are limited places that do all three to a high standard and are able to integrate these successfully. To go into this industry as a professional it is important to have an understanding in all three disciplines, it is going to open more doors for your career.

What advice would you give to anyone wishing to follow a similar creative path to you?

  1. There are no short cuts, you need passion, drive and determination.
  2. Always be prepared, a famous quote by Benjamin Franklin says, ‘by failing to prepare you are preparing to fail’ I take this quote with me within my work.
  3. No one dances like you and that’s your super-power.
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