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Recording tap dancing - better shape up!

Have you ever watched those old black and white movies starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, or better yet Gene Kelly, or maybe Eleanor Powell? Well the dancing is wonderful of course, but what about the sound of their tap shoes? How would you go about recording that?

Have you ever watched those old black and white movies starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, or better yet Gene Kelly, or maybe Eleanor Powell? Well the dancing is wonderful of course, but what about the sound of their tap shoes? How would you go about recording that?

I imagine that it's an unlikely prospect that you would ever be asked to do this, but recording moving sound sources in general is difficult. So let's think about how this example could be approached.

Firstly, forget about distance miking as shooting takes place. It would be impossible to keep a constant distance, and the risk of the mic getting into the shot would be significant. So it would almost certainly have to be done during post production.

The second option, now that we have got rid of the cameras, would be to mount the mic on a short pole and follow the dancers around as they recreate their number. This would work, but you would have to be fit - and there is still the probability of an inconsistent mic distance.

The answer is much easier - dancers are amazingly adept at going through their routines on the spot. It's one way they memorize their steps, and dancers are very quick at doing that. So all you need do is ask, and the dancers will go through their routine right in front of the mic for you. You'll need to give them a headphone feed of the music.

Of course there are other options...

  • Fake it and tap out the rhythm with suitable metal objects on a wooden surface
  • Fix miniature microphones to the dancers' ankles and strap radio transmitters to their legs (!)

Over to you - got any better ideas?

By David Mellor Friday February 4, 2005