Crafting the Consonance: An Investigation of Metrical Dissonance in Tap Improvisation

Stefanie Bilidas, Michigan State University

The tap challenge or "cutting contest" is a public, judged, and improvised battle between skilled dancers. Each dancer must enter exactly on time when it is their turn or automatically forfeit the contest. For the dancer, this rule creates the hidden objective to mislead the opponent through a conflicting metrical pattern in hopes that he will miss the next entrance. The audible effect heard is not the original meter but an "anti-meter" that Harald Krebs (1999) describes as a subliminal dissonance. I build on Stefan Love's (2013) perspective of subliminal dissonance in jazz music that subliminal dissonance can be performed as a consonant meter. I explore how subliminal metrical dissonance is articulated as a consonance by examining the tappers' choice of steps and their implied metrical placement. I conclude that tappers use metrical dissonance in their solos to inhibit their opponents' sense of the original meter.