Doing a Polite Tap Dance


Nikolay in Russia wants to know what it means when someone does a polite “tap dance”.

A tap dance is a type of dance where the dancers wear special shoes with metal parts on the bottom.  Each step the dancer takes makes a sound, and very good tap dancers can make very fast and complicated sounds as they dance.

When we say that someone is doing a tap dance or tap dancing (usually “around (something)”), we mean that this person is trying not to answer a question or talk about a topic.  This person may say many other things, though, that will distract (take attention away) from the topic or question.

For example, if your girlfriend asks you if you’d like to visit her parents for two weeks and you don’t want to, you may have a conversation like this:

Your girlfriend:  I think it would be great to spend two weeks this summer with my parents.  What do you think?
You:  Your parents are very nice.  It must be great for them to have your sister and brother living nearby.
Your girlfriend:  Yes, it is, and they spend a lot of time together.  What do you think about a visit?
You: The last time we visited, they were going to take a vacation.  Did they go?
Your girlfriend:  No not yet.  I think they’ll go in May.
You:  Oh, look at the time!  We’d better leave now or we’ll be late for the movie…

You have just done a very good tap dance around your girlfriend’s question.  You can also tap dance around a sensitive issue that you don’t want to mention directly, but you hint at (say indirectly) by the things you say.  For example:
– “She tap danced around the scandal and instead talked about the president’s new ideas.”

I hope this is helpful.  For those who would like to see an actual tap dance, here is legendary (very famous) tap dancer Sammy Davis Jr., along with some other amazing dancers.

~ Lucy

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16 Responses to Doing a Polite Tap Dance

  1. Fabio Rogerio from Brasil says:

    I really appreciate that subject ,this is very useful for me tanks for all

  2. Julio says:

    Here in Spain, we have several specialists and even masters in doing polite “tap dances”. One cannot achieve a clear response to any question one might ask to them. They might go around and around an item for years without answering or even not to start talking about it. For them getting straight to the point, it is an irreal challenge.
    I am refering about most politicians here. Of course some of them are more unreliable than others, but it is a question of particular tastes.
    Best regards from Spain,

  3. emiliano says:

    What this boy is doing with the girl is really a polite way of not given her a direct answer that should dislike her, but what our politicians do every time
    is just talking and talking about a different thing they are asked for, and always the same old story.
    They seems like a scratched vinyl (disco rayado) and we spaniards are fed up with all of them.
    But what the boy do is different as it is just something we have done several times along our lives and here we call it “irse por las ramas” talking about
    similar things without any direct reply and even better, asking her about other question. I love to do this last thing, If I don´t want to reply a question
    I ask for another one as: what do you think is better? or what do you prefer?.
    There is a say here that a Galician (celt) reply with another question if he/her don´t want answer and my grandfather was born in Galicia so I do as he did.
    Thank you Lucy as this expression “tap dance” is absolutely new for me and is so genial. I like it very much.

  4. ho-sun says:

    *** Happy Fool’s Day! Do not pull a big prank on your dear friends. ***
    It is very natural for human beings to lead someone up the garden path temporarily when they confront some difficulties.
    However, it does not mean that we would not find out a good resolution later on. It is only the question of time.

  5. Daniele says:

    I would like to have shoes like that, so I could tip-tap here and there.Yoy know, when I get home: hi dear,tip-tap, tiptap tiptap…….
    Unfortunately my neighbours would tip-tap my back, and my cats will get scared.ha ha!

  6. rodrigo says:

    Politicians at all levels are very good tap dancers, this week during the G-20 meeting at London will have some good examples to hear about….

  7. Tania says:

    I have to tell you something . I was walking in the forest when a saucer , a real flying saucer stopped just near me .
    Three aliens were looking at me . I waved my hand to them . They started to talk to me … in a perfect American-English language .
    But , do I know American-English language ?
    Oh ! I can manage … and very well . Is it a dream ? Of course . It is All Fools’day , the first of April .


  8. emiliano says:

    All aliens do speak English quite well that is a good reason to learn it and I hope to talk with four of them that are living close home, and of course this is real, not a dream.
    Have a good day Tania.

  9. peter says:

    Good show Lucy,

    Very intresting piece of information. Like it ,That way I can get around the word circumvent. Actually using it gives a more folsky tone to your writing

    Thanks Lucy,

  10. peter says:

    Hi Homey,

    Thanks for the intresting input. It is something vis-a-vis circumventing your girlfriend and vise versa

    when it come to English You own it doc,

  11. Peter says:

    Homey Means my friend

  12. Bakhtyar says:

    Actually politicians frequently doing tap dance- usually they do not give their audiences questions black point answer, so mainly they are -ruddy hell- –,
    anyway, middle eastern governments- in both domestic and foreign policy – they are tap dancing with their own people and International Community.
    God help those socity that being ruled by Genocidal Dictatorships.

  13. Peter says:

    My fellow podcast mate Ho-sun

    Touch the ground please. Allow directors to deal with aliens;at least they can make fortunes out of them. Let’s stick to Lucy and Jeff phenomenon to get a better sense of English.

    peace out ,

  14. elcomandant says:

    As many of writers in this blog, I also think that politicians are “tap dancers”. Although the best of them is Mr. Rodriguez, more commonly known as Mr. Zapatero, Sir President Socialist of Spain.

    Besides to be a good “tap dancer around”, Sir President speaks slowly and repeats most of words of the same phrase from three to four times. Using abstract terms, or senseless sentences, he is speaking for a long period of time to say nothing. Afterwards the socialist members of the parliament clap their hands.

    It might seem that he is very good as a “tap dancer”, but not for me, because in fact, in my view, he aren’t up to it (I’m not sure if this expression is correct, that’s why I write it in Spanish too: “no está a la altura de las circunstancias”). I can’t believe it. He is so ridiculous.


  15. Sergio Rodrigues says:

    From what you say,this expression is similar to beating around the bush. Right?

  16. Elisângelo says:

    Hi everybody…. I am such cheerful with some many members staying in touch one each other by speaking out about those many topics discussed here in this blog, For me it is such nice way to pratice and keep in contact with so great level of dialogues and distinct opinnions.

    Lucy, I simply love when you from the eslteam give us the oportunity to read and listen some good expressions like those ones…. that’s what really makes the difference in keep up with a good current english….. what a thrill lucy!

    …. my fellow podcast Elcomandant,…. I think that the proverb( expression that you just mencioned above) could be said by the quote in english… ” this is out of his GRASP by the facts.”, I just learned the expressions in previous podcast ( see podcast 458).

    A such tigh hug in all of you whom participate of the esl blog.

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