Team PAJ’s MIDI Tap Shoes: How it all began…

It’s no secret that many of this generation’s tap dancers dream of controlling more than just the sound of metal on wood with their feet.  

We’ll leave the origins of the art of tap dancing to the historians and focus instead on the much more recent history of electronically interactive tap.  As a teenage tapper, I was inspired by Gregory Hines’ performance in the movie Tap in which he works with a musician to develop a pair of shoes that have wireless pickups beneath the taps that trigger sounds from a rack of synthesizers.  This led me to discover Alfred Desio’s Tap-Tronics system (, pioneered in the late 1970s, which could arguably be the first high profile attempt.

Other engaging gestures include the following:

Fabien Ruiz’s wireless MIDI tap dance system:

The Adidas MEGALIZERS: (we initially wanted to use XBee shields after watching this video)

MIT’s Instrumented Dance Shoes:

The Beatsneaks (which also have a well-written Instructables article written about them):

Despite the interest in each one of these systems (as well as in the whole idea of instrumented dance shoes), no commercially developed product has been sent to market. 

As an electronic musician, I (Aaron) have been attempting different methods to incorporate electronic tap dancing into my shows for about two years now.  One of my favorite techniques is the “Vocoded tap dance,” a process of amplifying the audio signal of my taps with a piezo contact microphone, sending the signal into a MicroKorg Vocoder, and changing the notes the MicroKorg plays with a MIDI sequencer:

With this technique, however, no differentiation can be made between the sounds of the four different taps, and the right heel ends up sounding like the left toe, and so forth. This system was developed as a result of that frustration.



High-level schedule

This schedule was agreed upon by the team and EECS faculty advisor John Harrison at the beginning of the spring 2012 semester:

Target completion date Actual completion date Description Assigned to Comments
Feb 17   Specifications    
March 15   PCB Board complete    
March 26   Usability study started    
April 10   Usability study report submitted to John via website    
April 25   Final Report Rough Draft submitted to John via website    
May 4   Open House (report and project complete)