Last Week

View of London from the Tate Modern

Argh, I meant to post this on Friday! Anyway a few tweaks and here it is…

I’ve actually missed 3 weeks of Wednesday evening tap classes due to illness (and an evening meeting), so on Thursday I went along to the advanced beginners lunchtime class to try and catch up.

K was there! She hasn’t been for about about a year because she was doing other things and then couldn’t make the classes because she was working. It turns out that she did a term at the other tap class that runs at the college with a different teacher. Well, she said it just wasn’t for her, she didn’t get on with the teaching style, it was in a hall rather than a dance studio, and so on… so that has answered my question about whether I should try that class to go back and learn everything from scratch! I’ll continue with rhythm tap.

The lunchtime class was quite small which was nice because it feels more laid back than the busy Wednesday class. We had a go at a complicated exercise of stepping and alternating heel drops, which for me was OK on the right hand side but more tricky on the left. It reminded me of something I saw Gregory Hines do on YouTube. We were partnered up to help each other go over any difficulties that we had and that really helped because we could go through the steps a bit slower and try to figure it out.

Despite missing two weeks of advanced beginners, I was able to catch up quite quickly and remember our routine. We ran through the whole thing a couple of times at the end and it was great – I really like this one! But then, I like them all LOL.

At the end I asked our teacher if I could film her doing the routine for the level 3 intermediate class because I’ve missed three weeks, this week is the final week and I wanted to practice before then. She agreed, but currently has a shoulder injury, so she apologised the movements weren’t as big as they should be, but that wasn’t a problem… all I cared about was getting something to work on because I couldn’t remember a thing beyond 4 flaps! (Because of her injury, our teacher missed a week of classes, so I haven’t missed as much as I thought).

I’m looking forward to this week’s final classes, and then we have a break until the week of 5th of November. I’m probably not going to do level 3 (intermediates) in that run up to Christmas because it’s late and I have a few things on in November and December. I might just switch to level 2 daytime so I have the evenings back!

Dancing Feet

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Learning rhythm tap dance, I find that my feet really take a pounding so I make sure I spend some time caring for them so that they’re in tip-top shape. This obviously applies to all areas of dance or sport where you are primarily on your feet.

Here are some of my foot care tips:

Use a foot roller immediately after dancing to give your feet a bit of a massage to relieve aches and prevent aching the next day. There are many different types. I like a spiky ball roller, but you can even use a golf ball if you have one handy.

Stretch your feet and toes before and after class. Resistance bands are great for this.

Soak tired feet in warm water with a good sprinkling of Epsom salts, and maybe a few drops of your favourite essential oil. I LOVE lavender oil and sweet orange oil. Peppermint, tea tree or eucalyptus are also good choices. You may want to follow up with a dip into some lukewarm water.

Hard Skin is inevitable, and you’ll want to make sure you remove some of it with a pumice stone or foot file…but not too much. If you go too baby soft with your feet, you may find you are more susceptible to blisters, especially if you dance barefoot. Being someone who is prone to eczema (thankfully eczema-free for maybe 2 years now), I have naturally parched skin, so I need to use a pumice stone quite often.

Moisturise moisturise moisturise – I say this again as someone with Sahara Desert dry skin. These days I only use natural butters and oils (e.g. shea butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil) which are full of essential fatty acids, because synthetic petroleum based-moisturisers tend to sit on top of the skin rather than soak into it.

Keep Toenails Trimmed so that they don’t injure your other toes when dancing or press into the ends of your shoes. Always cut straight across rather than round and file off any sharp edges. (Make sure they’re not too short but have a bit of white tip left as nails are there to protect the toes from injury). I used to paint my toenails for class when I was doing the Contemporary and Jazz Workshop at City Lit because we danced barefoot, but it’s probably better to stick to no polish or clear polish just so you can monitor the health of your nails when you’re dancing a lot. (This applies to runners too!)

Wear supportive footwear when you’re not dancing. Unfortunately, a lot of shoes aimed at women are completely flat with no arch support, which can lead to plantar fasciitis (had this!) and ankle problems, or at the other end of the spectrum you have sky high stilettos that put stress on the balls of the feet and toes and can lead to bunions and other problems. I wear a pair of Skechers slip-on trainers with arch support and extra thick soles for my commute.

Dry thoroughly between your toes after bathing. I cannot stress this enough. I tend to use a bit of talc between the toes too, just to be sure. And make sure you wash your feet and change your socks as soon as you can after your class…

Get a foot massage every now and then if you can – I recently went to my local salon for a full body aromatherapy massage because my shoulders are so tight at the moment. This included a foot massage – amazing! Just what I needed.

And if you have any foot problems – please visit a chiropodist/podiatrist!

I was half-considering retraining as a podiatrist, because I like working with people…but I don’t think I have the stomach for other people’s feet LOL

My foot care kit:

  • Nail clippers
  • Pumice stone
  • Foot file
  • Nail files
  • Plasters
  • Blister plasters
  • Peppermint foot spray
  • A good moisturiser
  • Spiky ball roller
  • Anti-fungal foot powder
  • Gel toe separators
  • Bamboo Compression socks

Anything to add? How do you keep your feet in tip-top condition? I’m sure the Ballet dancers out there will have much more in their kit! Let me know in the comments below.

**I have a confession to make. Last year, my lunchtime tap class re-started while I was still on 2 weeks’ Summer holiday, so my SO and I travelled in especially so I could go, and then we planned to go for lunch afterwards and then meet his sister for a catch up. Well, the day ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would be, and silly me, although I changed clothes at the restaurant, I didn’t end up showering until I got home after 7pm that evening, and I ended up with athletes foot. Yuk. Thankfully a course of Daktarin spray sorted it out. NEVER AGAIN**

Book Review: Brotherhood of Rhythm

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Last week I finally finished Brotherhood in Rhythm: The Jazz Tap of the Nicholas Brothers by Constance Valis Hill (2000). I bought a second hand copy which is full of scribbles and I may go back over it and make some scribbles of my own!

Beginning with a foreword by the late, great Gregory Hines, Valis Hill takes us through history from the origins of jazz music and dance to the early heroes of tap dance, such as Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson and Leonard Reed. She then takes us to Chicago in the early 1920s and introduces us to the bright young brothers Fayard and Harold Nicholas, their family and their ambitions at emulating these early jazz tap acts and then going even further with their own unique class act style.

There are 10 chapters literally bursting with information. The overarching theme in this biography of the tap dancing brothers is the unfortunate backdrop of racial segregation in America up to the 1960s.

One of the stand-out dance acts of all time, they were grossly overlooked in Hollywood once they had reached an age where old enough to be considered a threat to segregated societal norms (i.e. no possible suggestions of sexuality, no hints at interracial relations, and certainly no being the star in a film made for white audiences) they were relegated to being a novelty act and never really got the mainstream recognition they deserved. It was much easier to keep them in the role of boys and keep feeding the minstrel show stereotypes. (It brought to mind the servile and deliberately non-threatening Mammy next to the glamorous Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind).

I found it really interesting that a movie many people know the Nicholas Brothers for – Down Argentine Way (1940) – would have been censored for Southern white audiences so that the brothers’ amazing dance sequence was cut from the showing. Crazy! However, it remained in the version shown in cinemas and people loved it! Today that dance sequence is actually the part of the movie that people want to see (check it out on YouTube – fabulous).

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The good news is that Harold and Fayard went to Europe, which was was more open-minded and they experienced great success in places like the UK and France (particularly Paris), but the US didn’t give them the dues they deserved. Sad times.

We’ve all heard of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, but ask your average Joe if they’ve heard of the Nicholas Brothers, and they’d probably say “who?” A CRIME in history as far as I’m concerned!

“Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers dance on air”

Madonna, Vogue

Although it took me a while to get into it, I found Brotherhood in Rhythm an enjoyable, extremely informative book to read, with lots of detailed facts and musical counts and ‘dee-dee-dahs’ to digest (yes, really). A great historical record of the Jazz Age and all things Nicholas, including a little of their personal lives, but without the gossip aspect. There are also quotes littered throughout from hoofers, dancers and musicians that will be of interest to tap dancers and jazz enthusiasts. There is a helpful glossary at the end of the book to explain various terms used in the book such as “Legomania”:

Highly individual and unusual leg movements in jazz dancing, such as rubber-legging.

A goal of mine for a long time was to master the splits. Well, after reading about Fayard Nicholas’s hip replacement…I’m not so sure!

Verdict: Warm, wordy, wow!

Mammy
Scarlet & Mammy

High Horse

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Okay, I was naughty a few weeks ago and went and purchased another pair of Jason Samuels Smith tap shoes by Bloch, this time in black. I have to say they’re now retailing about £30 more expensive than when I bought my white ones, but I managed to track this pair down for the original price from a dancewear shop in Edinburgh 🙂 I’ve also just sold an old pair of Bloch Sync tap shoes (as well as a few other things) on Ebay.

I haven’t worn my new Jasons to a class yet, but the beauty of the Jasons is that they are very quick to wear in and I’m thinking I’ll bring these ones out either next half-term or in January. As with other shoes, it’s probably good to have at least 2 pairs of tap shoes on rotation.

On Wednesday evening I went along to week 2 of advanced beginners and intermediate rhythm tap. Both classes were amazing again, and by the end of it my toes were really sore! In the intermediate class (level 3) we had to pair up to work on a double flap exercise (f-f-lap), so I partnered with ‘L’. Talking later on, it turns out she did all the tap dance grades when she was a child and basically tapped for 10 years, stopping when she went to University. Telling her I only started learning in 2014/15, she was amazed at my progress! But then I said I want to learn to do pullbacks, but just haven’t managed it yet.

She said she can do wings and pullbacks all day, but finds the closework we do in rhythm tap (e.g. crawls and other co-ordination beasts!) difficult. This led us onto discussing the differences between **SHOW** tap and rhythm tap. I guess you could say that one focuses on appearance and the other focuses on the sounds. I wonder if I’d struggle with syllabus tap, having only learnt the rhythm style. Interesting, huh?

In level 3 we are using the song (Get off Your) High Horse Lady by Oasis. Although we had the opportunity to film level 2 (but not level 3), I have also written down what I can remember of both routines, so hopefully I won’t get the two mixed up!

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On the train home I ate a Goji Goodness raw flapjack and drank a load of water. Unfortunately I forgot to grab a banana to have as well. I got home around 9.45pm and had tiny bit of food that I’d prepared the night before and a swig of Green Smoothie.

After a shower, I ran through my super-quick routine to roll out the muscles in my feet and legs, then I went to bed around 11pm. On Thursdays I have agreed to start work at 9.30am so that I can have a lie in and recover (except this Thursday there was a signal failure on the tube, so after going all round the houses, I didn’t get to my desk until 10am). It’s a long day and I’m still not sure it’s sustainable for the long term, but I’ll enjoy it for now…until our teacher creates a level 3 class at around 5pm on a Thursday…PLEEEEEASE

Do you struggle to remember more than one dance routine?

What are your go-to post-exercise recovery snacks?

Green Smoothie

I got home from work today and decided to whip up an energy boosting smoothie for the next couple of mornings. I’ve gone and enrolled on level 3 of rhythm tap after enjoying last week so much and emailing my teacher, so I’ll be dancing levels 2 & 3 from 6.45-8.45pm every Wednesday (with a 15 min break between), and getting home nearer 10pm for the next few weeks at least, so I definitely need something to keep me going:

My Green Smoothie

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • 2 bananas
  • Guava juice (I used Rubicon juice)
  • Squeeze of lime

Easy!

I also have some post-dance snacks and fruit in my bag (Creative Nature free-from Goji Goodness raw flapjacks) and my homemade lunches are ready in the fridge at work 🙂

End of Summer Sort-Out

Hey, Happy Friday!

As I said in my Summer Holiday post, I had the second of the two weeks off work as a staycation. My SO and I visited the Museum of London, which was great! Worth a visit if you want to know a bit of the history of the city, from Neanderthal to now.

At home I ended up doing a lot of sorting out because my wardrobe, drawers and washing pile seemed to be overflowing with clothing, and I felt like I haven’t done as much sorting as I would have liked since moving house last year. (I know, it’s such a first world problem). I had also been gradually replacing older work wear (like worn-out cardigans etc) with better quality items. I don’t know if it’s the thing of working in Central London, but every Summer feels like a fashion show and there’s the pressure to look on point. (This is on the commute, rather than at my workplace). I love the Autumn when I can get my coat and hat back on!

There is so much advice out there about decluttering, which is really helpful, and I’ve got a couple of home organisation books* that I’m really impressed with. Well, with their help I managed to get rid of 5 carrier bags full of stuff!

In order to pare my clothing and footwear down for the charity shop, recycling and Ebay, I used the following get-rid principles:

  • Ill fitting items
  • Colour doesn’t suit (for me, this is anything in mustard)
  • Have multiples of the same or similar (I really did have more belts and woolly hats than necessary)
  • No longer your style
  • You don’t really wear dresses/skirts that much or at all
  • Cheap and nasty (keep the better quality and stop buying throwaway clothing)
  • Doesn’t suit your lifestyle
  • You no longer do that sport
  • You don’t swim or visit the beach often enough to warrant 6 pieces of swimwear!
  • You’re just not a bikini person (I prefer a tankini or full halterneck cozzie)
  • Needs repairs you’ll never get around to
  • How many pairs of legwarmers do you need?!
  • You just never reach for it, ever

For the record, I stopped buying cheap, throwaway clothing quite a while ago because the ethical side of it is questionable. Instead I buy something classic, slightly more expensive, better quality and less often… therefore less of it. Plus I follow the one-in-one-out principle as much as I can. Sadly, it’s really hard to find British-made clothing, and if you can, it tends to be very expensive. Well, who knows what will happen after Brexit? (Don’t want to open that can of worms!)

I am also giving my clothing a double purpose so that I don’t need different clothing for each thing I do. So for example, I have smart-ish and casual work wear which can double up for going out, plus a couple pairs of jeans and casual trousers and then dance/gym wear (plus cold weather items). So at weekends, instead of having specific casual weekend wear, I combine jeans, casual trousers or dance leggings with dance/exercise tops or t-shirts and cardigans, rather than having to have separate weekend wear. Obviously, I have enough of those tops not to leave myself short when it comes to dance classes!

I hope you catch my drift. Had a sort-out recently? What are you up to this weekend?

*Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider and The Complete Book of Home Organization by Toni Hammersley.

New Term

Last night was the start of the new term of Rhythm Tap at Morley College. I was really excited about it, but with the usual nervous butterfly stomach just beforehand!

I am enrolled on level 2 (advanced beginners) but for the first week back I decided I was finally going to also try out level 3 (intermediates) straight afterwards. I didn’t tell my teacher this beforehand, just incase I ended up shattered at the end of level 2 and couldn’t do any more LOL. So:

Level 2 

Level 2 was a BIG class. The warm-up circle took up the whole studio! But this always happens at the start of term, and apparently the class was sold out again. The acting couple were there and a few other regulars, but no R or K this time – boo! We worked on a toe-tip, heel-dig exercise, which would form part of our routine. At the end of the class there was some homework! We were asked to note down the music we are using for the routine so that we can go away and listen to it to get into the rhythm (I tend to download the tracks anyway). We’re using Come by Jain. The other task was to think of a question you would like to answer or something you would like to learn by the end of the 6 weeks to either share with her, or keep for yourself.

I went up to my teacher at the end and she asked “are you staying?”, and I said YAASSSSS!

Level 3

Level 3 which lasts an hour, rather than 45 minutes, was a lot smaller, a much better size. I chatted to the Swing dance girl who it turns out also sings in a band! She told me to come down to Soho on Sunday and check them out. I meet so many creative people!

The warm up was a call-and-response exercise, which is something I LOVE doing. I remember when I went from level 1 to level 2 that I found the transition to the speed of warm-up the first challenge, but I didn’t have that this time. It helps that I have been going to intermediate level workshops and intensives when I can.

We learnt the double-flap (f-f-lap), which creates 3 sounds, as opposed to a flap which creates 2 (f-lap). Quite hard to be accurate at first, but I was told to keep my head forward and not look down! Helped.

We also learnt a new timestep – yes! I don’t know many, so it was great to learn another one. I think that’s 6 on my list now…not that I remember 2 of them – doh! We were paired up to check in on each other and make sure we weren’t missing something. That was cool. I paired up with a lady who said she did grades years ago, but hasn’t done anything for years and doesn’t practice. We got there in the end!

Our next exercise was a tap turn, which our teacher stole from US Hoofer Derrick Grant who she took a World Dance class with at the Brighton Tap Festival. I was gutted to miss it this year, but I was on holiday, and this summer I decided not to over-do it and burn myself out. Technically, I could have gone on the way home from a week in Devon, but seriously! Toe-toe-heel-heel-toe-toe, travelling along the studio while turning 360 degrees-ish. The music was amazing and it was so much fun and we all ended up dizzy!

Our routine was amazing. I picked the beginning quickly, but then we spent a while on the next bit and then I forgot the beginning LOL. I know it starts with flaps.

Anyway, at the end when I was changing my shoes my teacher said I should definitely change over to level 3, but I had to say I really enjoyed it…but it’s just too late on a school night with my commute. Knowing I would be staying on that evening and getting home around 10pm, I told work I would be in later just so I could have a lie-in and catch the 8.30am train, as opposed to the 7.13am. I could probably manage it for a couple of weeks, but it’s not sustainable long-term as I’d be burning the candle at both ends.

I said out of the side of my mouth “do an earlier level 3 class. Do one on a Thursday.” A few others said they have a lot of hanging around to do before the class starts and so on. Anyway, it depends on funding and our teacher is looking at what she can do. A difficult one. I LOVED IT.

Anyway, thanks for reading my essay!