Ah! There You Are

On Monday afternoon I attended a Vocal Anatomy Masterclass at Covent Garden’s City Lit.

Run by a member of the Dance, Drama & Speech department, the class focused on the parts of the anatomy involved in the production of the voice, how we tend to use them, and then how we should use them.

We discussed in pairs or groups of three what brought us to the class and what we hoped to learn or achieve, and then each in turn fed this back to the tutor and wider group.

For me I wanted to know how to use my voice correctly when speaking, how to maintain my voice and also how to project it without straining or causing damage. I would like to feel more confident when speaking publicly!

Key anatomy

  • Pharynx (throat)
  • Larynx (voice box)
  • Vocal folds (aka vocal cords)
  • Diaphragm
  • Tongue
  • Nose
  • Intercostal muscles (ribcage)
  • Soft palate (back of roof of mouth)
  • Hard palate (roof of mouth)

We learnt all about breathing from the diaphragm, which is the thing most of us don’t do. A lot of us fall back to chest breathing. A really useful exercise involved placing a hand on the top of the tummy, just under the sternum, taking a deep breath so that the stomach expands, and relaxing and opening the throat to exhale, saying “Ahhhhh, there you are!” as though to your favourite auntie, thinking about how someone like Prince Charles, Boris Johnson or your other favourite Etonian might say it.

We also played around with different accents, namely nasal New York and East End of London, to notice how we use the different parts of our  vocal tract.

The person we probably all think of in the UK who clearly had vocal training was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who lowered her speaking voice to sound more authoritative. However, she almost went to the extreme and sounded quite breathy as well as deep. I definitely don’t want to sound like her, or change my accent!

It was a really informative class with diagrams and handouts and I look forward to applying at least some of what I learnt going forward. I’m thinking particularly of singing several songs in a row and reading aloud at church, and speaking at team meetings at work. We’ll see how that goes!

Take a deep breath and say it with me:

Ahhh! There you arrrrre!

Shim Sham Workshop ’18

How’s your week been?

Wednesday was a full-on day in many ways. Work is quite busy at the moment, we had our a quarterly team meeting mid-morning and I also had good but lengthy conversation at the end of the day with a disgruntled colleague (nothing new there!). By the time I got to the college at 6.45pm I felt quite drained!

I caught up with the acting couple who were waiting outside and found out that only one of them is an actor in fact. Sadly R didn’t make it because she’s got a crazy workload at the moment. Also caught up with level 3 girl (agh, I heard her name and forgot it straight away) who I bump into sometimes.

I was really looking forward to this workshop because I attended last year and have been doing it on and off ever since, also watching YouTube videos of people like Gregory Hines and others demonstrate. Despite the England World Cup Semi Final game being on at exactly the same time, we had a full class (we are SO dedicated!).

We warmed up in a circle, a slightly different warm-up than usual as the attendees spanned all levels. Then we did a brief walking exercise to practice separating heel and toe before getting straight into the Shim Sham!

“a one-chorus routine to a thirty-two bar tune with eight bars each of the double shuffle, crossover,……tack-Annie, and falling Offa Log” (from Brotherhood in Rhythm, Constance Valis-Hill, 2000).

We basically learnt it in smaller chunks, which are fairly simple and then connected them altogether and did the routine to an easygoing jazz track. To finish the class we performed it to a fast track which was so much fun!

I would say I found it easier to execute the steps in the faster tempo this year (especially the pickup from a flat foot) because my weight was in the right place! We also learnt an extra flourish on the end which usually includes pullbacks (my teacher asked if I’d be doing that – nope, never done them! So now that’s my thing to try before the summer’s out!) but we did a finger click and jump back onto our toes.

It was a really fun evening and it was nice to meet some new people. I asked my teacher to cancel me off next week’s Improv workshop because I’ve got lot on next week and it will be another late night. I also confirmed I wouldn’t be able to make the Brighton Tap Festival in August despite them offering me a 25% discount – sad face!

Best to enjoy the break before the 3 day intensive at the end of the month!

Notes from Last Week

  • Fab rhythm tap class last Wednesday, although at one point I thought I was going to pass out I was sweating so much! We finished our high energy jazzy routine 🙂
  • I told my teacher about the three day tap intensive I’ll be attending at the end of the month (while trying not to come across as teacher’s pet!)
  • I had a really positive week at work!
  • I started reading ‘Brotherhood in Rhythm: The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers’, for real this time.

This week I am looking forward to the SHIM SHAM WORKSHOP!!!

How’s your week going?

Rollin’

This afternoon I spent a bit of time rolling out my calves and Achilles tendons because they’ve been quite tight and achy, having not really stretched properly after Wednesday night’s rhythm tap class. Despite the heatwave, I have been really good and not worn any unsupportive flat shoes or sandals that are everywhere at the moment. Arch support at all times! Because my right foot and ankle tends to swell a bit in the heat (something I was so paranoid about when I was doing ballet), I’ve been travelling to and from work in lace-up tennis shoes to avoid that as much as possible.

Speaking to a classmate on Wednesday, I realised I did actually end up missing a week of our Candy Shop routine after all, but no disaster, I was able to catch up this week (song by Andrew Bird if you’re interested). I feel like this routine is pushing us a lot more, which is great. It seems like there is a lot going on, but at the same time, you can pick it up and the speed and sliding around makes it fun! The triumph of the evening was the fact that I was finally able to get the shuffle-step thing that most of us were struggling with last time – yay! Our teacher got us to do it again and again, and again (and again LOL).

Bumped into K, who I haven’t seen in about 6 months, in the corridor afterwards and she was asking me why I was walking away from the level 3 class! So I said about the timing etc. She’s been doing choir, which she loves, and is getting to perform regularly, but really misses tap and like me and R, wants to try level 3. As she works at the college, she said she’s going to get in our teacher’s ear about a level 3 class that is earlier in the day. We’ll see! I had intended to try level 3 that evening, but decided it would be better at the start of the new term…and not during a heatwave!

I did a crazy thing earlier that day and enrolled onto the ‘Summer Tap Intensive (Improvers/Intermediate)’ at City Lit, which takes place over 3 mornings at the end of July. OH MY DAYZ!!! I have been umming and ahhing over going to the London Tap Dance Intensive at the end of July where there are so many amazing people teaching (like Adam Garcia of Coyote Ugly fame) and I wouldn’t need to take any time off work, but then I saw this tap intensive, which is half the price, likely a smaller class size, and we’ll be learning about different tap styles, artists and history in a more relaxed atmosphere. I’m so excited!

In the mean time there is one week left of term before we head into the ‘Summer Shorts’, where I’ll be doing the Tap Shim Sham Workshop, and possibly the Improv class. August is when I tend to buy a PAYG gym pass and use the University gym opposite work a few lunchtimes a week just to keep up fitness levels.

I also have my eye on a vocal anatomy workshop at City Lit in July because I find I’m losing my voice quite easily lately, and I dread having to speak in public or read things out at the moment. I’d like to learn a bit about vocal projection, which will help in many spheres of life.

What are your plans for the summer? Dance intensives? Taking a break? Learning something new?

R&R

This week I am taking a break. Unintentionally, I ended up missing tap Wednesday night, emailing my teacher to ask if I can go to the Thursday lunchtime class instead…and ended up missing that too (although I got an out of office message from my teacher, so I’m guessing they had a cover teacher and didn’t work on the routine). Apart from working and commuting (and batch cooking) this week, I haven’t done too much else, and I am aiming to keep this weekend free of stuff, after several busy weekends. We’ll see how that goes!

What I probably will do is some tap practice down in the garage on Saturday. I also want to go for a coffee at our local independent coffee shop (We Love Coffee), and finish a Bill Bryson book I’ve been reading for months, as I’ve got some exciting new Tap history and Jazz Age books to move onto!

 

I’m Saying NO

I have been having an almost existential crisis lately about what I am doing with my life, my English Literature degree and am I reaching my potential(?). For a while, everything was about moving house and getting enough sleep to be able to drag myself to a job interview and finally get out of the job I’ve been in for 7 years. I felt I should be doing more, getting a better job title or climbing the career ladder or something. I even applied for a couple of jobs in London recently that I was kind of glad I didn’t get.

We are constantly fed a stream of stuff about how we should be better, do better, achieve, achieve, achieve. “Be your best self!” and all that. There are so many blogs out there about success and I’ve received some emails lately about how bloggers and creatives were able to turn over six figures in six months. There are career advice websites telling you not to stay somewhere too long, and not to get stuck somewhere in your thirties and I’ve found it all quite discouraging. It gets to the point where you are almost in a panic about being left behind. Well, I’m saying NO today.

I’m saying NO today.

Since settling into my new home and feeling more rested, I realise I am enjoying life again, and work is actually much more positive these days. I care about the organisation and what they do (as opposed to just working somewhere for money or status or whatever), and I get to do a 4 day week, while spending Fridays on developing my creative side gig, which I had to pretty much postpone last year. I also have time to get on with my HR certificate for my (day job) professional development, which I am currently halfway through (procrastinating a lot at the moment though!). Oh, and I have time to write a blog and pursue my tap dance goals of course!

If something comes up that’s suitable, I may go for it, but I’m not going to allow myself to chased out by the careerist success-mongers!

 

Cream Tropical Palm Leaves RSVP Postcard

Sky Garden

Today has been really good fun!

I organised a team trip to the Sky Garden, which is just up the road and over the river from our office. I have to say the views of the city were spectacular. And we had a lovely time bonding over a latte and cake.

This evening my Rhythm Tap class restarted and for once I didn’t feel nervous. Maybe because of Sunday’s Cats workshop, or maybe because just before heading to Tap a guy who I think had a learning difficulty was asking my opinion about doing acting just for fun rather than for being paid (I think people had been telling him he couldn’t or shouldn’t). So I told him to go for it and that I do dancing just for fun. The arts are for all. I hope he gives it a go!

Tap class was good. I caught up with R while we were waiting and filled her in on Cats. She’s finding that she wants to do a bit more tap but doesn’t want to jump all the way to the intermediate class. So I suggested getting in on some one-off workshops, rather than committing to anything too advanced perhaps.

The class was great. There were some of the usual crowd and some new people too, so there was a nice big circle for our warm-up, but it didn’t seem as full. Maybe the class limit has been reduced.

We learnt a few combinations, one of which I’d learnt before, thankfully! Then we moved onto our routine which is quite challenging, shall we say. Whenever we have to cross our feet, I get confused – but I got the hang of that bit. It was the shuffle-ball-change with extra heels and stuff that got me. I just made sure my feet landed together at the end at the right time!

As I was leaving my teacher called me back to ask me about trying level 3. I had said in May that I’d like to try a class as a one off. Tonight she said “September?” I did say yes hesitantly, but do you know what? If it was on a Thursday or Tuesday and earlier, I would go for it. It is purely a timing issue for me, which then throws up the question of continuing with level 2 and getting bored (not sure that’s going to happen just yet) or going elsewhere…😔 At least there are options in London. Might be different if I was searching out in the sticks.

Anyway, in the meantime I could do with practicing the routine in the garage at the weekend, especially the complicated bit!