New Tap Shoes!

OKAY, my first ever pair of customised tap shoes arrived all the way from Madrid last week! They’re handmade by Arte FyL (who specialise in Flamenco shoes) and I ordered them from through Tap Dance UK back in January, after looking through all the available colour swatches and designs on the website. I also had a ‘digital shoe fitting’ one Friday morning on Zoom with Tap Dance UK, where they got me to draw around my feet and read out the measurements, so they could place the order. (They get a special discount with Arte FyL).

I went for the Astaire style Oxford shoe in dark blue leather with aubergine patent and laces. They weren’t cheap, but I put some Christmas money towards them, plus I’m not paying extortionate train fares while I’m working from home. (I noticed a slight imperfection on them when they arrived, so I actually got 10% back). I’m not going to wear them for a full class straight away because I feel they need breaking in a bit. What I will do is wear them to mess around in and for practise and just see how they go. They don’t have the ankle cushioning that my Jason Samuels Smiths have, so I may need to stick some cushioning in the back so I don’t end up with blisters!

Can you tell I’m excited?!

March Motivation

Hey, how are you doing? Sorry I haven’t posted in a while – I’ve found it hard to find the motivation to write, despite having lots to write about and trying to make THIS year my ‘Year of Writing’ (last year didn’t really work out…). So here’s a brief run-down of what I’ve been up to:

Tap Dance Standards Workshops

I recently attended a trio of tap dance standards workshops on Zoom, hosted by Sole Rebel. I literally jumped at the chance to learn some classic repertoire! I told you about the first one, Leon Collins #53 in my last post, and the next two were Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson’s King For A Day, which I absolutely LOVE, taught by Old Kent Road’s Avalon and Buster Brown’s Laura (some of which I’d learnt at Tap Dance Festival UK in 2019), taught by Old Kent Road’s Ryan. Thankfully recordings of the class and of the full routines were provided, so I can continue to work on these in my own time. I’ve just signed up to the next trio of workshops, which will be focusing on improvisation, musicality, rhythm and body percussion, which will be challenging and amazing!

Writing Challenge

In February I signed up to a ‘Couch to 5K’ writing challenge called Wake Up Your Writing, where I received a timed writing prompt by email every day for a whole month. Unfortunately I got to day 5 and gave up…*sigh*…BUT, I still have the emails, so I am going to pick up where I left off: “Pick a character you know and love and make them do the thing you always wished they would”. I’m going to have a think now about which character I want to write about 🙂

BOP Jazz Workout

My SO and I are still working from home, and while it can be too easy to flop on the sofa in the evening, one thing I have been motivated to do is the BOP Jazz dance workout every day after work. I think part of it is the feeling of stretching and lengthening those stiff muscles after a day at the desk, and the other part is the wonderful chilled jazz music that accompanies the workout. It’s a manageable bit of cross-training. I also like the fact it’s more of a body conditioning and stretch class than a bouncy cardio workout, which I really have to be in the mood for! (BOP are the London-based Body of People Jazz Theatre Company, and the founders, Dollie Henry and Paul Jenkins have written a fantastic book called The Essential Guide to Jazz Dance, which is on My Must Reads list).

Thanks for reading!

How are you staying motivated at the moment? 

Tap Dance Festival UK 2021

It has been a crazy time of tap for me over the past week –  the 5th Tap Dance Festival UK happened (virtually) and I registered…even though I said I was going to take a break! Plus, there were some other tap events going on at the same time, so I had a pretty packed timetable! I bought a 3-technique class pass this time because I wasn’t so interested in learning choreography when I do this in my weekly class, plus I had the Standards Sessions hosted by my teacher’s company, plus I had access to all the community events of the festival.

Fri 12th Feb pm – Kick-Off Party (Dante Lara)

LA-based dancer Dante Lara opened the festival by throwing down some tracks and chatting with some of the faculty.

Mon 15th pm – Musicality (Sarah Reich)

I’d attended a music theory session with Sarah previously and found it SO helpful that I jumped at the chance to attend this session with my notebook to learn some more!

Tues 16th pm – Tap & Tea Talk (Michelle Dorrance)

I saw Dorrance Dance at Sadlers Wells in London back in 2018 and I was interested to hear Michelle talk about how she got into tap dance and about her life. Hailing from North Carolina, Michelle was a student of Gene Medler who would take his students to the St Louis Tap Festival and later Chicago, and formed the North Caroline Youth Tap Ensemble. She gave lots of good advice, including sharing some of the mistakes she made:

You should only ever be yourself.

Thurs 18th pm – Tap & Tea Talk (Dianne Walker)

I was so excited to hear from this beloved veteran and Aunt of the tap community! Dianne Walker grew up in Boston, MA and contracted Polio when she was small, so she basically had to learn to walk again. Once she could, she started dance lessons at Ethel Covan’s School for Ballet, but she liked tap, so she moved to the excellent Mildred Kennedy’s school (alumni include Sarah Reich, Dormeshia, Derick Grant, etc). Dianne had lots of performance opportunities in TV, theatre and film, but then her mother remarried and relocated the family to a remote airbase in California. She became a cheerleader as a teenager and ditched dancing for a while. It was only after she got married herself, and had children that she went to an event with her mother-in-law, where she met a guy who introduced her to the legendary Leon Collins! She tried to learn as much as she could…while working full-time at a psychiatric clinic, and her kids started to take classes too. One day Leon asked her to cover his class, which freaked her out, but his helpful advice was to “just share something that you know”, which how she teaches even now. Leon was her teacher and mentor, and she talked about how he created a bunch of routines for the purpose of teaching. (I recently learnt part of his routine #53!) She also talked how she was inspired by seeing Gregory Hines and Debbie Allen dance on TV in the 1980s, and how she got through an awkward audition for the show Black and Blue in New York City. It was such a wonderful chat, and I think the session overran by about an hour. The Tap & Tea ladies are hoping to get her back again for part 2!

You get to know a dancer through their dance

Fri 19th 12pm – Tap Dance Research Network UK

The team each talked a little about the Network and what they do, plus some of their most recent events and current research. I didn’t realise until part-way through that there would be separate breakout rooms to hear one person talk in more detail, and I didn’t really have time, so I’ll catch up on the recordings.

Sat 20th 2pm – Drills (Robin Passmore)

I took a drills class with Robin Passmore at the first TDFUK I attended in 2018 an absolutely loved it, so I was looking forward to this class. Robin is known for her clean footwork because she loves to work on drills! We drilled in our shuffles, crawls with paddles, crawls with shuffles, a cramp roll sequence, and we did some work on single and double wings – something I haven’t done enough of. Excellent!

7pm – Footage Viewing Slumber Party (Tony Waag)

American Tap Dance Foundation’s Tony Waag took us through a brief history of tap dance, from the lost Five Points neighbourhood of NYC and Master Juba, to blackface and minstrel shows, Jim Crow laws, Hollywood movies and the changing landscape of New York’s theatre district. He also covered a bit of his own story with Brenda Bufalino, Gregory Hines and Woodpeckers Studio. A very interesting session! We need a part 2.

Sun 21st 2pm – Standards Sessions: King for a Day (Avalon Rathgeb) 

This wasn’t part of TDFUK, but I managed to fit it in before the next event! (Although silly me, I went for a walk that was just a bit too long on a day of 3 almost back-to-back tap classes). Avalon of Old Kent Road tap company taught us a section of Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson’s King for a Day repertoire. It’s a great one to learn because it has a repetitive holding pattern (the double time step) with variations in-between. I really enjoyed this one and will definitely keep working on it! I left this class 5 minutes before the end because next I had:

3.30pm – Relaxed Technique (Michelle Dorrance)

This is something all tap dancers need to keep working on! If you want to execute some of the trickier steps and sounds, you MUST have LOOSE ANKLES. A shuffle shouldn’t come from the ankle or from throwing the knee, but from the top of the leg. Michelle got us to work on applying this to our shuffles, plus some trickier steps. It was SOOO helpful! I’m going to try and practise some of the other exercises she suggested over the weekend.

5.30pm – Rudiments (Adele Joel) 

Guys, my feet were killing me and the top of my left leg was hurting by this point, so I sat this one out! (Thankfully there’s a recording).

6.30pm – Happy Birthday TDFUK

We watched a video montage of the last 5 years of this amazing festival that usually takes place in Manchester, and then there was a Lifetime Achievement presentation to Dianne ‘Lady Di’ Walker, which was really lovely.

7.30pm – London Tap Jam

Hosted by MADD Rhythms’ Bril Barrett on Instagram, the London Tap Jam was full of music, chat and performances from people all over the world. Not only tap dancers, but a bass player and a drummer too!

I usually take the Monday off work after travelling and attending this amazing and positive festival in person, but I didn’t think I needed it with an online event….How wrong was I?! 

 

 

Deliberate Practice

I’m currently reading the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It’s a revolutionary book about the power of introverts in a society that seems to only value and promote those who shout the loudest. I’m definitely more of an introvert (perhaps ambivert is more accurate because I have my moments), and although I accept and value my quieter personality (which was suddenly highlighted when I did things in the past like the year of training in youth ministry – “try to be more like Vicky!” – and when learning to teach aerobics – “you need to be louder!”), the book has encouraged me even more to accept my creative, quieter, thoughtful, reflective personality that is sensitive to others and to my environment because it is immensely valuable! Now I know why my primary school teacher chose me to buddy and befriend a nervous new pupil, who I’m still friends with now.

In a particular workplace full of loud people where I was basically overlooked in favour of party girls, I’m actually still in touch with a couple of colleagues over 10 years on, who felt I actually had time for them. When I worked at a London university for 6 months, the managers were really pleased with how I dealt sensitively with the students…and their demanding parents. In the charity HR I work in now, I have found my personality to be a positive thing as we deal with ups, downs, births, deaths, mental health, difficult conversations, confidential info and everything else. And as a Christian, I believe every personality is valuable to God. I mean imagine if everyone was the same, right?

In her book, Susan Cain names loads of introverts who did amazing things and changed the world because of rather than in spite of their personalities, so if you fall somewhere on the introvert scale and have been made to feel like there’s something wrong with that, be encouraged by people like Rosa Parks, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Stephen Spielberg, JK Rowling, Mark Zuckerberg (despite how you feel about Facebook LOL), Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Charles Darwin, Barack Obama, plus many, many dancers, comedians, musicians, actors, singers…there are so many people, I don’t have space to list them all 🙂

Anyway, the main reason I mention this book is that one of the chapters talks about the concept of ‘Deliberate Practice’, which immediately caught my attention. The author looks references a study into 3 groups of violinists at an elite music school in Berlin (best, good and those who only wish to teach), but I was interested in relation to tap dance. Deliberate Practice is described as “serious study alone” and the “key to exceptional achievement”. In other words, if you want to be an amazing tap dancer, you’ve got to practise on your own…a lot. (The lowest group of violinists put in 1.3 solitary hours a day, whereas the top-level violinists put in 3.5 solitary hours a day and regarded group practice as leisure).

A few of the guests we had on the ‘Tap & Tea’ history talks last year posed the question ‘how much class is too much class?‘ – i.e. you can take all the tap classes going but still not show any improvement because you’re not taking the time to put the work in on your own. I know my real improvements in tap came when I actually spent the time in my garage studio, in front of the mirror going over and over things until I got them…and then refined and cleaned them up. (It’s not that I spent 3.5 hours shedding wood in one go, but even the 40 minutes spent on a Saturday afternoon make a massive difference in what I bring to my next class).

“When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks…just out of your reach…,strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress and revise accordingly” Quiet, pg81

Have you read the book? Are you an introvert? What do you think about ‘Deliberate Practice’ in relation to tap, or perhaps other styles of dance?  Let me know in the comments 🙂

 

Number 53


Hey, how was your weekend? Same as last weekend? I know what you mean! I’m so relieved that my mum has had her first Covid vaccination and is waiting to be contacted about having the booster. The NHS is doing an AMAZING job.

This weekend was a little bit different to the lockdown norm for me. My teacher’s tap and theatre company are running three online ‘Standards Sessions’ of Sunday afternoon workshops to learn pieces of legendary tap dance repertoire of the great hoofers. On Sunday the amazing Adele Joel taught us the tap legend Leon Collins’ routine #53, as it would have been his 99th birthday.

When Adele demonstrated the routine, I found myself standing there in awe, thinking there’s NO WAY I’m going to pick that choreography up in an hour and a half! (Ever been there?) But I surprised myself and actually picked up everything she showed us…until we had to go double time! It was fun to try, but it was crazy quick. (“Blimey!” someone wrote in the chat box :-)) It was so much fun and such a lovely way to spend a locked-down Sunday afternoon. I’m looking forward to the next two workshops!

I recently bought tickets for Tap Dance Festival UK 2021, which takes place online between 12th-21st February. This time I decided not to go for any choreography classes, because I do choreography every week (and have a load of tap choreography videos from the summer onwards that I haven’t even looked at yet), and I just booked three intermediate technique classes instead:

  • Drills with Robin Passmore
  • Relaxed Technique with Michelle Dorrance
  • Rudiments with Adele Joel

Plus, there’s also some other stuff included in my ticket, like the kick-off party, warm-up sessions, a footage viewing party and a couple of Tap and Tea talks from Theatre Tap London with Michelle Dorrance and Dianne Walker – amazing!

Tap Dance UK (confusing, I know) also have some fun events coming up this month, so it looks as though I’ll be busy!

 

Cancelled

Virtual rhythm tap class got off to a good start last week. Even though there are only two of us enrolled on the online daytime course, the course is NOT cancelled (yay!) so we can carry on. It would be a different if we were physically hogging a studio. The alternative would have been to switch to Wednesday evenings again, but I like tapping at lunchtime 🙂

I was supposed to be starting ukulele ensemble class last Friday evening, and I logged onto MS Teams at 6pm…and nothing happened. There was no meeting taking place, so I emailed and phoned the college, and finally, today I’ve been told that there weren’t enough students enrolled, so it’s cancelled. Boo! Waiting for my refund.

I also got an email earlier this month to say that our beachfront hot-tub break in the South-West is also cancelled, which is no surprise with the current lockdown situation in the UK. We really love a late January/early February break (plus it’s cheaper, being outside of peak holiday season), but it is not to be this time. But I’m thankful that we got to go away in the Summer.

I have enrolled on Tap Dance Festival UK’s online festival in February! I wasn’t actually intending to do this, but then I saw that Robin Passmore will be teaching drills, and I jumped straight onto the registration page (unfortunately missing the early bird registration by a few weeks)! New Jersey-based dancer and studio owner Robin was on the faculty at the very first Tap Dance Festival UK event I attended in Manchester in 2018, and I definitely enjoyed her class the most because she concentrates on drills and precision, which is evident in her extremely clean and accurate tap sounds. Some people find drills boring, but I absolutely LOVE THEM. After all, that’s how you get better.

This Friday I’m having a digital fitting with Tap Dance UK for some Artefyl Zapatos tap shoes from Spain – my first ever pair of customised tap shoes! I had enquired about Miller and Ben tap shoes through a UK based distributor, but there’s been a massive delay in communication between them and New York, so on their advice I cancelled the order, and then the Artefyl opportunity popped up. Hopefully shipping from Spain will be much less complicated!

Happy New Year

Hello and Happy New Year to you! Well, we’re actually 8 days in now, and things in the world seem crazy at the moment, what with Covid and Trump and Brexit…but I hope the start of the year is going okay for you.

Christmas was very different this time around because we weren’t allowed to meet with other households, so on Christmas day afternoon, after our online church service, a sunshine walk and a massive gammon dinner with all the trimmings, we ended up hosting a 3 and a half hour quiz with my family on Zoom which included rounds on country flags, Strictly Come Dancing and a (particularly difficult) music round, and then we video called my SO’s family straight after. We managed to do lots of walks in the evenings to see the amazing Christmas light displays that people had done on their houses, and we walked around the village in the daytime to try and get some vitamin D. I completed a very tricky 500 piece jigsaw and a couple of books I’ve had on the go. My SO painted the bathroom in Cooking Apple Green (Farrow & Ball) and made chocolate fondants, a baked cheesecake and pastel de natas (Portuguese custard tarts) – I also worked (from home) on the 30th, but who wants to hear about that?

Usually in the run up to Christmas, many of us like going to the theatre (if the bank account allows!) to see a pantomime or another show. Last Winter we saw The Mousetrap in London and the Northern Ballet’s The Nutcracker in Sheffield. This Winter, the theatres are closed, but we were able to get tickets to watch the film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) at a drive-in in North London (complete with burger…and fries!), and we also got tickets for the Barbican’s live streamed performance of A Dickensian Christmas, which featured beautifully sung Christmas carols and dramatic excerpts from A Christmas Carol, read by actor Kevin Whately (of Inspector Morse, Lewis, etc). Definitely gave us all the Christmas feels.

We made a point of watching movies over the holidays, including Running on Empty (1988), Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), North by Northwest (1959), Die Hard (1988), Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1994) (technically a TV episode, but hey ho) – we did have more Christmassy/wintery movies on the list (Uncle Buck, Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Miracle of 34th Street) but we haven’t got around to those yet!

Another thing I did was to spend a little bit of time in the garage working on specific tap steps, something I’ve been trying to do since the summer. This time I concentrated on my ‘Shirley Temple’. A very well-known combination, but one that you can trip up on, or add too many extra bits to. To make it even better, I had some Christmas Jazz songs on in the background! I’m back to tap class next week, and because we’re on lockdown and therefore online-only again, I’m able to join the Thursday afternoon class – a welcome break in the working day. I also start ukulele class online next Friday – I’ll let you know how that goes 🙂

Have a great weekend x

Practise More!

Doing two online dance classes a week, I really haven’t been great with practising lately. With the Saturday ‘Vintage Jazz’ class, I’ve been getting away with just watching the recordings beforehand, but with tap, I KNOW I need to put the work in, so I’ve been spending 45 minutes practising right before class. It served me well last week…but not so much this week.

I knew the entire routine and was happy with the exercises we’ve been doing over the last few weeks, but then our teacher asked us to direct our laptop cameras to our feet to do the routine without her help and so she could see what we were doing. It was all going well until I was halfway through and then I just went BLANK. I just stood there. It wasn’t that I didn’t know it, but I think I got stage fright…at home. And unlike the students in the studio, being at home, I had no-one else in view as a prompt. Then our teacher prompted me to jump in on the last bit that we’d just learnt. Nope. Nothing!

I learned a valuable lesson on Wednesday evening. Practise more and practise before the day of the actual class! (BTW, since starting my proofreading and copywriting courses I’m trying to get into the habit of using the British spelling of the verb ‘practise’ as opposed to the American ‘practice’ – we’ll see how that goes).

It’s Black Friday today and I have been saying for over week now that I am going to ignore it and not get sucked into mindless spending. I’ve done my Christmas shopping already and I don’t need to buy more stuff…but then my adult learning college where I dance are offering 50% off their courses (!!!) so I enrolled on the next couple of online rhythm tap courses and a 10 week online ukulele course for improvers. I can’t believe it has been almost a year since my class and I performed at our Christmas ukulele event in London and my SO and a colleague came along. It was so much fun! I think January’s a good month to pick it up again. I just need to refresh my knowledge of at least 6 chords…

Riff Paddle Exercise

This is one of the exercises we’re working on in our rhythm tap class this half-term. It’s literally just riffs and paddles with a few heels, but it does take co-ordination. It didn’t quite click for me the first week I tried it, but now I enjoy trying to speed it up and make it bigger. (I was wearing really long legwarmers when I recorded this video because the garage was freezing). I’m trying to work much more on rudiments, timesteps and technical stuff this year to build on my foundation and increase my vocab. I think I still feel like an imposter in an intermediate level class 🙂