Peanut Orchestra

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Entrance to my backstreet gym

I haven’t been to the gym for a few weeks. No excuses, I just couldn’t be bothered. But today I got my thang together and went! Unfortunately, going on a Wednesday rather than a Tuesday lunchtime, it was quite busy, with people hogging the free weights area and others going through their personal training session in the middle of the gym room. Still, despite this, I plugged in and did the cross trainer, overhead press, and some stretching. I feel so much better for going, having felt very negative most of this week!

I’m making sure to give my feet a good stretch every day and especially after exercise because I found they were aching A LOT during and after my tap classes the last few weeks – although I worked out that some of the ache came from wearing socks that were too thick, and then cramming my feet into my tap shoes, causing a deficit in wiggle room!

We’re learning a fun intermediate level routine to the song ‘The Peanut Vendor’ (1956 version) by Stan Kenton & His Orchestra and I’m loving it! We’re using a combination created by the legend that is Honi Coles as well as doing a 3-beat riff on both feet at the same time…Yes, I am wearing a left knee support so I don’t end up injured again! Tomorrow is the penultimate class before the 2 week half term break, and I am already signed up to the next block starting in March – YAY!

p.s. I’m giving Tap Dance Festival UK, which takes place in Manchester next weekend, a miss this year – BOO!

Quick Bio: Honi Coles

A still of Honi Coles from ‘Dirty Dancing’ (1987)

In my intermediate Rhythm Tap class this half-term we’re practising a combination created by tap legend Honi Coles. Who? You know, the guy who played bandleader Tito Suarez in Dirty Dancing (1987). But he was much more than that, so I thought I’d share with you everything you need to know about him:

Who: Charles ‘Honi’ Coles

Born: 2nd April 1911 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Died: 12th November 1992 in Queens, New York

Learnt to tap dance: On the streets of Philadelphia where people would challenge each other in ‘cutting contests’, which are basically tap dance battles.

Known for: The fastest feet in showbiz. After being let go from the dance act ‘The Three Millers’ he apparently shut himself away for a year and practised constantly (known as ‘wood-shedding’), and when he returned to the performing circuit he had perfected his technique and could fit a crazy number of steps into a bar of music.

Tap Dance Style: Classic, class act, soft shoe, high-speed rhythm tap

Said: “If you can walk, you can tap”.

If you can walk, you can tap

Recognition: Drama Desk Award (1982), Tony Award for Best Choreographer (1982), Dance Magazine Award 1985, Capezio Award for Lifetime Achievement (1988), National Medal of the Arts (1991). He was inducted into the Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2003.

Performed with: Cholly Atkins (an expert Wing dancer) as class act ‘Coles & Atkins’ for 13 years. Prior to that, he was one the ‘Three Millers’, who were known for performing extremely intricate steps on tiny platforms…until he was replaced by someone else. In the late 1930’s he performed with the ‘Lucky 7 Trio’. He also toured with the Swing bands of Duke Ellison, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong.

Stage: Vaudeville circuit, Broadway (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, My One and Only)

Movies: Rocky II (1979), The Cotton Club (1984), Dirty Dancing (1987)

TV: Tap Dance in America, Conversations in Dance, Great Feats of the Feet, The Tap Dance Kid, Mr Griffin and Me, Charleston, Archives of a Master, etc

Taught: Taught Dance History at Yale, Cornell, Duke and George Washington universities. He opened the Dance Craft Studio on 52nd Street in New York City with fellow tap dancer Pete Nugent in the 1950’s, but by then tap dance was falling out of fashion.

What they said about him:

“A supreme illusionist”

“Brilliant”

“…the delicacy and power of a master pianist’s hands”

“…makes butterflies look clumsy”

Amazing! I have to admit, I knew nothing about him until reading the book ‘Tap! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and their Stories 1900-1955’. Watching some of his performances on YouTube are definitely inspiring me for my rhythm tap classes. Just need to get quicker!

References:

A New Year’s Whodunit

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Happy New Year! I hope the Christmas holidays treated you well?

For me, there was lots of food and family time, plus half a day at work on New Year’s Eve. But I didn’t let office time spoil the week…my SO and I went to the theatre afterwards to see a matinee performance of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap – the longest running show in the world! Yes, the 1950s murder mystery show is now in its 68th year. It was very enjoyable, with lots of humour. I expected it to be more serious, like last year’s Witness for the Prosecution. However, as seems to be the case these days, there was someone behind us rustling a popcorn bag throughout act one, opening fizzy drinks and constantly fidgeting, like we were at the cinema, and not a LIVE STAGE SHOW. Anyway, getting back to The Mousetrap, as is tradition, I’m afraid I am unable to tell you whodunit!

I was back at work properly on Monday after lazing around for the best part of two weeks, and I will be returning to my intermediate rhythm tap class tomorrow after a 2 month break. I had signed up to an 11-week writing class at City Lit in Covent Garden, starting next week, but I changed my mind and got a refund, as I really need to buckle down and get some things finished first. That won’t happen if I’m out every Wednesday evening and my list of commitments is longer than before. I keep saying I want to ‘do less’ this year, so instead of committing to an 11-week course, I’m going to look out for one-off workshops instead, and use my free time to actually sit down and write. And practice ukulele!

On a different note, whilst in Covent Garden on New Year’s Eve, I came across dance wear specialist Bloch’s brand new shop, which had moved from its prior location in Drury Lane. I love checking out the tap shoes, so I went downstairs to the shoe area and found the brand new Jason Samuels Smith patent tap shoes:

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drool!

I already have leather versions in white and black, so I probably would go for a different colour in the patent…if I was splashing out on new shoes.

Which ones you do prefer?

12 Highlights of 2019

As we near the end of 2019, I thought I would share with you my list of 12 highlights of the year:

  1. Amazing trip to Edinburgh in January, my first time in Scotland (not counting a coach trip to the port of Stranraer to catch a ferry to Northern Ireland)
  2. My second Tap Dance Festival UK Winter Intensive in Salford in February – learnt loads and hung at lunchtime with a pal from my London class.
  3. Realising that I need to get back into writing!
  4. Sucking up my nerves to attend another tap improvisation workshop
  5. Summer tap dance intensive in Covent Garden in July…although I only managed one day of three
  6. A relaxing sunny beach weekend in Dorset, with delicious Thai food!
  7. Northern Ballet’s Cinderella at the Sheffield Lyceum, also my first time in Sheffield
  8. Being able to replace our horrible carpets at home with new carpet and wood-like flooring
  9. DIY Farrow & Ball kitchen makeover
  10. Rhythm of the Dance and Heartbeat of Home (Irish Dance shows)
  11. Learning to play beginner’s level ukulele and performing at the end of term Christmas concert
  12. Completing and passing 2 more modules of my HR course

Next year I would really like to attend some writing workshops and maybe try to get something submitted and published again (e.g. articles, reviews) like I did when I was a student. I’d also like to get a new job…

What were your highlights of 2019? What are your hopes for 2020?

Showtime!

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Last night was the night of my debut ukulele performance!

The end of term performance was made up of beginners, improvers, and two ukulele song groups that meet during the day. We performed songs in our own groups as well as all together. After half an hour of drinks, nibbles and mingling with our guests (one of my colleagues, plus my SO came to watch), we kicked off the evening with a song written by someone in the improvers class, which included a kazoo piece… As beginners, we performed ‘Teenage Kicks’ and ‘YMCA’, joined at the front by a guy who volunteered to lead the actions! The other groups played songs including Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Fairytale of New York’, George Formby’s ‘Leaning on a Lamp Post’ and Maroon 5’s ‘Memories’. We all came together at the end to perform ‘Santa Baby’. 

It was so much fun! I did feel a little nervous during the rehearsal, and I even wondered if I was going to get the giggles when I saw my friend and SO in the audience, but that was all gone by the main event. I wore a Christmas jumper! Everyone sang along! 

I spoke to the tutor afterwards about the next steps in learning and I mentioned that I’m returning to tap dance in January, which led to her and a guy from my class talking about their experience of learning or having a go at tap dance and wanting to try it again…so I gave my recommendations!

It has been quite a week for coming out of my comfort zone, actually. On Sunday my SO and I led the second Sunday in Advent service at church, and I really hate standing up the front and reading aloud. I get really nervous, a dry mouth and a scratchy voice. I think people are surprised when you can dance in public, but dislike speaking or reading. Two very different things! I really need to be more Alan**.As it was Advent, we arranged the chairs in a circle with the advent candles on a table in the middle as a focal point, which was lovely, but also made it easier in terms of nerves! I actually read out a Bible passage, a prayer and finished with a fairly long poem…and I enjoyed it! The next one is in late January. Who knows, I might even play my ukulele.

**Alan is a guy from a local running shop who has the gift of the gab; he’s an outward processor!

4 Wins Last Week

I made myself go to the gym

In fact, I actually tried out a different gym just to check it out as another option, seeing as my current gym is fairly restricted and lacking natural light during this 2 year refurb. I didn’t do any upper body resistance work this time, just to save the shoulder that I pulled a few weeks ago. It was a bright and airy facility with decent space for stretching (in fact, the girl on the mat beside me kept standing on her head) but it is a 5-7 minute walk beyond my current gym….

I completed and passed another module of my HR course

Yes! After all that reading and writing about redundancy and employment law, I wrote 3 assignments and passed them! I’ve taken so long over this qualification, that at this stage, rather than aiming for merit, ‘good enough’ is good enough! Four modules complete, two to go…On to recruitment!

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Had a relaxing spa day

For my SO’s birthday this weekend I took him for afternoon tea and spa day! It’s so nice during these dark and germ-ridden months to get away from it all (i.e. London) for the day and chill out in calm, steamy surroundings in Hertfordshire! Delightful hand-cut sandwiches, mini cakes and other sweet treats made it even better.

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I fell in love with the Ukulele

On Wednesday evening we chose the songs we are going to perform at the end of term concert. It dawned on me that there are only two weeks of beginners ukulele classes left and then it’s all over!
I love learning to play and the class is so much fun, but I need to return to RHYTHM TAP in January (already enrolled!) and I will struggle to do both, especially as the improvers uke class is 7.15-8.45pm, plus my 1 hour plus journey home – I’ll be dead by Thursday lunchtime tap! What to do? ARGH (Either way, I will keep playing). I think it may be time to suggest an informal music group with the other musicians I know of at church who don’t currently play their instruments in public. Perhaps we can muddle along together?

Have a good week, all!