Improvement

Fiat500
You need me…

Hey! How was your weekend?

This weekend just gone my SO and I went to look at a cute pre-loved Fiat 500 that I spotted online after I had been wondering about whether or not to get a slightly better and more reliable make of car in order to bring down my annual repair bills (currently driving the second Ford KA I have owned).

My SO did the test drive because I was too nervous about driving a circuit around town with the car dealer in the car. It was such a smooth drive and the interiors were lovely, and I could have got a good finance deal, but…I decided I don’t really need a new car, I don’t do much mileage at all, the finance deal meant a large deposit upfront, and I remembered my original goal to eventually get rid of my car and use public transport, especially as I pay for an Annual Season Ticket for work which also covers my local buses since moving house. At the moment however, the bus doesn’t quite intercept the train I need to catch in the mornings…

Instead of getting the lovely Fiat, I cleared the trash out of my car, gave it a vacuum, replaced the filthy floor mats with some stylish new ones and put up a new scented garland on the rearview mirror – there you go, new car! LOL).

On a tap dance note, now that the extreme heat has subsided (for now) I got out into the garage and did a bit of practice. I ran through some of the steps we did at the Tap Dance Intensive at City Lit 2 weeks ago, including trying to work on my pullbacks. Still very much a work in progress, but I feel a bit more confident in knowing what I should be doing.

Looking forward to getting back to it in September!

 

Review: Yoga Toe Spreaders

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Doing tap dance (or any dance!) every week really pounds your feet, so it’s important to have a good foot-care regime. After class I tend to roll my feet with a spiky ball roller, stretch my toes and so on. However, while browsing the internet, I came across these gel yoga toe spreaders which are supposed to help relieve bunions and plantar fasciitis, realign wayward toes and hammer toes and generally relax aching feet. Well, I need help with all of the above, so I ordered a set.

How did they fare?

After a bit of a fight to get the thing between my toes and the initial weird feeling of my toes being spread out beyond what they were used to, I really noticed just how relaxed my feet and toes started to feel. We spend so much time running around in shoes, or scrunching our toes up that it feels almost weird to feel truly relaxed feet where each toe is an individual. I guess it’s a bit like going from running trainers to those bare-foot five-finger running things where there is a space for each individual toe. You eventually get used to the realignment of your toes and feet.

The toe spreaders were definitely easier to put on each time and I could wear them for longer, which suggests perhaps a subtle correction of alignment, or that my toes were getting used to wearing them each time.

Verdict: I love them!

  • Very good value for money at £3 a pair
  • Any post-class ache in my feet and toes was reduced
  • You can wear them and put your feet up to relax in front of the TV or with a book
  • Made of silicone, they’re easy to manipulate and to wash (I would advise washing with soap & water and dusting them with talc before next use)

They’re not going to vanish your bunion or hammer toes overnight, but they are a good stretch for the toes 🙂

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Check out my tan!

Summer Tap Dance Intensive 2018

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On Monday I attended day 1 of the Summer Tap Dance Intensive for improver/intermediate level at Covent Garden’s City Lit. Term ended a few weeks ago at my usual rhythm tap class, and although it doesn’t seem like that long until September 12th, it’s enough time to get a little rusty. I’m a big fan of tap intensives and dance summer schools for the fact that they are a chance to learn new steps, pick up extra tips, try something a bit more challenging than you’re used to, and to experience a different style of teaching.

The 3-day intensive was intended to develop “tap technique, posture and musicality as well as incorporating some performance based exercises”. I was excited because it would be covering time steps, which I haven’t spent much time on, turning steps, and tap dance history, which I’m reading loads about at the moment.

After some trouble with cancelled trains, I managed to get there in plenty of time as I was intending to arrive about an hour early anyway. I had a handful of vegetable gyoza at Itsu and then made my way to the college. I made sure to down a bottle of water before going into the studio because I know that I sweat half my body weight every time I dance, so I wanted to make sure I was properly hydrated!

There were about 12 of us in the class, a mixture of ages and abilities. The tutor (BB) asked what shoes I was wearing, and it turned out he was wearing the black version of my Jason Samuels Smiths (J-Sams)! I can testify to them being a very sturdy and supportive shoe. Quite a few of the class were part of BB’s regular classes, but I actually recognised one retired lady from the daytime class at Morley – caught up with her briefly, which was nice!MOV_0788_000158.jpg

We ran through some warm up steps, and then went over the basics, particularly shuffles and then 3-beat shuffles (or open and closed thirds). Then we went straight into learning the longest routine I’ve ever done in tap, which included pick-ups, riffs, shuffles, turns, slides, paddles, cramp rolls, Suzy Q’s (need to practice these more!), pull-backs (ditto), and a time step. Because I’d told the tutor that I’d been learning tap for almost 3 years, I think he assumed I would know how to do pull-backs, and the time-step we were using, but I guess because I’m learning non-syllabus rhythm tap, and classes are 45 minutes as opposed to an hour and a half, I’ve not spent so much time on those things. Anyway, I blagged my way through! (My Suzy Q was OK heading right, but not so good to the left…until the last run-through :-/ )

Because the class was 2 hours long, we had plenty of time to go over and over the steps and do drills and things which you never normally have time to do in class. I really enjoyed this! The tutor was really passionate and knowledgeable about tap dance, and talked about some of the dancers of the past that he was inspired by, including Jimmy Slyde and Chuck Green.

We got to film the tutor doing the entire routine slightly slowed down at the end, which would make practising at home for the next day easier. However…

Dancing for 2 hours straight wiped me out and I woke up the next day with a headache and feeling really under the weather, so I ended up missing the other 2 days – gutted! :((( Yep, overdid it again. But, the one day I did attend was brilliant, fun and really challenging, and I can have a go at what I learnt in my garage studio at the weekend.

 

Qualified

_20180724_161049.JPGLately I’ve been pondering the question of when you are allowed to call yourself a dancer. I keep saying to people that I take dance classes, or I’m learning to tap dance, but hesitate to say I’m a ‘dancer’ probably because in the past people told me I had missed the boat, I was too old etc when I said I wanted to dance and do choreography, plus I don’t perform, I never took any grades in anything, and so on. Yet when I think about it, I’ve actually been dancing for over 15 years.

Did you have to start dancing as a 2 year old to qualify?

Despite the opportunity I had with my dad supplying dance shoes to all the local dance schools (Ballroom, Latin, Ballet, Jazz) I didn’t take formal dance lessons as a child, and only started with a weekly freestyle jazz class at University, culminating in a show that I invited friends and family to watch. But there’s enough stories out there of professional dancers or dance teachers who started learning late. It’s much harder, but it’s possible.

Is it about how often you dance?

Once working I started doing weekly dance classes at my local theatre, which included street jazz, break dance, and even a bit of Charleston to Amy Winehouse, plus a performance at the end of the Summer term with a work colleague I managed to convince to join me. We were working during the day, so we missed the dress rehearsal – doh!

Since working in London where there are lots if places to dance I’ve pretty much been dancing most weeks with the odd break to like, be ill or move house 🙂

Must you be performing regularly? 

I’m not as bothered about performing these days as I’m just dancing for the love of it, and to learn something new (rhythm tap – yeah!).  When I was still going to classes at the theatre I enjoyed the opportunity to perform a bit and did a street jazz solo at a talent contest two years in a row. If I was learning at a specific dance school I would probably have more opportunity to perform now in end of year or termly shows. Mind you, I believe the advanced level classes at my facility do take part in the end of term shows…

Or is it about your commitment to and passion for dance?

I think it’s a lifestyle. Dancing as regularly as you can, training, learning, improving, trying new things, evolving. Or, you may have been a dancer in the past who stays inspired by watching dance, reading, writing, inspiring others, attending events.

How tap dance differs

I love doing ballet classes, but because it’s a formal style of dance that takes a lot of training and can be elitist, most adult learners [read: beginners] would not call themselves a ballet dancer, and certainly NOT a ballerina/ballerino. However, since throwing myself into rhythm tap, practicing constantly and reading all about its humble beginnings on slave plantations and street corners, where people make up their own steps and styles which they challenge each other with and steal from others, I realise I can call myself a dancer. Tap is informal and everyone is invited to contribute something (hence improvisation). A lot of people who have been dazzled by the showy Broadway version of tap don’t realise it’s actually a social dance, like Salsa or Swing.

I’m starting to feel like I can call myself a tap dancer…but definitely not a Hoofer…just yet 😉

What do you think? Do you call yourself a dancer? Or do you feel like you have a long way to go before you qualify? Maybe you feel like this in some other area of life?

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 who I bump into sometimes (agh, I heard her name and forgot it straight away).

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 faster tempo 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?