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 🙂
Guys, I’ve been really lazy recently. Like many of us at the moment, I’m working from home, sitting at a desk all day, and then I don’t really feel like doing anything energetic after work, plus I’ve been on a 3 week break from tap classes. And now England is heading into another period of lockdown! No Guy Fawkes Night celebrations this year 🙁
In the summer I was finishing my day with bouncy 80s aerobics workouts in the garage, a Rambert ballet class in my living room or a run around the block, or I was getting out into the back garden to do bits out there, but now we have shorter (and many drearier) days, I’ve not been very motivated at all! That is until Thursday when I did the SUPERBODY aerobics video on YouTube (look it up – it’s cheesy and amazing! Hahaha!). You know you’ve had a good workout when SWEAT is running into your eyes! As Maya Angelou said:
Nothing will work unless you do.
Tap class starts again this week (woohoo!) and rather than continue with the Thursday afternoon class which is (as far as we know) returning to the studio, I’ll be doing the Wednesday night class online. It should be interesting! I’m really looking forward to getting back to it. I had promised to send our teacher a video of me doing the last routine we worked on (Harlem Shuffle) – I haven’t done this yet, so I’d better get in gear and record myself later!
My Saturday afternoon Charleston class is a mixture of both online and in-studio students, but I’m finding it a bit chaotic, and the Microsoft Teams platform is not ideal for live stream dance classes, especially as it cuts the teacher’s feet off if I pin her to full screen. It also freezes a lot, despite my laptop being connected to the broadband router by ethernet cable! Thankfully our teacher is sharing videos of the exercises and routine on our class WhatsApp group, and as I type(!) she is petitioning the college for us to be allowed to use another platform, such as Zoom or Google Meet… otherwise I’d probably be dropping out of the class. She also does some Rhythm Sessions and history talks online through her own vintage dance company, which I might check out.
Hope you are able to have a positive week amidst all this madness.
Sometimes you just need to whip up a quick salad to go with your leftovers or something you’ve ordered in… Here’s my go-to salad:
- 3-4 Fresh tomatoes
- Half can sweetcorn, drained
- A few slices red onion
- Handful green olives
- Half a lime
- Dash of olive oil
- Chopped fresh coriander
- Black pepper
- Chop the tomatoes, onion and combine in a bowl with sweetcorn and halved olives
- Add squeezed lime juice and olive oil to the ingredients
- Add black pepper and fresh coriander
- Give a quick stir and enjoy!
It’s that simple. I often enjoy this with a homemade chilli con carne or Piri Piri chicken.
I keep my fresh herbs in the freezer so I have them to hand at any time and they don’t spoil.
Make it even better with slices of avocado and/or some rocket!
It seems like a long way off now, but at the beginning of September, my SO and I spent a relaxing week in the beautiful South West. We had been intending to head to Scotland this Summer, but then of course, COVID happened. We were prepared to just stay at home this year, but then as things began to open up after lockdown, and we were being encouraged to spend money, I found us a cute cottage on a cider farm in sleepy Somerset for a change of scene. We visited various National Trust gardens, Forde Abbey gardens, took a ride on a heritage steam train, had a cheeky spa day and afternoon tea (although steam room and sauna closed), and visited the East Devon coastal towns of Sidmouth, Seaton and Beer. It felt so good to get away…but obviously I missed my cat!
After watching so many online talks about tap dance and jazz dance history this summer, I got my jazz shoes out and enrolled on an online vintage jazz dance course called ‘Charleston to Jazz’, which I’ve been doing on Saturday afternoons since mid-September. As opposed to the musical theatre jazz that most people recognise now, vintage or authentic jazz refers to the original jazz dances popularised in the 1920s and 30s, influenced by the exciting ragtime, jazz and swing music of the time: the Charleston, the Black Bottom, the Big Apple, the Shimmy, Suzi-Q, Lindy Hop, Balboa and tap dance. So far we’ve learnt the Cakewalk, a dance that came out of Southern slave plantations and preceded many other jazz dances, and we’ve just started learning the Charleston, which I LOVE. The last 15 minutes of the class include watching some footage. In my enthusiasm I’ve probably taken on one thing too many again, but let’s see how it goes…
Every year I say I’m going to do loads of practise while we’re on a break from classes…and then the break is over before I know it! We’re well into the new term with Rhythm Tap, and for this block of classes we’re doing an amazing routine to Bob & Earl’s Harlem Shuffle. It’s really testing me on my open thirds & closed thirds (slurps), oh and my co-ordination!
As I hear about more and more dance studios opening up for socially distanced classes, I’m definitely missing being in the studio with my classmates and teacher. However:
- my classes are not back in the studio yet, although they may be from November.
- my workplace (and the government…kind of) has told us to continue working from home for now, so I can’t travel 1.4 hours into London for a 45 minute class during my working day. I could do it after work for two back- to-back evening classes I suppose, but that’s A LOT of travel, and I’d like to avoid the London Underground for now!
Have you recently returned to the dance studio? Have you started learning any new styles? Let me know in the comments 🙂
Now that the summer is pretty much over, I’ve decided to set myself the challenge of going through the tap dance dictionary to increase my tap vocab. This week I’m concentrating on the Front Essence:
A few weeks ago Tap Dance Research Network UK hosted a panel discussion evening on Zoom, entitled ‘Remembering Bebop Jazz Hoofer Will Gaines’. Annette Walker presented the evening and we were also joined by Junior Laniyan, co-founder of the London Tap Jam, and US dancer and TED Talker Andrew Nemr. Of course I signed up to hear all about this late UK based American tap dancer who I’d never heard of before, but definitely should have.
Royce Edward Gaines was born in Baltimore, USA in 1928 and raised in Detroit. As a teenager he did roller skating and teamed up with a guy called Bill Johnson to skate together, before later getting into tap dancing. Will and Bill actually taught themselves tap dancing and started performing in the nightclubs of Detroit while they were still underage, with Bill dancing in his skates. After breaking away from their double-act, Will worked across the USA and Canada when it was common for tap dancers to be the opening act for the main act – the band. Impressively, Will opened for people like singers Sarah Vaughn, Eartha Kitt and Nat King Cole, as well as band leader Dizzy Gillespie, working in venues like Cab Calloway’s Cotton Club. All his tap dance was completely improvised on the spot. No routine!
So how did Will end up in the UK?
USO Entertainment (who sent entertainers like Bing Crosby and Judy Garland) to boost the morale of allied troops during the war) sent Will to the army bases in Germany and England in 1963, where Will performed in the big London nightclubs like Ronnie Scott’s and Churchill’s (no longer in existence), and at the huge variety show, Sunday Night at the Palladium. (The USO was disbanded in 1947, but revived during the Korean War and continues to this day). After that Will decided to make the UK his permanent home – I think it was the case that like many African American performers of his time, he was treated like a second class citizen in the US, and Europe was more open-minded and welcoming. This meant more opportunity.
Check out Will’s appearance on The Arthur Haynes show in 1965:
I love it!
Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, Will was busy with TV gigs and touring, and he was a favourite at the big festivals, including the famous Edinburgh Festival and London’s Leytonstone Festival. In 1983 he appeared at London’s Riverside Studios along with Honi Coles and Chuck Green for the show ‘Masters of Tap’. In some footage from the show, Honi Coles actually describes Will Gaines’ style of tap as a “bebop hoofing style” as opposed to the upright Irish style of say, Bill Bojangles Robinson.
During a quiet period when there was no entertainment work, Will worked as a carpenter’s assistant and ended up boarding in a hotel in Rotherham, South Yorkshire and later living in a council house with no telephone after some money issues. He asked a dancer called Chris Parry to be his manager, and she and her husband ended up inviting him to stay with them in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex and he ended up getting lots of work through the Arts Council. Leigh-on-Sea is where Will ended up settling permanently.
As a teacher, Will Gaines didn’t teach steps as such and he never rehearsed – “I just walk on…no warm up”. He worked with the Jiving Lindy Hoppers, various British music bands including The Square Pegs and Rent Party, and he appeared in music videos and even on Top of the Pops, which was everyone’s favourite chart music show back in the day. He danced to all types of music, even classical and folk and really bounced off the musicians.
The discussion concluded with stories from the various guests who described when they met Will and how he took them under his wing and mentored them, and there were many, many tales of working with him from a few others who were on the Zoom call. Apparently, for most gigs, he would just drag a piece of wood in from the street to dance on!
Will Gaines sounded like a joy to know and dance with, and I was glad to be able join the session to hear all about him from those who knew him so well. I’m told they’re thinking of running a ‘part 2’ on Will because there wasn’t enough time for all the stories, so watch this space!
Hey, how’s it going? Well, my news is that I am back to work 2 days a week and the other 2 days I’m still on furlough until mid-September when I return to my normal working pattern and come off the furlough scheme altogether – hopefully permanently! It has been great to get back to some sort of normality even though I have been keeping myself occupied while not working.
What I’ve been doing
Of course I have been working on my soap side-biz, making products, doing social media posts, planning new recipes and packing and sending out orders, which have been fairly steady. One decision I made was to quit my HR studies. I’ve completed and passed 4 out of 6 modules, but I have been working at this thing for over 3 years, I have to pay money to extend the course 3 months at a time, it’s only foundation level and Human Resources is actually not where I want to be in 5 years’ time. (HR is also ridiculously competitive in terms of the job market, it can be difficult to move up into more strategic roles and the jobs were few and far between even before Covid-19). I think I’ll hang onto my student membership of the CIPD for the time being while I continue to work in my current job, just so I have access to the community forum, knowledge base and other benefits, but oh it feels like such a relief to get the course out of my hair!
As I’ve said in previous posts, my passions (besides tap dance!) are my soap biz and writing (plus I have an English Literature degree), so I decided to bite the bullet while on furlough and I switched to learning how to write copy, proofread and edit! I think this pandemic and lots of time at home has made many of us re-evaluate our lives, our priorities and how we spend our waking hours. I know right before the lockdown I was so sick of London and the commute and I wanted a new job after 10 years in this role…and now I feel like I have a clearer vision of what I want to do. What I really want and have always wanted is to be fully self-employed. Hopefully I can make it happen!
Keep on Running
After having done the ‘I Love the 90s’ virtual charity run in May, I’ve just completed another 5km run in stages (‘I Love the 80s!) for the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, and I’m now doing a charity run for Alzheimer’s Research UK, aiming to get to 20km by the end of August….I’m at just over 7km so far! I started off by doing Couch to 5k (walk, run, walk, run…) but I found the stop-start aspect demotivating, so I’m now just running as far as I can in each session. I’m pleased to say I’m now able to run just over 1km non-stop, especially as someone who does not enjoy running!
All that Jazz
Tap & Tea has finished, but some other interesting talks have now popped up online, which I’ve been attending. BOP Jazz have started a series called ‘Let’s Talk Jazz’, discussing jazz dance in the UK, and Tap Dance Research Network UK are running a series of panel discussions on the history of tap dance in the UK, and of course there is some cross-over with these as it’s all jazz. I joined the first one from TDRUK on Tuesday night entitled Remembering Bebop Jazz Hoofer Will Gaines. Guys, it was AMAZING and full of so many hilarious stories, and I really must tell you all about it in another post, but in short: Will Gaines (1928-2014) was an American tap dancer who worked with all the big bands, jazz musicians and singers in the US (e.g. Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole) and he ended up settling in the UK after a gig brought him here in 1963. Will is credited with influencing a whole new generation of tap dancers in the UK, including the creation of the fantastic London Tap Jam.
This final series of Tap & Tea history talks kicked off a few weeks ago with special guest Heather Cornell. Heather is the artistic director of Manhattan Tap and was the only dancer to be mentored and trained by legendary jazz musician Ray Brown. She is known for having been a major player in the tap dance renaissance and her famous ‘Tap Labs’ are celebrating 30 years this August.
Heather started dancing as a child in Canada with classes in ballet, jazz and tap, with the tap being taught as per the syllabus system, which she, and many others (particularly in the UK) describe as having lots of limitations, to the point where Heather was actually ‘aged out of it’ by the AGE OF 14… She described Canada at that point as having “no understanding of the history of tap”, and she stopped tap dancing because the only avenue was to go into musical theatre, which she didn’t want to do. She went to study Dance Therapy at NYU and did modern dance, but she was at a loss with the vocabulary. She then discovered the more rhythmic Cunningham technique of contemporary dance and decided to move to New York permanently. She ended up getting back into tap, and someone recommended she go study with Cookie Cook – Heather described the first time she heard the sound of his taps and burst into tears! It was a world away from the Canadian tap syllabus.
During her talk, Heather described Charles “Cookie” Cook as a consummate performer. He did comedy, Russian dancing, knockabout, you name it! He had an amazing sense of theatre, timing and how to put together a show and the education she received from him helped her to create her own company, Manhattan Tap. It was that old school style of learning – she hung out with him, he talked and she soaked it all up. Speaking of the old school hoofers, as many have said, none of them taught in the modern way of ‘this is how you do a shuffle’…they just danced and played, and you just had to pick it up: “It was a culture, not a subject”.
Continuing on this theme, Heather moved on to talk about the concept of mentorship: “I collect people”. She said it’s a serious thing – find a mentor, but be prepared to commit. As mentioned by other guests on previous weeks, Heather didn’t hide her disdain at the “distorted euro-centric way of learning” where ‘I pay you, you give me…’ because it will “never grow the art form”. She also made us aware that apparently many of the older generation of tap dancers bristle at the current use of the phrase ‘tap fam’ (as in tap family) because the relationships in those former days were deep and personal, like a parent passing something onto their child. I’ve seen the phrase ‘tap fam’ used a lot on social media as a way to make everyone feel connected across the globe as one big tap family (especially during Covid, right?) but I can see where Heather is coming from when she describes the current scene as more ego-driven and business-like, especially when everyone’s got a social media presence and fan base to maintain.
She was so not impressed with the cutting contests and competition scene, where you have teachers sitting in judgement over other tap dancers, or the newer tap festival scene where teachers are kept apart from attendees. Why? Because “mentors need to be accessible”! Cutting contests happen at all the festivals I’ve been to, and in my opinion, I think they create a bit of excitement and engagement, particularly for younger dancers…but personally, I won’t be taking part any time soon! I do agree with Heather that a tap jam is a better expression of what you can do, because participants can share, learn and ‘steal’ from each other, rather than be under the pressure to compete and then be told by a ‘judge’ that something they did was ‘wrong’ or not as good as their rival. What do you think?
Heather Cornell was fascinating to listen to. She is one tough cookie with understandably strong opinions on the direction the tap scene is going in. But that’s a good thing, because you need people to defend the art and make sure it goes in the right direction and continues to be accessible to all.
Some quotes from Heather
Wake up and start taking responsibility for yourself
If we don’t pass on the history [of tap], nobody else will
We need to reconnect tap dance to the music
You have to make mistakes or you won’t get better
Don’t be afraid to colour outside the lines
Guys, I’m so behind with my promised write ups of the Tap & Tea history talks, but I think I’m getting back on track, and so today I’m going to sit down to tell you all about Thursday’s tap history talk with special guest Ayodele Casel.
You may even want to have a cup of tea to hand!
Described by the late Gregory Hines as one of the “top young tap dancers in the world”, Ayodele Casel is a New York based tap dancer and actress. She is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades for her art, including the 2017 Hoofers Award, and she was named one of the ‘Biggest Breakout Stars of 2019’ by the New York Times. She was artist in residence at Harvard between 2018-2019 and became a Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard 2019-2020. She has performed with Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, American Tap Dance Orchestra and Jazz Tap Ensemble. She is co-director of Operation Tap, and as you can see from the image above, she is on the August cover of Dance Magazine. Her mission is to “make tap dancing a relevant presence in the arts”. .
I was really inspired to hear that Ayodele was a relative late starter to tap dance at the age of 18. (Not as late as me in my 30s, but it’s nice to hear from someone who didn’t start at 3 years old for a change!) She was actually an Acting major at university (NYU), but was drawn into tap dance classes as part of her Movement for Actors class. Prior to this, at high school a teacher had shown the class a Fred and Ginger musical as part of a ‘History of the Movies’ series and this first peaked Ayodele’s interest in tap. A year into her university tap classes, she met Baakari Wilder (“a real tap dancer!”), who invited her to classes at the legendary Fazil’s dance studio where she realised she didn’t know anything about tap. Baakari taught her the history of tap and introduced her to the idea of tap as self-expression.
A point that has come up time and again in these ‘Tap & Tea’ sessions is how the tap dancers of the hoofing culture taught – not as a transactional relationship (I pay you, you teach me), but with generosity and sharing life and experience, like a family. Ayodele agreed that there is value in the teacher-student studio structure, but it is worth remembering that not everybody is there to become an artist and often the teacher doesn’t have time to mentor the individuals that are. For her the studio structure stirred something in her, where she wanted to learn more. She mentioned another point that has come up many times – young dancers who take every class going, but are making very little progress – because they’re not using their initiative to do their own learning outside of class. How much class is too much?
After training with Baakari, Ayodele went onto train with Barbara Duffy (who we heard from a few weeks ago) at Broadway Dance Center. She joined the ‘Funk University’, a training ground for young dancers to be channelled into Savion Glover’s Broadway hit Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk. It had a predominately male cast, but workshop director Ted Louis-Levy allowed her into the training workshops, changing the game in what was still a pretty male art form and giving Ayodele a huge opportunity to develop her art. She described it as being akin to being allowed into the Hoofers’ Club of the 1930s & 40s, where no women were allowed!
This led onto discussion of her current Harvard research on the forgotten women of tap (something I’m immensely interested in too, and will be doing some research on myself once Tap & Tea has finished). Being the only woman in Savion’s show Not Your Only Tap Dancer, people greeted her after the show with comments like “I didn’t know women could tap dance” or “You dance like a man!” This made her want to delve deeper, and so she researched women like Jeni Le Gon and Lois Bright of The Miller Bros & Lois. These women were so talented and were doing amazing stuff, just like their male counterparts, but they were then largely forgotten until now. You can check out Ayodele’s digital series Diary of a Tap Dancer on NY City Center’s Youtube channel, which gives a voice to these forgotten ladies.
It was another fantastic Tap & Tea session, and I found Ayodele so inspiring! I completely agree that you as the student have to take the initiative in your learning if you want to progress. Practice! Read! Watch!
You have to take the initiative. Give yourself the permission to go ahead and be great.
Exercise your bravery, don’t exercise your fear.
How do we use technique to create meaningful expression?
The marriage of information and the next level [of tap] is dependent on the student
Last week saw my final rhythm tap class before breaking for the summer holidays…but not before I attended two great summer workshops:
The Shim Sham
On Wednesday evening our rhythm tap teacher ran her one hour ‘Tap Shim Sham‘ summer workshop online. I was really looking forward to this because I didn’t get to take part last year due to other commitments (a friend’s BBQ!) and I’ve never quite picked up the razzmatazz ending of this famous tap dance standard. I was able to run an extra long cable from the broadband router in the house, down to my laptop in the garage so that I wouldn’t have to rely on intermittent Wi-Fi. Problem solved and no interruptions – apart from my cat poking her arm through the window and meowing at me through most of it! Even though I know the steps of the Shim Sham and have taken part in a few of these dances at various festivals (and even recorded myself for a lockdown video collab in May), it was just so helpful to go through it slowly, sort out my Tack Annies and just clean up the steps a bit, before speeding up. Fun!
Improvisation & Choreography
At 7pm on Thursday our teacher ran her two hour ‘Tap Improvisation & Choreography’ workshop on Microsoft Teams. As I’ve mentioned previously, public improvisation can be quite nerve-wracking, but with it being online this year, I emailed our teacher a few weeks earlier to ask how it would work this time. She said the session would focus more on using improvisation to create choreography, as opposed to just working on improv for improv’s sake. (When we have this workshop in person we usually work in a big circle doing call-and-response, exercises where we copy and then add our own ending, and nearer the end of the session we improvise in the middle of the circle, one at a time, before tagging someone else to take over – eek!)
For our online workshop there were only 5 of us, and we began by sitting on the floor to do some call-and-response clapping, including one exercise where if a certain rhythm was given, you were not supposed to clap (a bit like Simon Says)! We then moved onto doing the same exercises, but using our feet. We then moved onto using only 2 or 3 types of tap step to dance to a piece of music (e.g. only shuffles, flaps and stomps). We were then asked to choose a nursery rhyme, and come up with some choreography using those rhythms, being sure to sing while you did it. I chose Humpty Dumpty:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Then we had to demonstrate it to the rest of the class who had to guess which nursery rhyme it was – which they did quite quickly! I found it a really useful exercise with which to come up with some basic choreography, to which you can add more challenge by throwing in, say, a change of direction, or by crossing your feet. It’s definitely worth trying out at home – go on, do it!
Finally our teacher got us to pick a song and have a go at improvising in our very own Microsoft Teams breakout room, where she was able to ‘pop in’ and give each of us some feedback. After swiping frantically through my phone and pausing over Prince and Incognito a few times, I chose Duffy’s Rain on Your Parade, which worked very well for not being complicated. We had the task of focusing on different aspects of the song, such as the downbeat, the upbeat or the melody. I started off fixated on paddles and eventually got more creative, but then we ran out of time, so we didn’t get to demonstrate what we’d come up with – not that I minded on that occasion! Our teacher has asked us to send her a video of us jamming to our chosen song if we wish to…I’m thinking about it!
I have to say I was pretty done after two workshops, plus my usual rhythm tap class and Tap & Tea session all in the space of 2 days, but I got so much out of each of them, especially the improvisation & choreography class, and it really did take the stigma and fear out of having a go.