1. I completed a 5km run for charity (in stages) to a 90’s music playlist! The longest distance I ran in one go was 1km, which I was really pleased with. My SO is a proper runner, so he did a great job coaching this reluctant jogger. Now I’m waiting for my ‘I Love the 90s’ medal and t-shirt, and even though I said I was done with running…I’m wondering whether to sign up for the ‘I Love the 80s’ run…
2. I quit Twitter. Well, my personal account anyway. I’ve kept my side biz account for now. I mainly used my personal Twitter for keeping up with London travel, news stuff, dance, cute animals and reading funny comments about TV shows. BUT, I’m just DONE with all the negativity and bigotry and politics that is oozing from it at the moment. It’s not even that I follow these accounts, but you know, you get drawn into reading the comments underneath. I really do have better things to do with my life!
3. Tap class was cancelled on Thursday because our teacher (and most of London’s Virgin Media customers) had broadband problems. To be honest, I didn’t actually mind because I was quite hot and bothered in the humidity. I had practised quite a bit on previous days, and I had another Tap & Tea history talk in the afternoon, with repeat-guest Andrew Black, who this time took us through the history of tap dance in New York City, so it certainly wasn’t a tap-free week by any means 🙂
4. I set up a Writing Handbook. I think I mentioned on here last year that I wanted to return to my original teenage goal of becoming a professional writer (but often life and lack of confidence gets in the way and you end up just getting ‘a job’). Over the lockdown period I’ve been doing an online writing course, and last week I set up my Writing Handbook to gather all the helpful writing tips I’ve discovered into one place. Progress may be slow right now, but it’s still progress!
I’m still trying my best not to put myself under pressure to achieve loads during this period of being on furlough and stuck at home, because let’s face it, it’s difficult to stay motivated at the moment, despite having lots of free time! I am still writing myself a to-do list every week, but it’s much shorter than usual, and if I don’t complete a task, so what? The list is there for structure and motivation, rather than to create pressure to DO DO DO. Plus I love lists!
Work has said, sensibly, that everyone should be using their annual leave (pro-rata) just so we’re not all trying to take it at the same time later in the year. I’ve booked a week of annual leave (yes, leave from furlough) just so I have some days where I won’t be wondering if work is going to call me, or if I’m going to be called back to work at short notice. I was in touch with a friend (and former colleague) over the weekend who was made redundant from her job recently, and she said that at the moment she’s not putting herself under pressure to get another job straight away, but she’s using the time to enjoy the break and top up her tan after a sustained period of work stress. Now that’s the spirit!
On this week’s ‘Tap & Tea’ session we heard from the amazing LA hoofer, Sarah Reich! Sarah is one of the new leaders of the tap dance movement.
She has taught in over 40 countries – I was lucky enough to take a class with her at Tap Dance Festival UK 2019 in Manchester – and her main goal is to re-programme the public perception of tap dance. She toured internationally as the featured tap dancer with Postmodern Jukebox for 2 years, and has appeared in various music videos and TV specials. She created the Tap Music Project to teach people how to dance with more musicality and has released a collaborative jazz album called New Change, which I was excited to get a copy of last year. Sarah is also the artistic director of LA-based youth tap company Tap Con Sabor (Tap with Flavour), which aims to expose tap to the Latino community.
Sarah Reich began learning to tap dance at age 5 at the California Dance Center in Culver City, after her progressive parents thought it would be beneficial to enrol Sarah and her sister in a mainly black dance school to expose them to people different from themselves. At age 12 the sisters also began salsa dancing. Sarah moved on from California Dance Center to study with Alfred Desio, then Syd Glover, and the list goes on.
Sarah has a long list of mentors, but she spoke particularly of Paul Kennedy, who she called ‘one of the greatest tap dance teachers ever’, Jason Samuels Smith, Chloe Arnold and the late Dr Harold ‘Stumpy’ Cromer, who she described as her ‘best friend’. Paul Kennedy learnt from his mother Miriam Kennedy, and as well as teaching Sarah, he also taught Derick K. Grant, Dormeshia Sunbry-Edwards and the Nicholas Sisters (granddaughters of Fayard Nicholas). In these classes, it was all about performing and they tapped to all the old jazz, including Duke Ellington and Count Basie.
Learning with Jason Samuels-Smith, Sarah said this is when she fell in love with tap dance and her “passion and love for the art form came from Jason”. Chloe Arnold gave Sarah her business savvy by demonstrating how to create your own opportunities (Jason & Chloe started the LA Tap Fest in their early twenties), so at age 16, Sarah was already producing her own events. Sarah described Harold Cromer as “real old school”, a class act, and a “song and dance man”. She gave us two nuggets he instilled in her:
Learn to do by doing
Be classy…don’t look like a bum
Sarah discussed her love for other dance styles, especially swing dance and salsa, and as many of our guests have said over the last few weeks, she insisted that other styles of dance will always help your tap dance, and that it’s good to know the history of swing dance as it has links with tap dance and its jazz origins.
We heard all about the fun she had touring the US, Europe, Asia, Australia and South America with Postmodern Jukebox – a gig she initially turned down – and how this helped to establish her huge fan base, which enabled her to produce her New Change album at the right time.
Her conclusion on the state of tap dance today was that it’s getting better and more exciting, and that musicality and technique has got stronger. But, she feels that tap dance could do with more big time exposure, although she thinks it’s starting to happen…slowly.
Tap dancing allows you to be yourself
Respect the dance
Sarah Reich is so energetic and upbeat, and I can tell you, I really needed that positivity this week!
Check out this interview with Sarah in Dance Magazine: What Sarah Reich Wishes You Knew About Tap Dancers
On Thursday we were joined on ‘Tap & Tea’ by the amazing tap master and legend Brenda Bufalino! Brenda founded the American Tap Dance Orchestra (now the American Tap Dance Foundation), and was a trailblazer in the revival of tap dance, after it fell out of favour from the mid 1950s to the early 1970s. As well as being a solo performer, she partnered with legendary hoofer Honi Coles, who was also her mentor; she performed many times with the Nicholas Brothers and Gregory Hines and has received numerous awards, including the Tapestry Award, the Flobert Award, and the Tap City Hall of Fame Award, among others. Brenda is the author of several articles and books, including Tapping the Source, which comes highly recommended, and she currently teaches classes at ATDF in New York City. Did I mention she’s 83?
Brenda’s mother was a classical singer and her aunt a concert pianist, and they performed as the Strickland Sisters. Brenda joined the Strickland Sisters as a dancer at the age of around 8 or 9. Between the ages if 6-11 she studied at Professor O’Brien’s Normal School of Dancing before moving on to Alice Duffy’s School of Dance in Salem, Massachusetts. She was influenced by the jazz music her family enjoyed at home, including Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway. She started dancing in the night clubs in Boston at the age of 14 and began to study West African and jazz dance under revered dance instructor Stanley Brown. She moved to New York City and worked with Honi Coles for around 6 months. Tap dance had died a death in the 1950s and lots of the venues had closed, but Brenda met Honi again 15 years later and brought him and the Copasetics group to her studio to create the documentary ‘Great Feats of Feet’, and eventually tap dance started to make a come back.
Eventually, Brenda began creating tap shows for the concert stage, which included the musicians being on the stage with the dancers, rather than in the pit as was the traditional way. This set the precedent for how tap is presented on stage today. Honi wasn’t convinced that people would sit still long enough to watch a whole night of tap dance, and he was heartbroken that tap dance had ‘died’, but thankfully he was proved wrong! Apparently the Nicholas Brothers were late coming back to the tap dance scene, but they did, and Brenda did lots of shows with them, particularly Fayard Nicholas, and she later danced at Harold’s funeral.
She shared loads of stories and anecdotes with us, and talked about touring the world with Honi, and the fact that tap in the UK, Australia and South Africa seemed very stiff, upright, formal and up on the toes, and jazz tap took a while to take hold, which everyone acknowledges was because of the prescriptive ‘syllabus’ tap that was and continues to be taught (although I’m told improvements have been made). I’ve never done syllabus tap – and the more I hear about it, the more I’m glad I went straight into the freedom and technique of rhythm tap classes. ‘Hoofer’ tap is down in the heels, and apparently people were furious with Brenda for ditching high heels and dancing in flatter tap shoes. Who knew? Some audiences were unimpressed at seeing a white woman on stage with a black man. SO STUPID, but unfortunately that was life in those days.
Brenda had a lot to say about Broadway. Choreographers on Broadway were generally not tap dancers and the choreographers who were tap dancers rarely received credit for their work. It was a case of having to fight for credit and the extra pay that came with that. Interestingly, she said she auditioned for 42nd Street and the choreographer didn’t know what to do with her – big giveaway, right? She did stress that in the old movie musicals, the choreographers were tap dancers – and you can tell this when you watch the tap sequences.
What a fantastic, inspirational lady! I think she was my favourite Tap & Tea guest so far, and they’ve all been pretty amazing.
I could have listened to Brenda Bufalino all day!
Those tap years were sexy!
Never work mechanically while doing technique or rudiments
Sense your whole body
Engage your whole self in getting that tone
Do not use music as a metronome; engage in it wholeheartedly
[Improvisation] is not a competition
When I put my tap shoes on, I fall in love
Bril Barrett is a tap dancer based in Chicago, founder of M.A.D.D Rhythms (Making a Difference Dancing Rhythms), director of the Chicago Tap Summit, a provider of tap outreach in Chicago’s public schools and even has his own TED Talk. He describes his mission as being “to preserve and promote tap dance as a percussive art form…”.
He kicked off by discussing the fact that tap dance is a musical art form, and this is how it began, before it was grabbed by Hollywood to become something where you copy a routine perfectly; the creativity being removed. The original ‘hoofers’ were all about the music and didn’t even have names for the steps – it was just ‘bah dee bah dah’. You weren’t taught, you just learnt. Somebody would be doing some steps – you either picked them up or you didn’t! (Reminds me of an oversubscribed class I did at the MOVE IT Dance exhibition in London LOL). Improvisation was how tap was created, and that was how Bril created M.A.D.D Rhythms.
Bril is a massive champion of improvisation, and he includes it in his classes right from the beginning, so particularly with children, there is no fear, and his goal is to help them keep this fearlessness throughout their tap education. (Obviously it’s much more difficult to be fearless in improvisation as an adult beginner, speaking from experience!)
He started learning tap in free classes at his local community centre in his Chicago neighbourhood, before following his teacher to another studio on the North side of the city, where family members had to pool together to pay for $5 lessons for Bril and his cousins. At this studio, all the boys had to take tap and gymnastics, echoing the skills of the studio founders, Sammy Dyer and The Dyerettes. At the age of 11 Bril saw a guy called Mr Taps in the subway, a tap dancing busker, and asked if he & later his cousins, could tap with him after school every day. Mr Taps improvised his dancing, and this is where Bril got his improv education. Amazing! It was through him that he was introduced to the Nicholas Brothers and the Four Step Brothers, which was life changing. Through a family member, he and his cousin were introduced to a talent agent and they performed as a double act.
Bril was a tap dancer in the world-famous Riverdance, and told us a bit about being on tour with the company (including backstage jam sessions), and how the show touched on the trading of steps and sharing of dance styles that happened between Irish immigrants and free Africans in New York. (There was a similar story line in the Irish dance show I saw last summer called Heartbeat of Home). As mentioned in other posts he was also in Derick Grant and Aaron Tolson’s show Imagine Tap. Bringing together people from different tap backgrounds (such as Ray Hesselink) this was when he wanted to stop being classified as a type of tap dancer. As Ray said in his talk, Bril agreed that Derick bridged the gap between the types of tap. Just because someone dances in a theatre tap style, it doesn’t mean they can’t do other things! He actually said he likes the term ‘tap dancer’ and doesn’t like the term ‘rhythm tap’. I definitely appreciate what he’s saying. The classes I attend are called ‘rhythm tap’ (and we do a more heel-drop style of tap), but I think that helps people looking for classes to know what to expect, just like you know with ‘musical theatre tap’ classes (I chose from a list of ‘American Tap’, ‘Rhythm Tap’, ‘Theatre Tap’, ‘Jazz Tap’ and er ‘Tap’ classes in London and picked ‘Rhythm Tap’ because it sounded interesting…and was close to work). But yes, call yourself a tap dancer, rather than a rhythm tap dancer because all tap should have rhythm! Right?
We also chatted about tap jams (London has an amazing one in Hoxton, currently on Facebook Live every other Sunday night) and Bril runs some free tap jams as a way of building community and also removing the barrier for those who are without, so that they too can learn, grow and perform. I don’t know if I’d be able to get up on stage just yet 🙂 But it’s fine to go along and watch, and see where the evening takes you!
This was another amazing talk, and of course we overran because there was so much to say! Maybe they’ll invite him back again. I just loved hearing about how he’s removing barriers and making sure tap is accessible to all, no matter your background.
Bril’s Jazz Playlist:
- Oscar Peterson
- John Coltrane
- Nina Simone
- Miles Davis
- Thelonious Monk
Once you make tap your own, you’ll do it; you won’t need to be told to practice
Improvisation is how tap was created
If you’re a good tap dancer, style is a choice
Tap jams make us better
Hey everyone! Hope you’re doing okay; the world is pretty stressful at the moment…
(With regard to George Floyd, I was shocked but sadly not surprised that he was treated this way because it seems to be an ongoing trend in the US. I love to write this blog to share Tap Dance and its (mainly) African American history which is at times uncomfortable to the modern reader who hasn’t experienced racial segregation or apartheid, or perhaps doesn’t have the slave trade in their family tree, but it’s no good pretending it didn’t happen or that it doesn’t affect life and societal structures today. I am ALL ABOUT THE UNITY OF PEOPLE and treating others as you want to be treated, and I love how the Tap Community in all its diversity has come together in this). Enough said.
This week: Not only did I temporarily return to working from home on Monday after a month on furlough to a tonne of emails and work that needed to be done yesterday, but the Tap & Tea History talks resumed on Zoom last week! I didn’t get a chance to write about last week’s talk, so here it is! I’ll share this week’s talk from Bril Barrett straight after this one.
Ray is a tap dancer, director, choreographer and comedian based in New York City, who teaches at Julliard, Steps on Broadway and previously taught at Broadway Dance Centre. He’s also done some instructional tap videos! His background was really interesting to me because he started as a pianist, and then got into tap dance at UCLA when he auditioned in the theatre programme, but couldn’t do the tap required, so he started taking lessons! Being based in LA, he was in the right place to meet up with and learn from lots of older tap dancers who had retired from the movies, including Miriam Nelson, who became his mentor and told him he needed to move to New York! (This theme has popped up in several Tap & Tea sessions – New York is the place to be). Ray talked about how he moved into teaching, his discovery of Eleanor Powell (who apparently only had 10 private tap lessons and choreographed all her own movie dances), how he choreographs and how to sustain an audience.
I was interested to hear that Ray studied classical Indian dance, after becoming obsessed with Jack Cole, who did the same, and how it informs his tap dancing. I was also interested to hear him say that he wished there was a bit more respect for tap dance, particularly from his students, which comes from knowing and respecting its history. It’s difficult when children are being made to do it by their parents!
As has been the case for a few of the guests we’ve had on Tap & Tea, Ray was invited by Derick K. Grant to be in his big-budget show Imagine Tap (2006). It was inspiring to hear that he saw who else was in the cast, like Maud Arnold, Jason Samuels Smith, Ayodele Casel, Michelle Dorrance, Bril Barrett, etc (people he described as ‘fierce’) and felt totally out of his depth and wondered why Derick had invited him, but then he realised he had something else to bring! Basically, the gap was bridged between ‘theatre tap’ and ‘rhythm tap’.
Finally, he discussed inspiring the next generation, and the fact that he’d like to see more interesting tap choreography on Broadway and more people in tap classes! Apparently lots of people ignore tap until they get an audition – I can vouch for this. When I was doing Beginners Tap, this actor came to the class and said he’d got a part in a show and needed to learn to tap in 6 weeks…and then said he wasn’t learning it quick enough. Crazy!
Another amazing Tap & Tea session!
Practice what you’re not great at
The only person who will push you, is YOU
The more you can do technically, the more rounded you’ll be…but do something because you like it!
You never stop learning
How are you managing with your dance classes at home? First of all, are you doing any classes? It’s really not a crime if you don’t feel like it. Things are pretty weird at the moment. There’s also so much out there online that you can end up feeling huge overwhelm and not doing anything. And that’s ok!
At the beginning of May I bought a double-sided roll-up Home Practice Tap Dance Mat from Dance & Stage. I’m now doing all my live classes in the living room, so my solution is a set of interlocking foam squares, topped with my interlocking dance floor, and then I put the roll up mat on top. It’s great! It’s not slippery, it dulls some of sound and it just feels great to dance on. When I’m doing recorded classes or just jamming, I use my portable wooden tap floor in the garage (which is also on top of foam tiles for shock absorption). It’s really important for your joints that you don’t tap on concrete or tiled floors as there’s none of the shock absorption you usually get from a dance studio sprung floor. Try foam tiles, a rug, or even a blanket or towel underneath a hard surface.
I have all these flooring options at home because I’ve been doing tap for 5 years and am obsessed and decided to invest in creating a home dance studio so I can practice regularly. You might not have any of these flooring options, or you might not be able to tap at home because you’re in a flat/apartment and would be bothering your neighbours…so instead you might want to:
- Go through the steps in your socks on carpet (a bit of soft shoe!)
- Do some practice outdoors in trainers on grass or on your cushioned board if you have one (as I said, cement and tarmac will kill your knees)
- Clap out the rhythms or hum them to cement them in your head (dah-dee-dah-dee-dah-dah!)
- Building on that last point, have a go at body percussion! (I will try to post a bit of the body percussion that I learnt on Saturday at some point)
- Do an online musicality class for tap dancers and get up to speed with your quarter notes, triplets and sixteenth notes – I attended a free one by Sarah Reich on Instagram at the weekend
- Watch loads of amazing tap online to be inspired (YouTube, Instagram, Facebook)
- Watch the old movie musicals such as Singing in the Rain (1952), An American in Paris (1951), Easter Parade (1948), Broadway Melody of 1940, Stormy Weather (1943)
- Watch Gregory Hines’ movies White Nights (1985), Tap (1989), The Cotton Club (1984), and Bojangles (2001)
- Read up on tap dance history
Make it happen!
Happy Tap Dance Day! Today we’re celebrating the birthday of the legendary Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson. Actually, across the tap dance community, we’ve been celebrating all weekend!
On Saturday I ‘attended’ the Tap Dance UK festival (proceeds going to the tap artists), and did an amazing Body Percussion workshop with Helen Duffy at 10am, watched the lunchtime panel discussion on ‘Creating work: Process, Development & Funding’ and got some great insight into how they put a show together, and then at 3pm I did Jamie Spall’s challenging tap workshop. We did have some sound issues with Jamie’s workshop, that were resolved part way through, but she’s recorded some additional footage for us to practice from.
Sunday was the day of the National Tapathon for the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, so I spent some time rehearsing the routine after church, before joining the action on Facebook Live at 3pm! My SO filmed me doing the routine indoors with the live streamed tapathon led by Harrison Vaughan of The Greatest Dancer, and then he filmed me again outside in the garden so that I’d have a decent video to share with the people that sponsored me. Participants were supposed to have a run-through of the routine with Harrison before the BIG event, but it never happened, so there ended up being a few subtle changes in the live performance that threw me off slightly. If I’d have spent more time on it, I would have done some improvisation in the pauses. However, I did throw in a double pull-back at the end, just for my sponsors!
Sunday was also the day of Tap Dance Festival UK’s online benefit for the National Health Service (NHS), so despite saying I wouldn’t be doing it, they twisted my arm and I bought a pass. I joined in with the welcome and warm up at 1pm and then the faculty panel Q&A hosted by TDFUK’s organiser Suze Clandon, and joined by Tony Waag (ATDF), Harriet Spence (Theatre Tap London), Vikas Arun (ATDF/Project Convergence) and Jess Murray (Tap Dance Research Network UK), plus special guest Sarah Reich. It was both Sarah & Suze’s birthday, so we sang Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday to them and wished them many happy returns! At the end of the panel discussion Sarah led us in a Shim Sham Shimmy, which was so much fun! But after that I was DONE. I totally over-did it this weekend…
Today I am enjoying the Bank Holiday by chilling out on the sofa with my feet up in front of the TV.
(I have a load of tap workshop content to catch up on from this Tap Dance weekend, plus an intermediate class I purchased from Old Kent Road Tap Company, but I’m parking physical exertion for a few days!)
I’m still on furlough from work, but they’re having me back for a couple of weeks from 8th June if it is approved by the business board. Since hearing this news I’ve felt much more upbeat about things. Being the only person furloughed from the team felt a little bit isolating, even though I catch up with them on Zoom socials every Monday morning, and I kind of felt like my job was dispensable. But then I had to focus on the fact I wasn’t just made redundant! (Although I’m aware this could still be a possibility).
I am making a particular point as of TODAY of ignoring the current rhetoric being spun at the moment by certain individuals in society that those on furlough are lazy, work-shy, are on a ‘jolly’, are getting something for nothing, are taking money from tax payers – actually I am a tax payer, and they forget that this was a decision taken by employers on the offer of help from the government to save businesses, and NOT by employees who fancied an extended paid BBQ holiday in the garden. It really didn’t help when the government said a couple of weeks into the scheme that they felt that people were becoming addicted to furlough. Really?! Most people I know want to get back to work and their usual routine and aren’t allowed! Anyway, rant over! Let’s stay positive 🙂
On Monday 25th May the tap community will be marking International Tap Dance Day, which is the birthday of the legendary Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, and there are LOADS of events taking place across social media this weekend that you can take part in from home! (Just look on Instagram for starters).
- I bought a £20 day pass to Tap Dance UK’s first ever festival this Saturday, where there’ll be classes, panel discussions and a gala to end the day – can’t wait! They’re running it to celebrate International Tap Dance Day, but also to support their dance artists financially. My teacher is one of them, but she’s not teaching my level on this occasion.
- On Sunday afternoon I am taking part in a sponsored national Tapathon for the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, celebrating their 30 year anniversary. Hundreds of people across the UK will be performing a tap dance routine to ‘Happy Feet’ choreographed by Harrison Vaughan, finalist of BBC1’s The Greatest Dancer, echoing the record breaking largest ever tap dance UK legend Roy Castle did with 500 people outside the BBC Television Centre in 1977. My training has just ramped up as the date fast approaches! I’m currently £10 off my £200 fundraising target, but a family member last night pledged an offline donation, so I should be there by Sunday!
- My tap teacher’s company have asked everyone to film themselves doing the Shim Sham to a slowed down version of ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing’ and submit it by this weekend so that they can put together a Shim Sham lockdown video mash-up! I was practising out in the garden this morning, but I have to say it’s kind of easy to mess up when doing it slower than I’m used to 🙂
- Sarah Reich will be on Instagram Live on Monday doing a session on ‘Musicality for Dancers’ and said ‘bring a notepad’. I worked out it will be at 8pm GMT. That will be a pretty useful session for any tap dancer.
- There’s also the Tap Family Virtual Reunion #quarantineshuffle happening on Instagram over the weekend, featuring Jason Samuels Smith, Derick K. Grant and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. Looks interesting!
- Tap Dance Festival UK are doing an all day festival on Sunday 24th, but I’m not going to do that one as I think it’s more expensive than the Tap Dance UK one (confusing, I know!), and I’m busy doing the Tapathon at 3pm.