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!

Rollin’

This afternoon I spent a bit of time rolling out my calves and Achilles tendons because they’ve been quite tight and achy, having not really stretched properly after Wednesday night’s rhythm tap class. Despite the heatwave, I have been really good and not worn any unsupportive flat shoes or sandals that are everywhere at the moment. Arch support at all times! Because my right foot and ankle tends to swell a bit in the heat (something I was so paranoid about when I was doing ballet), I’ve been travelling to and from work in lace-up tennis shoes to avoid that as much as possible.

Speaking to a classmate on Wednesday, I realised I did actually end up missing a week of our Candy Shop routine after all, but no disaster, I was able to catch up this week (song by Andrew Bird if you’re interested). I feel like this routine is pushing us a lot more, which is great. It seems like there is a lot going on, but at the same time, you can pick it up and the speed and sliding around makes it fun! The triumph of the evening was the fact that I was finally able to get the shuffle-step thing that most of us were struggling with last time – yay! Our teacher got us to do it again and again, and again (and again LOL).

Bumped into K, who I haven’t seen in about 6 months, in the corridor afterwards and she was asking me why I was walking away from the level 3 class! So I said about the timing etc. She’s been doing choir, which she loves, and is getting to perform regularly, but really misses tap and like me and R, wants to try level 3. As she works at the college, she said she’s going to get in our teacher’s ear about a level 3 class that is earlier in the day. We’ll see! I had intended to try level 3 that evening, but decided it would be better at the start of the new term…and not during a heatwave!

I did a crazy thing earlier that day and enrolled onto the ‘Summer Tap Intensive (Improvers/Intermediate)’ at City Lit, which takes place over 3 mornings at the end of July. OH MY DAYZ!!! I have been umming and ahhing over going to the London Tap Dance Intensive at the end of July where there are so many amazing people teaching (like Adam Garcia of Coyote Ugly fame) and I wouldn’t need to take any time off work, but then I saw this tap intensive, which is half the price, likely a smaller class size, and we’ll be learning about different tap styles, artists and history in a more relaxed atmosphere. I’m so excited!

In the mean time there is one week left of term before we head into the ‘Summer Shorts’, where I’ll be doing the Tap Shim Sham Workshop, and possibly the Improv class. August is when I tend to buy a PAYG gym pass and use the University gym opposite work a few lunchtimes a week just to keep up fitness levels.

I also have my eye on a vocal anatomy workshop at City Lit in July because I find I’m losing my voice quite easily lately, and I dread having to speak in public or read things out at the moment. I’d like to learn a bit about vocal projection, which will help in many spheres of life.

What are your plans for the summer? Dance intensives? Taking a break? Learning something new?

R&R

This week I am taking a break. Unintentionally, I ended up missing tap Wednesday night, emailing my teacher to ask if I can go to the Thursday lunchtime class instead…and ended up missing that too (although I got an out of office message from my teacher, so I’m guessing they had a cover teacher and didn’t work on the routine). Apart from working and commuting (and batch cooking) this week, I haven’t done too much else, and I am aiming to keep this weekend free of stuff, after several busy weekends. We’ll see how that goes!

What I probably will do is some tap practice down in the garage on Saturday. I also want to go for a coffee at our local independent coffee shop (We Love Coffee), and finish a Bill Bryson book I’ve been reading for months, as I’ve got some exciting new Tap history and Jazz Age books to move onto!

 

I’m Saying NO

I have been having an almost existential crisis lately about what I am doing with my life, my English Literature degree and am I reaching my potential(?). For a while, everything was about moving house and getting enough sleep to be able to drag myself to a job interview and finally get out of the job I’ve been in for 7 years. I felt I should be doing more, getting a better job title or climbing the career ladder or something. I even applied for a couple of jobs in London recently that I was kind of glad I didn’t get.

We are constantly fed a stream of stuff about how we should be better, do better, achieve, achieve, achieve. “Be your best self!” and all that. There are so many blogs out there about success and I’ve received some emails lately about how bloggers and creatives were able to turn over six figures in six months. There are career advice websites telling you not to stay somewhere too long, and not to get stuck somewhere in your thirties and I’ve found it all quite discouraging. It gets to the point where you are almost in a panic about being left behind. Well, I’m saying NO today.

I’m saying NO today.

Since settling into my new home and feeling more rested, I realise I am enjoying life again, and work is actually much more positive these days. I care about the organisation and what they do (as opposed to just working somewhere for money or status or whatever), and I get to do a 4 day week, while spending Fridays on developing my creative side gig, which I had to pretty much postpone last year. I also have time to get on with my HR certificate for my (day job) professional development, which I am currently halfway through (procrastinating a lot at the moment though!). Oh, and I have time to write a blog and pursue my tap dance goals of course!

If something comes up that’s suitable, I may go for it, but I’m not going to allow myself to chased out by the careerist success-mongers!

 

Cream Tropical Palm Leaves RSVP Postcard

Trying a Class for the First Time?

Maybe you’re thinking of trying a dance class for the first time but are feeling a bit nervous. Maybe you’ve never danced before and this is your year for trying something new? Well, I’ve been going to dance classes for several years now, but it’s still scary to turn up at something new where you don’t know anyone, or you’re unsure of your abilities. A friend told me recently that she and her SO want to learn Salsa dance. They went along, got to the door and then chickened out and went home again. I’ve done the same thing myself before, so I’ve put together some tips for getting yourself through the studio door:

Find a class specifically for adults

Mixed age classes are great if you’re feeling confident and already have dance experience, but a class for adults will be understanding of how adults learn and adapt, and you’re less likely to feel daunted. Adult learning colleges are excellent at this! They also tend to run in terms, so there are regular points in the year where there are lots of new people, like you, starting at the same time.

I tried a few classes in the past which were advertised as being for ‘adults’, but in reality the age was 16+ and the class was clearly aimed at the younger ones. I felt like a giant with extra-long limbs who couldn’t do what they were doing and exited asap.

Contact the teacher beforehand

It’s a good idea to contact the teacher or school to find out more about the class, including the level. They will answer any questions you may have, they might even recommend a different class, level or school, or give you a free trial. Linked to that:

Find out if there’s a dress code

Some classes have a dress code, but many adult classes are relaxed, as long as you’re wearing appropriate footwear. It’s best to find out what to wear so you don’t splash out on expensive leotards unnecessarily. I wear leggings and layered vests for tap, ballet and jazz. I did start ballet in leotard and ballet skirt, but my adult college class had a relaxed dress code; the only thing was to remove jewellery. (I remember once a guy came in dripping in heavy silver necklaces and rings. The teacher asked him to remove them. Said guy walked out!!)

Get there early

I don’t mean an hour early, but get there so you’re not rushing and stressed before going in. Give yourself time to use the facilities, find the studio or room, stretch, fill up your water bottle etc.

Smile and say hi

Whenever I go to a new class I make sure to acknowledge other people, smile and say hi. It goes a long way. People tend to reciprocate and you often find it a nicer atmosphere. It also helps to make other newbies feel welcome and contributes to forming relationships with your classmates. There will always be people who are stand-offish or cliquey, but on the whole it makes a friendlier class that you can look forward to.

Take a friend with you

Persuade a friend, colleague or family member to go with you as moral support!

Any other tips to add?

What have your experiences been when trying a dance class for the first time?

I’m going to an Interior Design one day course in London on Friday… I will be applying some of these tips! 😬

Hot Lunch

Last year I was in survival mode trying to get through to the finishing line of moving house and I gave into frothy coffees, chai lattes and comfort foods. Amazing what stress and lack of sleep does to you.

Now I’m trying to get back on track with healthier eating and making lunch rather than buying. (I’m good with bulk prepping evening meals, but not lunch so much – I get bored quickly!) My lunch of the month is homemade stir fried rice, having got the idea from a meal prep blog that I follow.

My rice dish is basically:

  • Basmati rice (cooked a few hours before)
  • Chicken or lean pork
  • Courgettes
  • Mushrooms
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Soy sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • Chilli flakes

When they’re all prepped for the week I’m not tempted to buy anything out. OH YEAH

Home Dance Studio

During my week off work I finally got to set up my home dance studio/gym in the garage! Now I have somewhere to practise tap dance 😀👍👍

It is a great space because the people who owned the house before had installed electricity for lights and heating, plus a proper door from the garden and a window, which brings natural light. There is also plenty of light from the transparent roof.

The studio is comprised of the following:

  • Interlocking foam floor tiles (wood effect)
  • 3 over-the-door mirrors (around £14 each from The Range)
  • Cube unit for storing dumbbells etc
  • Foldaway ballet barre
  • Tap board
  • Motivational posters
  • Plants

I had attached some red ‘Dance’ lettering to the wall above the mirrors, but it fell down and broke overnight, so I need to find a way fix it and try to attach it more securely.

The next task is to get rid of the rest of the furniture sitting at the other end of the garage!

I’m so pleased with it because I was getting kind of frustrated with having nowhere to practise other than in the corridors and toilets at work. Yay!

Has anyone done anything similar?