On Musicality

I’ve been vaccinated!

Great news – my SO and I both had our first Covid vaccinations last weekend! We had the Pfizer Biontech jab as they’re no longer offering under 40s the Astra Zeneca, due to the risk of blood clots. I was glad about that because I had a DVT when I was 20. I’m a little scared of needles, and felt quite worked up just before I had it done, but honestly, I didn’t even know the nurse had done it until I saw her drop the needle into the disposal bucket. I was given a green sticker to wear on my hand to indicate my nervousness, and the nurse was great and just chatted away to me about my plans for the weekend, so I was distracted 🙂 I’ve never, ever had a bad experience with needles, but for some reason I get super nervous and start freaking out. They asked me if I was likely to faint and needed a bit of time, but I said “nope, I’ll be fine, I just get a bit worked up” (i.e. just get it over with!). I posted about how I hate needles and how easy and painless it was on social media because I have a cousin who is flat out refusing to get the vaccination because she is a proper needlephobe.

Musicality

In other news…I recently attended a series of three online workshops on musicality for tap dancers. Hosted by my teacher’s tap company, we were joined by guests Jess Murray (The Tap Project/London Tap Jam/Tap Dance Research Network UK), Gustavo ‘Tato’ Sassone (The Luthier Dance School Barcelona), and Max Pollak (Rumba Tap). These guys are all amazing in their own right and I came away having learnt SO MUCH:

  • Jess got us to explore improvisation, looking at beats, units of time, accents and space, and we looked at which steps we can fit into different rhythms (such as cramp rolls into swung eighths), which will really help with future improvisation.
  • Drummer and percussionist Tato took us through the very basics of music theory, which was so helpful to me because I had forgotten a lot and my understanding was vague up until that point. We didn’t do any tap, but we spent the session clapping out the rhythms, which was helpful for concentrating on that, rather than what you’re doing with your feet.
  • Drummer and percussive dancer Max showed us the Afro-Cuban rhythms of the Clave. Stepping, clapping and singing, all at the same time – argh! But he broke it all down in such a way that you found yourself able to do it…if only for a while! These things take practise. My teacher had actually let me know about an opportunity to do online classes with him on a Friday evening, but I don’t want to take any more on right now!

I actually had clarinet lessons for a couple of years when I was at secondary school (and I hated them!), and although I could play okay and can still read music (although I needed a refresher), I was better at playing by ear than by music score. Revisiting music as a tap dance student has been interesting; our teacher will use musical terms like ‘sixteenth notes’ and ‘triplets’, and it literally means nothing to me, despite attempting to learn what they are. I’ve gradually realised over the years that I don’t really retain numbers and amounts in the way that I retain words.

I’ve attended 2 online musicality workshops with Sarah Reich over the last year and these recent sessions have gone over it all again, with things like bars and note values, and I write myself loads of notes, but I don’t seem to be able to retain the information in my head! Some students want to know how many steps we’re doing, or how many counts something is, where as I learn from retaining the ‘bah-dah-bee-bah-dah’, which isn’t a bad thing at all, because you want to move from counting into feeling the rhythm. After all, the masters did it by feel. But, I still want to be able to understand what I’m doing musically. Our teacher is very good at recognising that we all learn differently, because she’ll explain it both ways. My solution for now, has been to create index cards with the note values and explanations and stick them on the wall of my garage tap studio! 🙂

Anyone else struggle with music theory? Let me know in the comments 🙂

March Motivation

Hey, how are you doing? Sorry I haven’t posted in a while – I’ve found it hard to find the motivation to write, despite having lots to write about and trying to make THIS year my ‘Year of Writing’ (last year didn’t really work out…). So here’s a brief run-down of what I’ve been up to:

Tap Dance Standards Workshops

I recently attended a trio of tap dance standards workshops on Zoom, hosted by Sole Rebel. I literally jumped at the chance to learn some classic repertoire! I told you about the first one, Leon Collins #53 in my last post, and the next two were Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson’s King For A Day, which I absolutely LOVE, taught by Old Kent Road’s Avalon and Buster Brown’s Laura (some of which I’d learnt at Tap Dance Festival UK in 2019), taught by Old Kent Road’s Ryan. Thankfully recordings of the class and of the full routines were provided, so I can continue to work on these in my own time. I’ve just signed up to the next trio of workshops, which will be focusing on improvisation, musicality, rhythm and body percussion, which will be challenging and amazing!

Writing Challenge

In February I signed up to a ‘Couch to 5K’ writing challenge called Wake Up Your Writing, where I received a timed writing prompt by email every day for a whole month. Unfortunately I got to day 5 and gave up…*sigh*…BUT, I still have the emails, so I am going to pick up where I left off: “Pick a character you know and love and make them do the thing you always wished they would”. I’m going to have a think now about which character I want to write about 🙂

BOP Jazz Workout

My SO and I are still working from home, and while it can be too easy to flop on the sofa in the evening, one thing I have been motivated to do is the BOP Jazz dance workout every day after work. I think part of it is the feeling of stretching and lengthening those stiff muscles after a day at the desk, and the other part is the wonderful chilled jazz music that accompanies the workout. It’s a manageable bit of cross-training. I also like the fact it’s more of a body conditioning and stretch class than a bouncy cardio workout, which I really have to be in the mood for! (BOP are the London-based Body of People Jazz Theatre Company, and the founders, Dollie Henry and Paul Jenkins have written a fantastic book called The Essential Guide to Jazz Dance, which is on My Must Reads list).

Thanks for reading!

How are you staying motivated at the moment? 

Sedentary Superbody

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.

4 Points from Last Week

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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…

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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!

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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 🙂

Writing Handbook

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!

Today:

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!

A New Exercise Habit

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Rhythm tap restarted last Thursday afternoon after a two week break, and we’re learning a really fun routine to Sweet Georgia Brown by Brother Bones and His Shadows – it involves A LOT of jumping! Exciting news – next week we start rehearsals for a performance that we’ll be doing at the college’s Flamenco & Latin Cabaret at the end of this month! I’m really looking forward to revisiting the Latin-flavoured Peanut Vendor routine that we did last term. It will also be my TAP DANCE DEBUT! I’m waiting until nearer the time to invite people…LOL.

In other news, our teacher also announced yesterday to the daytime intermediate class that she is offering each of us a 15 minute private lesson in April/May to make up for the abandoned final class of last term where she was taken ill. I’m currently having a think about what I would like to learn or explore. Wings? A time step? Cross-phrasing? I’m not sure yet.

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Guys, this week I just went ahead and cancelled my £10-a-month gym membership at the university. Not because of COVID-19, but because I literally haven’t been for WEEKS. WEEKS! I’m trying to make a habit of exercising 3 times a week to stay fit and flexible, but I’m also trying to work on my writing, so to make life simpler I have swapped the lunchtime gym session for writing time. My SO and I have set up a pretty good weights gym in the garage at home, so I really don’t need to pay to use someone else’s (no matter how cheap it is at the moment!). Another thing – I only work in London Monday-Thursday, so sometimes it feels like a squeeze to fit the gym in, what with tap dancing, writing and trying to go for coffee catch-ups with colleagues etc 🙂

So as well as saving £10 a month, I’m also getting a lunch hour back and my exercise schedule now looks like this:

  • Thursday afternoon – Tap class (Cardio)
  • Friday afternoon – Ballet barre video & stretching (Cardio & Resistance)
  • Saturday or Sunday afternoon – Weights session to music in the garage (Cardio warm up & Resistance)
  • Daily – Stretching!!

Hopefully this will be more sustainable going forward :))

Happy weekend and stay well everybody x

 

 

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!

What I Did This Week

I only went and pulled my left shoulder while pumping iron in the gym this week! Unfortunately I was trying to even up both sides by letting my least dominant side initiate pushing (or pulling) the weights, and ended up straining the muscles and making my weaker side even worse! Anyone else done this?

Thankfully I was OK to play my ukulele at the class this week – just no playing overhead 🙂 We had a go at one of the songs we’re going to play for the end of term show in December, and also I Have a Dream by ABBA, including the finger-picking bits in the middle and end of the song – hilarious! There were only 6 out of the usual 11 of us, but it felt like those of us who were there bonded a bit more this week. (I also sat in a slightly different seat to usual, just to mix it up a bit). We played I Have A Dream again all the way through so that our teacher could record it for us to practice with at home.

There’s so many people coughing and spluttering at work and on public transport, and then I wasn’t feeling 100% the afternoon of the class, but rather than slinking off home, I made myself go along…and I had a blast!

*Shocker* – today I would have been back at Rhythm Tap Intermediates, but I emailed my teacher this morning and asked her to cancel me off this half-term. I really need to rest my troublesome left knee, and as I said in my last post, I took on ukulele lessons without dropping anything from my list of commitments. Sad face, but needs (knees) must!

Even though I won’t be dancing this term, I’m going to see the game-changing NYC tap dancer Michelle Dorrance’s company Dorrance Dance perform at Sadlers Wells next Thursday evening. SO EXCITED! I’ll will give you the full breakdown next weekend!

I have to say, since the clocks went back I’ve been dosing up on vitamin D (Vitabiotics ULTRA D), along with C plus Zinc and scoffing all kinds of fruit. I actually found the time transition a lot easier this year – how about you? I’m also wearing earplugs at night to make sure I sleep through any potentially interruptive sounds (like heavy rainfall, revving motorbikes, screeching foxes and so on). Hoping this all helps keep the germs at bay. Actually, the best thing is to just AVOID LONDON!

Why I Quit the Gym

This afternoon I got back from another session at my new gym. Yeah, I got back and then cancelled my membership. Why?

  • As usual I couldn’t get on any of the machines I wanted to use
  • Several machines were ‘out of order’ yet again
  • The machines are extremely complicated, so I’m not sure I’ll use many anyway
  • There’s hardly anywhere to stretch and stretching IS IMPORTANT
  • I’m not sure I’m really going to use the pool
  • I have to navigate at least 3 time-consuming road crossings get there – I haven’t got all day! LOL
  • My old gym was calling me back…

Out of frustration, I cut my workout short and went to my old gym at the University in its new temporary location (until around 2021), which is even closer to work, and I asked them for a quick tour. I went in, and I have to say, it is maybe a quarter smaller than it used to be, and there’s no view of the street outside (boohoo!), but all the familiar machines are there, and it seemed fairly quiet. Membership is £10 a month while it’s in this temporary state, so I’ve decided to do that instead. (£10 per month vs £6 per session PAYG – no brainer!)

Argh, what was I thinking? I think I was sucked in by the shiny new build council gym, but it just doesn’t come up to scratch. I got a massive discount because of when I signed up at the end of August but I’d never pay full price. EVER. As soon as I got back to work I cancelled my Direct Debit before the first payment deadline. They’ve had my joining fee – that’s more than enough!

Floors

In other news, we finally got our floors sorted at home! It’s a Victorian terraced house, and the existing carpets on the ground floor were in a right state. Especially as you come in off the street straight into a tiny porch and then the living room. That, coupled with the floor being concrete (and typical insensitive modernisations of Victorian cottages such as the removal of chimney breasts – these properties were built to breathe) created some moisture problems that came through the carpet. When we bought the place at the end of 2017, we also inherited a moth problem because the house hadn’t been lived in for a while. So, we had the carpets replaced on the landing (stair runner being done this Thursday) and we replaced the living/dining room carpet with Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) in ‘Colonial Oak’. It took a lot of work to get all the furniture out and we pulled up and disposed of the carpet ourselves before the floor guys came on the Monday to lay the carpet upstairs and prep the ground floor for laying the LVT the next day.

I absolutely LOVE IT. All thanks to my dear Nan who passed away just before we bought the house x

5 Things in 5 Pictures

Autumn has definitely arrived

Despite the torrential rain (a hangover of Hurricane Lorenzo), this is still my favourite time of year. Well, apart from the clock change. Coats, scarves, boots, red and orange leaves, bonfires, firework displays, squashes and soups!

I joined a new gym! 

On Wednesday lunchtime I went to the council gym near work. Coming from the familiarity of the neat University gym, I had to have a look around the machines before getting started. They seem a bit more fiddly to load weight to, and some of them were broken. The air con wasn’t working properly. The steam room was CLOSED. But it is a busy gym of heavy usage, so not entirely surprising. I’ll be back on Tuesday, and I might even try the swimming pool. If it doesn’t work out, I may quit and return to the Uni gym in its temporary location.

On Wednesday night I had my second Ukulele class

I realised after the first class that I needed to cut my nails so I could press the strings properly! We had a substitute teacher as our tutor was unable to make it this week. The stand-in was very good and even got us onto strumming. We went over chords C, F, A minor, G7 and we even added C7. Lots of information, but I can see how learning a musical instrument (musicality, rhythm, strumming patterns, reading music, timing etc) feeds into tap dancing. Love it.

Watching Ballet on stage is like being in a dream

At the weekend, my SO and I went to Sheffield to visit his sister. On the Saturday evening, she took us to see Northern Ballet, currently celebrating 50 years, perform Cinderella at The Lyceum. The dancing was high quality, and because the story is so familiar (I loved my Ladybird books LOL), it was intriguing to see how they would stage the story. For example, in this production, the Fairy Godmother is a magician, first introduced at a Moscow winter market among other interesting circus performers.  I particularly enjoyed the crystal lake ice skating scene and the Prince’s winter ball. Enchanting, wintery and wonderful!

 

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I couldn’t quit tap if I tried

Last week I thought I’d made my mind up to take a break from rhythm tap classes once this 6 week block is up next week, and come back to it after Christmas, once my Ukulele classes have finished. I thought maybe I’d go swimming on a Thursday lunchtime instead – something that doesn’t require too much brainpower! But then I went to my class and LOVED EVERY MINUTE. I feel like I’m back ‘in the zone’, as Britney would say and I’m learning loads of new intermediate level things and have lots of fun things to work on…

Workshop Week

I felt a bit disappointed in myself on Tuesday. For the second year in a row, I enrolled on a 3-day tap dance intensive (2 hours per day) and once again I ended up bailing out after 1 day.

This time I intended to attend days 1-2 and then rest on day 3, but this wasn’t to be. My problem left knee started giving me grief afterwards, and then my right achilles tendon and plantar fascia (arch of foot) followed suit, so I ended up hobbling around at home for the remainder of the course…

…Apart from yesterday when I hobbled into West London to run an important errand and then attend a 3 hour ukulele workshop in Southwark the afternoon! I’ll tell you all about it, but first the tap intensive.

The intermediate tap dance workshop was a lot of fun! The teacher, I’d forgotten, is a little scatty in his teaching style, but I picked up so much in those 2 hours. My usual teacher is fab, but I also enjoy learning with a different teacher every now and then as they will have their own style, choreography and way of teaching. Quite often, you have to absorb a lot very quickly.

We covered shuffles, slurps, the Shim Sham, rhythm turns, riffs, paddles, and a particular favourite for me was when we travelled backwards across the studio doing fast side shuffles:

R-L-R-R, L-R-L-L, R-L-R-L-R-L-R-R, L-R-L-R-L-R-L-L

I’ve never done this travelling backwards before, but I like it! Luckily we got to film the routine we’d put together so far, so I can have a go at this again in my garage once my knee and foot have had adequate rest.

I really enjoyed having the time to go over things in detail when you don’t have to squeeze everything into 45 minutes. I think my next task will be to make an appointment with a podiatrist because I’m pretty sure my knee and foot issue is to do with pronation when I walk and dance, and also having lower arches.

Now onto the ukulele…

I was thinking for a while that I’d like to be able to play a musical instrument at church as we’re short on musicians, and because I like singing, I was thinking about a non-wind instrument. So, rather than the guitar, I decided to go for the Ukulele! It’s apparently one of the easiest instruments to learn, it’s compact and portable, and it’s cute!

It’s compact…portable, and it’s cute!

To see if it was definitely for me, I enrolled the day before on the Wednesday afternoon 3-hour workshop near my work, and then I’d know whether I wanted to enrol on the regular class in the autumn. Well it was so much fun! Taught by an enthusiastic jazz singing, uke playing cabaret artist (who incidentally has a swing group that includes a tap dancer), the 9-strong all-female group introduced ourselves to each other, learnt how to tune our instruments and then learnt to play 4 chords (C, Am, F, G7), plus a couple of strum patterns. For each song that we did, we sang along and it was lovely!

It’s true what they say, learning an instrument really feeds into your understanding of tap dance rhythm, musicality and multitasking.

I think I’m hooked!