Keep Going

Thursday 12th September would have been my first week back at Rhythm Tap, this time in the intermediate class, but I had to go home from work the day before as I was unwell, and I didn’t return until this past Tuesday. I had also been intending to get back in the gym after having most of the summer off, but besides being unwell, the university gym that I use is now closed because…they are demolishing the building to build a shiny new one!

To be fair, the gym will be temporarily rehoused in another part of the campus from some time in October, and full memberships will be heavily discounted to only £10, but I wonder if there will be a reduction in the number of machines. Until I get to try it out, I plan to concentrate on doing some stretching.

But yeah, I was really annoyed that after a lovely two week break to recharge for the autumn, I had to then be run down by illness. I had my weekly timetable all mapped out: Gym on Tuesday lunchtime. Ukulele class Wednesday evening (starting this week). Tap class Thursday lunchtime. Just shows how our plans are not always under our control!

I managed to get along to my tap class on Thursday, and it was EXTREMELY CHALLENGING! I knew it would be, from the last time I had a go at that class in the evening, but not being 100% better, I felt ever so slightly vacant. The warm up was all call-and-response, which is one of my favourite things, but being a bit out of it, I felt slightly like a rabbit in headlights…especially with only 5 of us in the class – nowhere to hide! In the exercises and routine I felt like I couldn’t keep up with instructions and the speed of the steps.

Then I had that creeping feeling again. You know the one. It’s too difficult, I can’t do it, I don’t want to do this anymore, etc, BUT I’ve been through this before at previous levels – it’s challenging and you want to give up, but actually, if you want to improve, you have to push through it, and in time it will get easier. Besides, those of us who have just moved up from advanced beginners are all in the same boat and we can support each other!

We are learning a routine to a song by Gentleman’s Dub Club, which is just my thing. I just need to watch the video I took of the routine and practice a lot, because I retained NONE of the information given – doh!

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!

2nd Attempt

On Wednesday night I went to my second ever Tap Improvisation and Choreography class! About half an hour beforehand, I felt really nervous and wanted to bottle it, trying to come up with various excuses as to why I couldn’t go (like the heatwave)…but then I got myself together and went for it!

There were 10 of us for this mixed-level class, where we played various improvisation games, working in one large group, smaller groups, pairs and solo to build up our confidence to improvise tap steps. The focus was on rhythm, rather than executing amazing steps. The music was a variety of 60s soul/R&B, Blues and other newer music.

For our first exercise, we just used our hands and one at a time, clapped different rhythms for the group to copy. That was manageable. Next we did the same, but with our feet. A bit more complicated.

We worked in pairs to create something for our partners to copy. We also worked in pairs to create something to a simple song or nursery rhyme which we then performed to the rest of the class. My partner and I used ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and had a lot of fun with it – jazz hands were included! I can say I actually quite enjoyed performing it to those watching. We messed up the first time, but we did it again and got it right.

I also enjoyed the exercise where we travelled as one group along the length of the studio, doing whatever came to mind. At the end of the class, we repeated this exercise, but this time we just walked and allowed space for one person at a time to do some steps. This was very effective.

It was such a fun evening, if not a little nerve wracking in places. We all had a great time and I definitely came away feeling a bit more confident to try stuff. In public.

Common issues in improvisation:

  • Self-consciousness
  • Worrying that everyone else is better/more experienced than you
  • Trying to make your feet actually do the steps that are in your mind
  • Trying to recall all the steps you have built up in your ‘bank’ over the last however many years of learning
  • Staying on the rhythm
  • Counting bars and beats when you’ve been asked to do something for a certain number of counts
  • Going from a single beat to doubles to quadruples..when everyone’s watching
  • Brain freeze!

Next week I have the week off work as I have three 2-hour days at a Tap Dance Intensive in London’s Covent Garden, followed by a few rest/study days.

Have you ever done tap improvisation? If yes, tell me more in the comments….

Round of Applause

 

Vests
Last week’s tap & gym outfits

Tap class is going really well at the moment. We’re doing a fantastic percussive routine to the song SOB by Nathaniel Ratcliffe and the Night Sweats, which includes lots of steps and lots of clapping. The thing with tapping and clapping, it’s a bit like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time…and sometimes we’re stepping on the beat and clapping on the off-beat. It’s amazing, I LOVE IT. It takes a lot of practice to get it right, and I am making sure I do that when I’m at home (and sometimes at work during a break), otherwise I think I’d be struggling every week with the speed of it.

We only have this week and next left of the term, and then we head into the summer break…but not before the ‘Summer Shorts’ workshops! I’ve enrolled on the Tap Improvisation workshop, but this year I’ll be giving the Shim Sham workshop a miss because I have a church BBQ. Then, in the last week of July I will be attending the 3 day Intermediate Tap Intensive at CityLit, along with a couple of my classmates! I can’t wait, but I’m going to make sure I pace myself this time.

In need of a break last weekend after doing lots of summer fairs and things, my SO and I headed to the south coast for a long weekend on the beach. It was so warm and Mediterranean-feeling, that we could have shut our eyes and thought we were in Spain. The beach was looovely, a little shingly, but once we got over that bit and into the (chilly) sea (took me a while!), we found sand!

On a final note, I thought it was high time for a dance show, so next week I’m going to my local theatre to see an Irish dance show called Rhythm of the Dance. I’ll tell you all about it next week!

Beach
Sand…it’s in there somewhere

How to Make the Most of your Tap Dance Lessons

You may be a full time dance student or you may only have an hour of tap class a week (like me), so you have to find a way to make the most of what you have:

  • Pay attention in class! That’s right. Listen to what your teacher is saying and watch the demonstrations closely.
  • Learn from others who are more experienced or seem to know what they’re doing.
  • Ask questions when you have the opportunity. This is usually at the end of the class, but you may have opportunity during the class too (e.g. What is this step called? Which leg are we starting on? Who is your favourite tap dancer?! etc.)
  • Take the opportunity to film the routine or combination if given. Then you can become more familiar with it and practice outside of class. It helps to visualise even if you can’t physically do the steps for whatever reason, e.g. You’re on public transport or your leg is in plaster…
  • Practice as soon as you are able after your class just so it doesn’t escape your brain straight away!
  • Practice daily! Even if it’s only 5 minutes in the corridor at work. It helps cement things and keeps the muscle memory alive, so to speak.
  • Download or listen the track you’re using so you can familiarise yourself with the music, and any unusual rhythms it may have.
  • Take away one thing you can work on for next time. If you load yourself up with too many things to improve, you might stress yourself out and improve nothing.

Other general advice:

  • Watch tap dance online
  • Get to your classes early
  • Go to classes regularly
  • Read up on tap history
  • Watch tap shows at the theatre if you can
  • Read up on tap terms. Some steps have different names to what you’re used to (slurp vs closed third)
  • Attend workshops and festivals to try new stuff and meet other tappers
  • Follow tap dancers on social media
  • Join tap dance social media groups

What do you think?

I made a resolution this year to write a list of things I want to know and then try to ask my teacher a question every week, but sometimes I forget or chicken out 🙂

(We’re currently on a 2 week break from rhythm tap class, but I’m managing to keep up with my weekly workouts at the gym!)

Strength

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This week I made it back to the gym – yay! I did the crosstrainer to warm up, and then the low bike for about 5 minutes. I followed these up with some lower body strength work (30kg seated leg curl, 40kg seat leg press), and then some stretching of the calves, hamstrings, quads, achilles and feet. Because almost all of the lifts at work are out of order at the moment, I took my shower stuff over to the gym with me, rather than trying to climb 9 floors’ worth of stairs back at work! However, I won’t be repeating this. In the shower cubicle itself there was NOWHERE to put ANYTHING. No shelf or hooks or anything, so although I could throw my towel over the door, I had to put everything else on the wet floor. Not impressed!

Since Wednesday evening I’ve been feeling really rough with hayfever or a cold – not sure which at the moment, but I suspect it is hayfever (pollen & pollution) as I have maintained my sense of smell… I wasn’t sure if I was going to even make it to my tap class today, but I decided to dose up and soldier on! (Not something I usually advocate if rest is in order, but I really don’t want to miss any classes this time when we only have 4 in the block and today we would be filming the routine for practice purposes).

Rhythm Tap Class

We were a larger group than usual because a few people from Wednesday evening’s class joined us, plus another few who were trying out before enrolling. We worked on our around-the-world roll again and our swing-beat paddle exercise where we did:

  • 4 x 4 beat paddle (heel dig – pickup – toe – heel drop)
  • 4 x paddle minus the first heel dig
  • 4 x paddle minus the first heel dig and last heel drop – requires balance!
  • Repeat

It’s another great exercise to try and get your head around. And then you have to try and not use your head.

Quite quickly we moved straight onto our Bollywood routine as there are only 2 weeks left after today (rhythm tap to Bollywood music, rather than dancing Bollywood style). I really like this routine…but then I say that about all of them! It’s quicker than we are used to, but that’s good as it challenges us to go for it.

Thankfully the shower situation worked out when I returned to the office as I managed to get a lift very quickly. In the afternoon I had a chair based massage which was organised by the HR department, and despite everyone saying that the massage was too firm, I really enjoyed it and found it greatly beneficial to my post-tap muscles! Sadly it was only for the upper body, but I’ll take that 🙂

Around The World

After a relaxing break from work over Easter, this week I returned to the day job, my soap side gig and rhythm tap class!

I didn’t make the gym because with the Bank Holiday on Monday, there were only 2 possible days that I could go and I just couldn’t fit it in. I suppose I could have gone Wednesday, but I don’t like to work out the day before a dance class. I will get back to it next week when the schedule is back to normal.

I did do a lot of walking last week, with a weekend in Birmingham and Hughenden Manor National Trust, plus I did a New York City Ballet Workout, so I’m not too concerned about loss of fitness or anything.

Rhythm tap class was amazing as usual! I think everyone was hyped to be back, including our teacher who had been at a tap retreat in Italy over the break. Mountain views, food, wine, day trips and tap classes…So jealous!

There were some new people joining us this term; some who have moved up from beginners and some who want to refresh their steps after years away from it. This week we worked on a travelling shuffle-step exercise, which we did each way sets of eight, four, two and one. Our teacher got me to do it with her double time – that was fun!

The other main exercise was an ‘around the world roll’. This is like a cramp roll, but in a different order:

E.g. Starting on the right

R-Toe L-Toe L-Heel R-Toe

And you end with the left foot off the ground ready to start the left side:

Our routine is to a high energy Bollywood track and I’m loving it!