Tap Dance Festival UK 2021

It has been a crazy time of tap for me over the past week –  the 5th Tap Dance Festival UK happened (virtually) and I registered…even though I said I was going to take a break! Plus, there were some other tap events going on at the same time, so I had a pretty packed timetable! I bought a 3-technique class pass this time because I wasn’t so interested in learning choreography when I do this in my weekly class, plus I had the Standards Sessions hosted by my teacher’s company, plus I had access to all the community events of the festival.

Fri 12th Feb pm – Kick-Off Party (Dante Lara)

LA-based dancer Dante Lara opened the festival by throwing down some tracks and chatting with some of the faculty.

Mon 15th pm – Musicality (Sarah Reich)

I’d attended a music theory session with Sarah previously and found it SO helpful that I jumped at the chance to attend this session with my notebook to learn some more!

Tues 16th pm – Tap & Tea Talk (Michelle Dorrance)

I saw Dorrance Dance at Sadlers Wells in London back in 2018 and I was interested to hear Michelle talk about how she got into tap dance and about her life. Hailing from North Carolina, Michelle was a student of Gene Medler who would take his students to the St Louis Tap Festival and later Chicago, and formed the North Caroline Youth Tap Ensemble. She gave lots of good advice, including sharing some of the mistakes she made:

You should only ever be yourself.

Thurs 18th pm – Tap & Tea Talk (Dianne Walker)

I was so excited to hear from this beloved veteran and Aunt of the tap community! Dianne Walker grew up in Boston, MA and contracted Polio when she was small, so she basically had to learn to walk again. Once she could, she started dance lessons at Ethel Covan’s School for Ballet, but she liked tap, so she moved to the excellent Mildred Kennedy’s school (alumni include Sarah Reich, Dormeshia, Derick Grant, etc). Dianne had lots of performance opportunities in TV, theatre and film, but then her mother remarried and relocated the family to a remote airbase in California. She became a cheerleader as a teenager and ditched dancing for a while. It was only after she got married herself, and had children that she went to an event with her mother-in-law, where she met a guy who introduced her to the legendary Leon Collins! She tried to learn as much as she could…while working full-time at a psychiatric clinic, and her kids started to take classes too. One day Leon asked her to cover his class, which freaked her out, but his helpful advice was to “just share something that you know”, which how she teaches even now. Leon was her teacher and mentor, and she talked about how he created a bunch of routines for the purpose of teaching. (I recently learnt part of his routine #53!) She also talked how she was inspired by seeing Gregory Hines and Debbie Allen dance on TV in the 1980s, and how she got through an awkward audition for the show Black and Blue in New York City. It was such a wonderful chat, and I think the session overran by about an hour. The Tap & Tea ladies are hoping to get her back again for part 2!

You get to know a dancer through their dance

Fri 19th 12pm – Tap Dance Research Network UK

The team each talked a little about the Network and what they do, plus some of their most recent events and current research. I didn’t realise until part-way through that there would be separate breakout rooms to hear one person talk in more detail, and I didn’t really have time, so I’ll catch up on the recordings.

Sat 20th 2pm – Drills (Robin Passmore)

I took a drills class with Robin Passmore at the first TDFUK I attended in 2018 an absolutely loved it, so I was looking forward to this class. Robin is known for her clean footwork because she loves to work on drills! We drilled in our shuffles, crawls with paddles, crawls with shuffles, a cramp roll sequence, and we did some work on single and double wings – something I haven’t done enough of. Excellent!

7pm – Footage Viewing Slumber Party (Tony Waag)

American Tap Dance Foundation’s Tony Waag took us through a brief history of tap dance, from the lost Five Points neighbourhood of NYC and Master Juba, to blackface and minstrel shows, Jim Crow laws, Hollywood movies and the changing landscape of New York’s theatre district. He also covered a bit of his own story with Brenda Bufalino, Gregory Hines and Woodpeckers Studio. A very interesting session! We need a part 2.

Sun 21st 2pm – Standards Sessions: King for a Day (Avalon Rathgeb) 

This wasn’t part of TDFUK, but I managed to fit it in before the next event! (Although silly me, I went for a walk that was just a bit too long on a day of 3 almost back-to-back tap classes). Avalon of Old Kent Road tap company taught us a section of Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson’s King for a Day repertoire. It’s a great one to learn because it has a repetitive holding pattern (the double time step) with variations in-between. I really enjoyed this one and will definitely keep working on it! I left this class 5 minutes before the end because next I had:

3.30pm – Relaxed Technique (Michelle Dorrance)

This is something all tap dancers need to keep working on! If you want to execute some of the trickier steps and sounds, you MUST have LOOSE ANKLES. A shuffle shouldn’t come from the ankle or from throwing the knee, but from the top of the leg. Michelle got us to work on applying this to our shuffles, plus some trickier steps. It was SOOO helpful! I’m going to try and practise some of the other exercises she suggested over the weekend.

5.30pm – Rudiments (Adele Joel) 

Guys, my feet were killing me and the top of my left leg was hurting by this point, so I sat this one out! (Thankfully there’s a recording).

6.30pm – Happy Birthday TDFUK

We watched a video montage of the last 5 years of this amazing festival that usually takes place in Manchester, and then there was a Lifetime Achievement presentation to Dianne ‘Lady Di’ Walker, which was really lovely.

7.30pm – London Tap Jam

Hosted by MADD Rhythms’ Bril Barrett on Instagram, the London Tap Jam was full of music, chat and performances from people all over the world. Not only tap dancers, but a bass player and a drummer too!

I usually take the Monday off work after travelling and attending this amazing and positive festival in person, but I didn’t think I needed it with an online event….How wrong was I?! 

 

 

Deliberate Practice

I’m currently reading the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It’s a revolutionary book about the power of introverts in a society that seems to only value and promote those who shout the loudest. I’m definitely more of an introvert (perhaps ambivert is more accurate because I have my moments), and although I accept and value my quieter personality (which was suddenly highlighted when I did things in the past like the year of training in youth ministry – “try to be more like Vicky!” – and when learning to teach aerobics – “you need to be louder!”), the book has encouraged me even more to accept my creative, quieter, thoughtful, reflective personality that is sensitive to others and to my environment because it is immensely valuable! Now I know why my primary school teacher chose me to buddy and befriend a nervous new pupil, who I’m still friends with now.

In a particular workplace full of loud people where I was basically overlooked in favour of party girls, I’m actually still in touch with a couple of colleagues over 10 years on, who felt I actually had time for them. When I worked at a London university for 6 months, the managers were really pleased with how I dealt sensitively with the students…and their demanding parents. In the charity HR I work in now, I have found my personality to be a positive thing as we deal with ups, downs, births, deaths, mental health, difficult conversations, confidential info and everything else. And as a Christian, I believe every personality is valuable to God. I mean imagine if everyone was the same, right?

In her book, Susan Cain names loads of introverts who did amazing things and changed the world because of rather than in spite of their personalities, so if you fall somewhere on the introvert scale and have been made to feel like there’s something wrong with that, be encouraged by people like Rosa Parks, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Stephen Spielberg, JK Rowling, Mark Zuckerberg (despite how you feel about Facebook LOL), Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Charles Darwin, Barack Obama, plus many, many dancers, comedians, musicians, actors, singers…there are so many people, I don’t have space to list them all 🙂

Anyway, the main reason I mention this book is that one of the chapters talks about the concept of ‘Deliberate Practice’, which immediately caught my attention. The author looks references a study into 3 groups of violinists at an elite music school in Berlin (best, good and those who only wish to teach), but I was interested in relation to tap dance. Deliberate Practice is described as “serious study alone” and the “key to exceptional achievement”. In other words, if you want to be an amazing tap dancer, you’ve got to practise on your own…a lot. (The lowest group of violinists put in 1.3 solitary hours a day, whereas the top-level violinists put in 3.5 solitary hours a day and regarded group practice as leisure).

A few of the guests we had on the ‘Tap & Tea’ history talks last year posed the question ‘how much class is too much class?‘ – i.e. you can take all the tap classes going but still not show any improvement because you’re not taking the time to put the work in on your own. I know my real improvements in tap came when I actually spent the time in my garage studio, in front of the mirror going over and over things until I got them…and then refined and cleaned them up. (It’s not that I spent 3.5 hours shedding wood in one go, but even the 40 minutes spent on a Saturday afternoon make a massive difference in what I bring to my next class).

“When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks…just out of your reach…,strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress and revise accordingly” Quiet, pg81

Have you read the book? Are you an introvert? What do you think about ‘Deliberate Practice’ in relation to tap, or perhaps other styles of dance?  Let me know in the comments 🙂

 

Number 53


Hey, how was your weekend? Same as last weekend? I know what you mean! I’m so relieved that my mum has had her first Covid vaccination and is waiting to be contacted about having the booster. The NHS is doing an AMAZING job.

This weekend was a little bit different to the lockdown norm for me. My teacher’s tap and theatre company are running three online ‘Standards Sessions’ of Sunday afternoon workshops to learn pieces of legendary tap dance repertoire of the great hoofers. On Sunday the amazing Adele Joel taught us the tap legend Leon Collins’ routine #53, as it would have been his 99th birthday.

When Adele demonstrated the routine, I found myself standing there in awe, thinking there’s NO WAY I’m going to pick that choreography up in an hour and a half! (Ever been there?) But I surprised myself and actually picked up everything she showed us…until we had to go double time! It was fun to try, but it was crazy quick. (“Blimey!” someone wrote in the chat box :-)) It was so much fun and such a lovely way to spend a locked-down Sunday afternoon. I’m looking forward to the next two workshops!

I recently bought tickets for Tap Dance Festival UK 2021, which takes place online between 12th-21st February. This time I decided not to go for any choreography classes, because I do choreography every week (and have a load of tap choreography videos from the summer onwards that I haven’t even looked at yet), and I just booked three intermediate technique classes instead:

  • Drills with Robin Passmore
  • Relaxed Technique with Michelle Dorrance
  • Rudiments with Adele Joel

Plus, there’s also some other stuff included in my ticket, like the kick-off party, warm-up sessions, a footage viewing party and a couple of Tap and Tea talks from Theatre Tap London with Michelle Dorrance and Dianne Walker – amazing!

Tap Dance UK (confusing, I know) also have some fun events coming up this month, so it looks as though I’ll be busy!

 

Happy New Year

Hello and Happy New Year to you! Well, we’re actually 8 days in now, and things in the world seem crazy at the moment, what with Covid and Trump and Brexit…but I hope the start of the year is going okay for you.

Christmas was very different this time around because we weren’t allowed to meet with other households, so on Christmas day afternoon, after our online church service, a sunshine walk and a massive gammon dinner with all the trimmings, we ended up hosting a 3 and a half hour quiz with my family on Zoom which included rounds on country flags, Strictly Come Dancing and a (particularly difficult) music round, and then we video called my SO’s family straight after. We managed to do lots of walks in the evenings to see the amazing Christmas light displays that people had done on their houses, and we walked around the village in the daytime to try and get some vitamin D. I completed a very tricky 500 piece jigsaw and a couple of books I’ve had on the go. My SO painted the bathroom in Cooking Apple Green (Farrow & Ball) and made chocolate fondants, a baked cheesecake and pastel de natas (Portuguese custard tarts) – I also worked (from home) on the 30th, but who wants to hear about that?

Usually in the run up to Christmas, many of us like going to the theatre (if the bank account allows!) to see a pantomime or another show. Last Winter we saw The Mousetrap in London and the Northern Ballet’s The Nutcracker in Sheffield. This Winter, the theatres are closed, but we were able to get tickets to watch the film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) at a drive-in in North London (complete with burger…and fries!), and we also got tickets for the Barbican’s live streamed performance of A Dickensian Christmas, which featured beautifully sung Christmas carols and dramatic excerpts from A Christmas Carol, read by actor Kevin Whately (of Inspector Morse, Lewis, etc). Definitely gave us all the Christmas feels.

We made a point of watching movies over the holidays, including Running on Empty (1988), Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), North by Northwest (1959), Die Hard (1988), Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1994) (technically a TV episode, but hey ho) – we did have more Christmassy/wintery movies on the list (Uncle Buck, Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Miracle of 34th Street) but we haven’t got around to those yet!

Another thing I did was to spend a little bit of time in the garage working on specific tap steps, something I’ve been trying to do since the summer. This time I concentrated on my ‘Shirley Temple’. A very well-known combination, but one that you can trip up on, or add too many extra bits to. To make it even better, I had some Christmas Jazz songs on in the background! I’m back to tap class next week, and because we’re on lockdown and therefore online-only again, I’m able to join the Thursday afternoon class – a welcome break in the working day. I also start ukulele class online next Friday – I’ll let you know how that goes 🙂

Have a great weekend x

Practise More!

Doing two online dance classes a week, I really haven’t been great with practising lately. With the Saturday ‘Vintage Jazz’ class, I’ve been getting away with just watching the recordings beforehand, but with tap, I KNOW I need to put the work in, so I’ve been spending 45 minutes practising right before class. It served me well last week…but not so much this week.

I knew the entire routine and was happy with the exercises we’ve been doing over the last few weeks, but then our teacher asked us to direct our laptop cameras to our feet to do the routine without her help and so she could see what we were doing. It was all going well until I was halfway through and then I just went BLANK. I just stood there. It wasn’t that I didn’t know it, but I think I got stage fright…at home. And unlike the students in the studio, being at home, I had no-one else in view as a prompt. Then our teacher prompted me to jump in on the last bit that we’d just learnt. Nope. Nothing!

I learned a valuable lesson on Wednesday evening. Practise more and practise before the day of the actual class! (BTW, since starting my proofreading and copywriting courses I’m trying to get into the habit of using the British spelling of the verb ‘practise’ as opposed to the American ‘practice’ – we’ll see how that goes).

It’s Black Friday today and I have been saying for over week now that I am going to ignore it and not get sucked into mindless spending. I’ve done my Christmas shopping already and I don’t need to buy more stuff…but then my adult learning college where I dance are offering 50% off their courses (!!!) so I enrolled on the next couple of online rhythm tap courses and a 10 week online ukulele course for improvers. I can’t believe it has been almost a year since my class and I performed at our Christmas ukulele event in London and my SO and a colleague came along. It was so much fun! I think January’s a good month to pick it up again. I just need to refresh my knowledge of at least 6 chords…

Riff Paddle Exercise

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 🙂

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.

Friday Roundup

Holiday

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Authentic Jazz

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…

Rhythm Tap

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:

  1. my classes are not back in the studio yet, although they may be from November.
  2. 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 🙂

Keep dancing!

Remembering Jazz Hoofer Will Gaines

Will GainesA 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.

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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!