My Highlights of 2021

Happy New Year! I do hope you had a good Christmas. Unfortunately my SO and I both had COVID-19! We’re both vaccinated and I’d just had my booster, but by then my SO was already ill and he then passed it on to me. Being vaccinated at least meant we weren’t seriously ill, but it was like a type of flu for about 5 or so days (headache, eye ache, body ache, sore throat, altered taste and smell, high temperature etc) followed by feeling very, very tired. Our next door neighbour got us some supplies and my family dropped off Christmas dinner and nibbles on Christmas Eve, which was MUCH APPRECIATED (although I had no appetite for a while).

Because we felt rubbish and couldn’t leave the house, we watched A LOT of Law and Order. We made a point of watching a carol concert from the Royal Albert Hall, and the Royal Opera House’s Nutcracker online for all the Christmassy feels, and we also watched several movies…

My COVID Christmas Movies:

  • Back to the Future (1985)
  • Uncle Buck (1989)
  • Mrs Doubtfire (1993)
  • Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)
  • Lady in the Van (2015)
  • The Fugitive (1993)
  • US Marshals (1998)
  • K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

I had some actual Christmas movies, like Home Alone, lined up, but we haven’t got around to watching those yet. We did get to see family properly later on in the week after Christmas, including a lovely (yet windy!) walk along the beach at Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex.

 

Thinking about the craziness of 2021, I struggled to recall what stood out to me as highlights of the year, even though I know there were many. Here’s the list I came up with…

My Highlights of 2021:

I’m now having a think about my goals for 2022, but I’m not putting myself under any pressure right now. The main things on the list are a bookbinding course, improving my tap dancing, more writing… but I’ll come back to my 2022 goals in another post 🙂

What were your highlights of 2021? 

Show Me Jericho

Image: BBC Strictly Come Dancing

Hey! Hope you’re ok, hope you’re well? Sorry I’ve been MIA for a while. Things have been a little busy round here, and as you can see from my last post (and the photo above), I’ve also been engulfed in the world of Strictly Come Dancing – or should I say the World of AJ Odudu & Kai Widdrington? At the weekend, they performed an outstanding, champagne-quality Quickstep to Benny Goodman’s Sing, Sing, Sing, followed by a beautiful, sensual Rumba to Maria McKee’s Show Me Heaven. I mean, STUNNING! Anyway, it all comes to an end this weekend with the GRAND FINAL. Unfortunately, I’m hearing news of injury today, but whatever happens, they’re my WINNERS anyway! (Plus, we’re all really hoping they’re more than just good friends 🙂 )

In other news…

  • Tap classes finished last week for the Christmas holidays and I am determined to keep practising the routine we’ve been doing to the swing number Jericho by Hot Sugar Band while I have the space to work on it. I might also try to get back on the exercises I got from the Tap City tap festival this summer.
  • There was a talk by Tap Dance Research Network UK last week on the Whitman Sisters, which I had to miss because I had my class. I was happy to hear they would be sharing the recording with members for a limited time, so I set aside the afternoon to listen to/watch it…but they took it down early! I’ve sent them an email!
  • Here’s a helpful co-ordination exercise we did in one of our classes this month – I only recorded it on one side, but you keep switching sides:

Keep dancing! x

Why Rhythm Tap?

Image from TDRNUK

Last week I spent a lot of time umming and ahhing over whether I was going to join Tap Dance Research Network UK’s lastest Zoom networking event: Tap Café – Open Space.

Because I’m a member, my ticket was automatically booked and I got an email notification to let me know. I’ve only ever attended TDRNUK’s talks on a particular subject where I could just listen and write notes, and up to this point I’d chickened out of attending the networking events. I mean, the word ‘networking’ can make a lot of people run a mile. Well, last Thursday I decided to stop being silly and just GO!

It was a REALLY great session where a couple of questions were put forward and then we discussed them. We actually ran over time because an hour is really not enough to talk about all things tap dance, am I right? There weren’t as many people as at the last event I attended, but numbers have dropped off a bit on all kinds of online events since things have opened up again, and TDRNUK do vary the day of the week and time of day of their events to make sure everyone gets a chance to attend something. We started off by going round and introducing ourselves, something I had prepared myself for in advance. I was the only one there who is not teaching tap, but not the only newbie to the networking events, and can I just say, Jane Goldberg joined us from New York!

Rhythm Tap?

One of the questions that was raised was why we call it ‘rhythm tap’. The class I attend is called ‘Rhythm Tap’ and that name actually drew me in over the ISTD syllabus-led ‘Tap’ that was also available at that particular college (and I’m glad, from what I hear about syllabus tap). There was also ‘American Tap’ at Citylit, which was my other choice, and ‘Jazz Tap’ at Pineapple Studios, which are all the same thing and sound exciting! We kind of came to the same conclusions in our chat – in the UK, most people think of West End/Broadway musicals, like 42nd Street when they think of tap dance, which is all about the aesthetic quality, rather than the ‘rhythm tap’ style which is about sounds, musicality and improvisation.

If you go down the dance school route as a child in the UK, you’ll likely be doing the ISTD tap dance syllabus, which is fairly restrictive in terms of steps and rhythm, but it gives you what you need for a career in musical theatre. I’ve heard people say that by their early teens they’d learnt all there was to learn in tap, had nowhere else to go with it…and quit. This blows my mind because there is SO MUCH TO LEARN! But this made sense when, in our discussion, someone mentioned that when they were learning as a child, it was a case of ‘this is a shuffle, this is the timing for a shuffle and that’s that’. By saying ‘rhythm tap’, we are making the distinction, but I don’t believe this distinction really applies in the US. What do you think?

The Tap Café session really picked me up after a busy and frustrating day at work and I really can’t wait for the next one! 

 

It’s October

Hello! Today is the first day of October and it definitely feels like it – yes I’m wearing a jumper. I haven’t written a post since I received my Tap Dance Postage Stamps in August, so here’s a rundown of what I’ve been up to recently:

The City of Bath 

At the beginning of September, my SO, my mum and I had a 3-day break in the beautiful Georgian city of Bath. My SO and I had been before as a short stop-off on the way to Cornwall, and we had been meaning to return for a proper visit. The sun was out the whole time and it was loooovely and warm. We wandered the city, ate great food, visited Bath Abbey and the Jane Austen Museum (we bought books!), did 2 different bus tours. We had a GREAT time and can’t wait to go back.

Tap Class

Tap classes restarted last week after the summer break! I’m continuing to work from home, so I’m not able to attend the classes in London. My teacher is running online-only classes on a Monday evening, so I’m doing her one-hour intermediate/advanced class. It’s pretty cool to be moving towards advanced level tap. The class is basically covering the same stuff as the in-person intermediate classes, but at a faster pace. Because it’s an hour as opposed to 45 minutes, we have more time for the exercises, such as rudiments.

I was determined this summer to do lots of practise down in the garage, and I was actually getting stuck in with rudiment exercises from the recordings of the virtual NYC Tap City festival….but then I had a flare-up of eczema on the tops of my feet that meant I wasn’t able to wear tap shoes or get hot feet. (I’ve not had any eczema for about 5 years, so it’s pretty frustrating). That knocked practise out for several weeks. Well, now I’m back to class and it’s back again – I think I’ve been a bit stressed lately. The steroid cream is working, so hopefully I’ll be okay for Monday.

Exercise

Like a lot of people I need to get back into shape after having sat around at home for over a year with no commute and no Tuesday gym sessions. Last year I was quite motivated to exercise. This year…not so much. But, I have been doing the BOP Jazz workout most weeks, which has helped with flexibility more than anything, and last week I renewed my £8.99 subscription to Rambert’s Home Studio for access to all their online classes – Ballet, Contemporary, Contemporary Fusion, Yoga, Pilates and Dance Cardio which I did on Monday and still haven’t recovered from! I went swimming a couple of times during the summer and even ran around a local running track with my SO (a club-runner!), of which I hated every minute because I really hate running 🙂 I’m hoping to maybe get into the swimming habit on a Friday, but we’ll see!

How are you keeping fit right now? Have you gone back to the gym? Are you back to in-person classes or still online? Let me know in the comments – I love to hear from you!

 

Tap Dance Stamps: Tap Collection

Tap dance stamp collection

I received my Gregory Hines stamps a few weeks ago, but LOOK what came through the door this week! This year, the US Postal Service issued a new set of stamps honouring the American art form of tap dance – featuring five of tap’s hottest performers today: Max Pollak, Michela Marino Lerman, Derick K. Grant, Dormeshia and Ayodele Casel. 

The stamps were designed by Ethel Kessler and the dancers were photographed by Matthew Murphy, and it’s important to note that the US postal regulations prohibit the honouring of a living person on a stamp, in case you were wondering why the dancers’ names are missing. Instead, the dancers are honouring the art form as representatives.

The first-day-of-issue ceremony took place in Times Square, New York City during Tap City, the New York City Tap Festival in July, and was attended by Max, Dormeshia, Ayodele and Michela, plus Tap City and ATDF’s Tony Waag.

As with my Gregory Hines set, I’ll be putting these into a frame to display in my garage dance space, as part of my tap dance memorabilia – but first we’re getting the garage roof replaced because it’s leaking. I’ll share some pics next month!

The stamps come in sheets of 20 and are available from the USPS or if you’re outside the US, try Gift Sampler on ebay.

Have you ordered yours yet?

Tap Dance Stamps: Gregory Hines

Gregory Hines Stamps Ordinarily I’m not a stamp collector, but I was really excited to receive THESE in the post! In 2019 the United States Postal Service celebrated the life and work of the award winning tap dancer and entertainer, Gregory Hines by making him the 42nd honouree in their Black Heritage USA Forever stamp series, with a ceremony at the Peter Norton Symphony Space in Manhattan, NYC. 

The event was attended by his brother Maurice Hines, his daughter Daria, his protégé Savion Glover, Tony Waag of ATDF, Chloe and Maud Arnold of the Syncopated Ladies and Jason Samuels Smith. The photograph used for the stamp was taken by Jack Mitchell in 1988 and the stamp was designed by art director Derry Noyes.

I’m planning to frame my little stamp collection with the following Gregory Hines quote:

I don’t remember not dancing. When I realised I was alive and these were my parents, and I could walk and talk, I could dance.

I’ll share some pics once they’re on display in my garage dance studio.

The stamps and artwork are available to purchase at the USPS Shop
– if you’re outside of the US, like me, check out Gift Sampler on ebay.

Have you got your stamps yet?

Swinging at the Cotton Club

A few weekends ago my SO and I went to see ‘Swinging at the Cotton Club’ at Watford’s outdoor summer event space, Stage in the Park. We opted to take our own deck chairs, rather than sit on blankets or sit in the area with chairs provided – cheaper tickets!

The park was also hosting the annual Jiveswing Festival that day, so we went along a bit earlier to make sure we caught some of that beforehand. We only got there to catch the end of the festival, but looking at their social media feed, it looks as though it had been a fantastic day.

Stage in the Park advertised lots of food options, so we didn’t eat beforehand. Unfortunately, there really wasn’t anything there, besides some sausage rolls. There was a Caribbean food van that was setting up, but wouldn’t be ready to serve until the interval…no burgers, no Mexican food as promised! And the people running the event didn’t seem to acknowledge the fact that none of the other food vans had materialised either. We ended up walking back across the park to the Jiveswing Festival to grab a burger from a van that was just starting to pack away and head home. Once we were in our seats, the HEAVENS OPENED and it continued to rain for most of the show. It got to the point where some of the dancers were slipping on the stage, which was mopped during the interval… ANYWAY, onto the actual show:

In celebration of the hottest joint in 1920s-30s Harlem, Swinging at the Cotton Club was a variety show of song, Lindy Hop, vintage jazz dance and tap dance, against the live music of Duke Ellington, played by Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra. The dancers were from the Lindy Hop Dance Company (which included Jreena Green, who was one of the special guests on BOP Jazz’s ‘Let’s Talk Jazz‘ series last year), and the featured tap dancer was Worthing-based artist Lee Payne, who is part of Tap Dance Research Network UK – I had no idea there would be tap dance in the show because it wasn’t mentioned in the blurb, so that was a pleasant surprise!

Lee did a GREAT job with his exciting tap routines, including one dedicated to Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, and he even pulled out a sand dance later in the show, which was awesome. Vocalist Marlene Hill breezed through classic songs such as ‘Is You is or is You Ain’t My Baby’ (with compere Megs Etherington) and ‘Stormy Weather’, which was particularly apt in the relentless downpour. The Lindy Hoppers did some flashy routines, which were really fun to watch, framed perfectly by the shimmering lights of the background staging and the various costume changes. They also showcased a bit of tap, and I particularly enjoyed their soft shoe routine – I love the fact that tap doesn’t always have to be fast and furious.

The audience was quite small, but very encouraging to the artists and most of us stuck it out in the rain until the end, and actually, the sun did come out in the second act. Many people got up to dance and I got out of my seat to join in with the Shim Sham at the end 🙂

Verdict: It was a great show and I loved the music and dance and atmosphere. I just think I’d rather watch it indoors next time!

 

A Holiday, A Decision & A Festival

Holiday

I can’t believe it’s July already! My SO and I recently had a week’s holiday in Torbay, aka the English Riviera, which basically consists of the seaside towns of Torquay (as in Fawlty Towers), Paignton and the beautiful fishing harbour of Brixham. We had such a great time, and we were really spoiled with the lovely weather (because everyone back home had rain a lot of that week). The week ended up having an Agatha Christie theme because we visited her holiday home Greenway, by the stunning River Dart, we saw an Agatha Christie exhibition at Torquay Museum and some of the set and costumes from ITV’s Poirot (one of my favourite shows ever – although only series 1-8. Not so bothered after it changed production and we lost the comedic relationships between Poirot and Inspector Japp, Hastings and Miss Lemon), we saw her comedy-thriller play Spider’s Web at Paignton Theatre one evening, and while visiting her hometown of Torquay, we also found the site of her childhood home, which is sadly no more. What a week!

Big Decision

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

After thinking about it for quite a while, today I closed my soap business that I’ve been running for about 10 years. Although I had been thinking about doing it for a while, Brexit ended up being the catalyst as I had to jump through a number of hoops to submit all my product details to the new government cosmetics portal, and I just knew I was over it already. Although I feel a little sad about it, I also feel like a BIG WEIGHT has been lifted off my shoulders. About 5 years after starting my craft business I got into tap dancing which requires time and dedication, plus I didn’t have much time for writing for fun anymore, so it feels good to have that extra time back! I have a small-scale wholesale customer who I will continue to make for once a month, but I’m just done with all the other stuff.

Tap City

American Tap Dance Foundation’s TAP CITY festival starts on Monday!!! I’m really excited to be able to join in while it’s taking place online. I mean, who’s getting on a flight from London to New York at the moment?? I’ve printed off the schedule, highlighted all the intermediate classes, and added in the class times in GMT (big thanks to my SO for reminding me about that!). I will actually be working Monday and Tuesday (still working from home, so I can join in from 5pm) and then I am on holiday the rest of the week so I can take part live, but my registration actually includes 30 days access to the recordings. Result!

On another note, I am currently working on a mini-bio about a female tap dance legend to share with you shortly. I did start doing research while I was in Devon, but I was too distracted by the sea views!

A Journalism Workshop

I hope you’ve had a good week? Yesterday I had my last tap class of the half-term. The next block of 6 begins the week after next, but I’m wondering whether to take a break until September (shocking, I know!) and try to work my way through some of the video content I still haven’t looked at from the various festivals, workshops, classes, one-off events, etc that I purchased last year. I find it hard to fit in when I have exercises and choreography to practise for my weekly class. I’m unavailable about 2 or 3 weeks of the next block, if I sign up for the usual Wednesday or Thursday class, so if I do enrol, it’ll be on the Tuesday night class. I may…I may not.

I continue to explore writing as a career, and so last night I attended an online masterclass from The Guardian newspaper entitled: ‘Kickstart Your Freelance Writing Career: A Journalism Workshop’, with journalist Coco Khan. I did actually write for a couple of student magazines when I was at university all those years ago – I was a writer for a publication called Student Pages, where I did a travel piece and another piece where I interviewed friends about their courses and career aspirations. Alongside that, I also did music reviews for another publication (can’t remember what they were called now), where they sent me free CD singles and I wrote what I thought of them! Unfortunately, both magazines closed down in my final year, and what I should have done when I finished university was get in somewhere else while I had a current portfolio of work. But you know, life gets in the way, you get an unrelated job and forget about it for several years. (Also, when I was at secondary school I had a theatre review published after my Classics teacher submitted it to a magazine – I have to say they changed it so much, it didn’t sound like me at all!)

Anyway, back to last night’s Guardian Masterclass. There were 60 of us on Zoom meeting, and Coco talked about finding and developing your own voice, how to break into journalism, pitching your story to (extremely busy) editors, delivering great journalism, building relationships with editors, building resilience and handling rejection. It was a two and a half hour class, but we were late starting due to internet issues, and by the time we came to the 5 minute break, nearly 2 hours in, I had a thumping headache, and had to exit before we got onto having a go at writing a pitch and the promised ‘mammoth’ Q&A at the end. Questions were asked and answered at various points throughout, which was helpful, and they will be sending through the presentation slides. I got SO much out of the session, and it made the idea of pitching a story, opinion piece or personal essay to a magazine, newspaper or website a lot less intimidating – if no-one replies, or they don’t go for your story, don’t take it personally! They’re busy and they get hundreds of pitches in their inbox every day. We’ll see what happens!

Try not to second-guess yourself.

Get back on the horse.

Don’t put your pen down.

(Coco Khan)

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 🙂