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!

Speedy

For the last month I’ve been obsessing over a clip of Greg Burge and Hinton Battle on stage in Sophisticated Ladies. I swear, I have never seen such quick, accurate and flamboyant hoofing in my life, plus they do ridiculously high kicks and the splits, which reminds me instantly of The Nicholas Brothers. And the music is fab. Love it! I have a lot of training to do LOL.

Today was the final rhythm tap class before a 3 week break for the Easter Hols. A few of us were asking what we’re going to do?! Well, I’m going to continue with the gym hopefully.

I really love the routine we’ve been doing to Aaron Taylor’s Easy. There are slides, 4 beat riffs, pick-ups, turns, lots of shuffles in different directions including across the body, and more. I felt I kind of had a bit of the ‘lazy leg’ today where I wasn’t always hitting the floor, but I just need to do some general practice and, inspired by Battle and Burge, perhaps a bit of work on leg speed…

Exciting news – our teacher is hopefully going to start a level 3 (intermediate) class on Thursday lunchtimes from September so that some of us can move up and progress! That solves my issue of trying to do those late Wednesday nights and starting work late the next day. I can’t wait!

Festival Fever

I’ve just returned from Manchester where I attended the amazing Tap Dance Festival UK 2019!

I travelled up on Friday afternoon so I could be there for the 9.30am start on Saturday. This year they had a separate ‘Adult’ level, which made it a lot more approachable for those of us aged 30 plus!

After registration I went to the canteen to wait for the first session and bumped into someone from my Thursday lunchtime rhythm tap class! We didn’t know either one of us were going to the festival, and she had left the class straight away on Thursday, so she didn’t hear me mention I was going. Phew, someone to have lunch with!

We started with an energetic aerobic full body warm-up before being led to our studio for the day. The day ran as follows:

Rudimentals with Liz Carroll (New Jersey Tap Ensemble)

Liz got us learning a Steve Condos combination, which uses a basic crawl (heel, toe, heel, toe), but adds in the heel (or toe) on the other foot, in between each). It got very mind-bending, but it was fun to try and do it! Then she taught us some of Buster Brown’s trademark dance Laura. Loved it!

Musicality & choreography with Sarah Reich (Sourtaps)

Everyone was excited about headliner Sarah Reich’s class! Hailing from Los Angeles, she has performed with the Syncopated Ladies, Postmodern Jukebox, Jason Samuels Smith; she founded her own company Tap Music Project and has just released a tap jazz album called New Change, which I now own. It’s amazing!

In her class we worked on rhythm turns, the basis of which is a cramp roll (toe-toe-heel-heel). We worked on a basic turn and then a travelling one. I managed to get through the class without getting dizzy for once! (My spotting technique for turns is rusty LOL). Then we learned a short routine that included two turns. SO GOOD! I love her style and emphasis on musicality. She is the second tapper I’ve heard say “learn to play drums”… I’m still thinking about it!

Classic repertory with Tony Waag (American Tap Dance Foundation)

Tony Waag is the founder of the ATDF, based in New York, along with the legendary Brenda Bufalino and the late Honi Coles – wow! His class was really good fun! We worked on a short routine that got us working out left and right, and there were a couple of complicated combos, but he emphasised not thinking about it, which is definitely the tip of the week!

Lunch, Intro to faculty & Q&A

We sat in the theatre space to eat lunch and listened to each faculty member introduce themselves and give a bit of their background and then answer our questions. Needless to say, this session overran massively, so the advertised ‘Open Space’ was moved to the end of the day!

A big part of the discussion was (not very technical) British syllabus tap versus (extremely technical) American rhythm tap. We were fortunate to have Alison Forrester on the panel who is a dance examiner and syllabus writer who shed some light on this. Many of the Brits on the panel said they passed all their tap syllabus exams and thought they were accomplished… Until they went to a tap class in the US, and realised they didn’t know anything. Amazing. So they all retrained in the US. And then brought it back to the UK! (Of course syllabus tap has its place in a formalised standard of progression).

Tap Attack (Jo & Kai Scanlan)

In this class Jo asked us what we wanted to work on, and we went with cross-phrasing! We did a slightly complicated exercise that she does with all her students and it got us tapping across the phrase of music as well as on the beat. Then we had a go at pickups/pullbacks travelling forwards and backwards – something to work on! I always enjoy Jo’s classes.

After Tap Attack I met my SO outside to make sure we got on the road to do the journey home.

It was such an amazing day, and if I could have, I would have done the entire 3 days, or maybe add on the evening show, social and tap jam for a bit extra.

It was so great to learn new steps and techniques from some of the masters, who themselves learned from the American greats, many of whom are no longer alive (Gregory Hines, Honi Coles, Jimmy Slyde etc).

It’s funny, I felt so jaded after my class on Thursday (tiredness etc) and was considering taking a 5 week or 1 term break, but the festival has filled me with fresh enthusiasm and a renewed desire to learn more and get better!

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Quick Bio: John W. Bubbles

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Photograph by Carl Van Vechten

Who: John W. Bubbles (born John William Sublett)

Born: 19th February 1902 in Louisville, Kentucky

Died: 18th May 1986 in Baldwin Hills, California

Known as: The Father of Rhythm Tap!

Partnered with: Ford L. “Buck” Washington and performed as ‘Buck & Bubbles’ on the Vaudeville circuit. Buck & Bubbles were the first black artists to perform at the Radio City Music Hall.

Big break: Ziegfeld Follies (1931)

Hollywood Movies: Varsity Show (1937), Cabin in the Sky (1943), A Song is Born (1948), Atlantic City (1944)

Tap Dance Style: percussive heel drops, complicated syncopation, jazz music style improvisation with traditional techniques

Invented: Rhythm Tap and the Cramp Roll (Ball-R, Ball-L, Heel-R, Heel-L done very quickly)

Notable Students: Fred Astaire

Recognition: Received the Life Achievement Award from the American Guild of Variety Artists in 1980, and was inducted into the Tap Hall of Fame in 2002

Catchphrase: “Shoot the liquor to me, John Boy”

Noteworthy quotes about him:

“Before Bubbles, tap was danced primarily on the toes, in the 2/4 feel of early jazz music”

“[There is] no tap dancer today who has not been influenced by Bubbles’s inventions”

“[He] revolutionised tap by cutting the tempo…and extending rhythmic patterns beyond the usual eight bars of music” (Margaret Morrison)

“He could get an extra thud whenever he wanted it” (Honi Coles)

“…a new style of tap dancing…he brought his heel beat into tap dancin’…” (The Nicholas Brothers)

References: