It has been one heck of a year, but I want to thank you for following and reading my blog and wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and much better 2021.
It has been one heck of a year, but I want to thank you for following and reading my blog and wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and much better 2021.
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…
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 🙂
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.
Sometimes you just need to whip up a quick salad to go with your leftovers or something you’ve ordered in… Here’s my go-to salad:
It’s that simple. I often enjoy this with a homemade chilli con carne or Piri Piri chicken.
I keep my fresh herbs in the freezer so I have them to hand at any time and they don’t spoil.
Make it even better with slices of avocado and/or some rocket!
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!
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…
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:
Have you recently returned to the dance studio? Have you started learning any new styles? Let me know in the comments 🙂
Now that the summer is pretty much over, I’ve decided to set myself the challenge of going through the tap dance dictionary to increase my tap vocab. This week I’m concentrating on the Front Essence:
A 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.
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!
Hey, how’s it going? Well, my news is that I am back to work 2 days a week and the other 2 days I’m still on furlough until mid-September when I return to my normal working pattern and come off the furlough scheme altogether – hopefully permanently! It has been great to get back to some sort of normality even though I have been keeping myself occupied while not working.
What I’ve been doing
Of course I have been working on my soap side-biz, making products, doing social media posts, planning new recipes and packing and sending out orders, which have been fairly steady. One decision I made was to quit my HR studies. I’ve completed and passed 4 out of 6 modules, but I have been working at this thing for over 3 years, I have to pay money to extend the course 3 months at a time, it’s only foundation level and Human Resources is actually not where I want to be in 5 years’ time. (HR is also ridiculously competitive in terms of the job market, it can be difficult to move up into more strategic roles and the jobs were few and far between even before Covid-19). I think I’ll hang onto my student membership of the CIPD for the time being while I continue to work in my current job, just so I have access to the community forum, knowledge base and other benefits, but oh it feels like such a relief to get the course out of my hair!
As I’ve said in previous posts, my passions (besides tap dance!) are my soap biz and writing (plus I have an English Literature degree), so I decided to bite the bullet while on furlough and I switched to learning how to write copy, proofread and edit! I think this pandemic and lots of time at home has made many of us re-evaluate our lives, our priorities and how we spend our waking hours. I know right before the lockdown I was so sick of London and the commute and I wanted a new job after 10 years in this role…and now I feel like I have a clearer vision of what I want to do. What I really want and have always wanted is to be fully self-employed. Hopefully I can make it happen!
Keep on Running
After having done the ‘I Love the 90s’ virtual charity run in May, I’ve just completed another 5km run in stages (‘I Love the 80s!) for the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, and I’m now doing a charity run for Alzheimer’s Research UK, aiming to get to 20km by the end of August….I’m at just over 7km so far! I started off by doing Couch to 5k (walk, run, walk, run…) but I found the stop-start aspect demotivating, so I’m now just running as far as I can in each session. I’m pleased to say I’m now able to run just over 1km non-stop, especially as someone who does not enjoy running!
All that Jazz
Tap & Tea has finished, but some other interesting talks have now popped up online, which I’ve been attending. BOP Jazz have started a series called ‘Let’s Talk Jazz’, discussing jazz dance in the UK, and Tap Dance Research Network UK are running a series of panel discussions on the history of tap dance in the UK, and of course there is some cross-over with these as it’s all jazz. I joined the first one from TDRUK on Tuesday night entitled Remembering Bebop Jazz Hoofer Will Gaines. Guys, it was AMAZING and full of so many hilarious stories, and I really must tell you all about it in another post, but in short: Will Gaines (1928-2014) was an American tap dancer who worked with all the big bands, jazz musicians and singers in the US (e.g. Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole) and he ended up settling in the UK after a gig brought him here in 1963. Will is credited with influencing a whole new generation of tap dancers in the UK, including the creation of the fantastic London Tap Jam.
This final series of Tap & Tea history talks kicked off a few weeks ago with special guest Heather Cornell. Heather is the artistic director of Manhattan Tap and was the only dancer to be mentored and trained by legendary jazz musician Ray Brown. She is known for having been a major player in the tap dance renaissance and her famous ‘Tap Labs’ are celebrating 30 years this August.
Heather started dancing as a child in Canada with classes in ballet, jazz and tap, with the tap being taught as per the syllabus system, which she, and many others (particularly in the UK) describe as having lots of limitations, to the point where Heather was actually ‘aged out of it’ by the AGE OF 14… She described Canada at that point as having “no understanding of the history of tap”, and she stopped tap dancing because the only avenue was to go into musical theatre, which she didn’t want to do. She went to study Dance Therapy at NYU and did modern dance, but she was at a loss with the vocabulary. She then discovered the more rhythmic Cunningham technique of contemporary dance and decided to move to New York permanently. She ended up getting back into tap, and someone recommended she go study with Cookie Cook – Heather described the first time she heard the sound of his taps and burst into tears! It was a world away from the Canadian tap syllabus.
During her talk, Heather described Charles “Cookie” Cook as a consummate performer. He did comedy, Russian dancing, knockabout, you name it! He had an amazing sense of theatre, timing and how to put together a show and the education she received from him helped her to create her own company, Manhattan Tap. It was that old school style of learning – she hung out with him, he talked and she soaked it all up. Speaking of the old school hoofers, as many have said, none of them taught in the modern way of ‘this is how you do a shuffle’…they just danced and played, and you just had to pick it up: “It was a culture, not a subject”.
Continuing on this theme, Heather moved on to talk about the concept of mentorship: “I collect people”. She said it’s a serious thing – find a mentor, but be prepared to commit. As mentioned by other guests on previous weeks, Heather didn’t hide her disdain at the “distorted euro-centric way of learning” where ‘I pay you, you give me…’ because it will “never grow the art form”. She also made us aware that apparently many of the older generation of tap dancers bristle at the current use of the phrase ‘tap fam’ (as in tap family) because the relationships in those former days were deep and personal, like a parent passing something onto their child. I’ve seen the phrase ‘tap fam’ used a lot on social media as a way to make everyone feel connected across the globe as one big tap family (especially during Covid, right?) but I can see where Heather is coming from when she describes the current scene as more ego-driven and business-like, especially when everyone’s got a social media presence and fan base to maintain.
She was so not impressed with the cutting contests and competition scene, where you have teachers sitting in judgement over other tap dancers, or the newer tap festival scene where teachers are kept apart from attendees. Why? Because “mentors need to be accessible”! Cutting contests happen at all the festivals I’ve been to, and in my opinion, I think they create a bit of excitement and engagement, particularly for younger dancers…but personally, I won’t be taking part any time soon! I do agree with Heather that a tap jam is a better expression of what you can do, because participants can share, learn and ‘steal’ from each other, rather than be under the pressure to compete and then be told by a ‘judge’ that something they did was ‘wrong’ or not as good as their rival. What do you think?
Heather Cornell was fascinating to listen to. She is one tough cookie with understandably strong opinions on the direction the tap scene is going in. But that’s a good thing, because you need people to defend the art and make sure it goes in the right direction and continues to be accessible to all.
Wake up and start taking responsibility for yourself
If we don’t pass on the history [of tap], nobody else will
We need to reconnect tap dance to the music
You have to make mistakes or you won’t get better
Don’t be afraid to colour outside the lines