5 Things in 5 Pictures

Autumn has definitely arrived

Despite the torrential rain (a hangover of Hurricane Lorenzo), this is still my favourite time of year. Well, apart from the clock change. Coats, scarves, boots, red and orange leaves, bonfires, firework displays, squashes and soups!

I joined a new gym! 

On Wednesday lunchtime I went to the council gym near work. Coming from the familiarity of the neat University gym, I had to have a look around the machines before getting started. They seem a bit more fiddly to load weight to, and some of them were broken. The air con wasn’t working properly. The steam room was CLOSED. But it is a busy gym of heavy usage, so not entirely surprising. I’ll be back on Tuesday, and I might even try the swimming pool. If it doesn’t work out, I may quit and return to the Uni gym in its temporary location.

On Wednesday night I had my second Ukulele class

I realised after the first class that I needed to cut my nails so I could press the strings properly! We had a substitute teacher as our tutor was unable to make it this week. The stand-in was very good and even got us onto strumming. We went over chords C, F, A minor, G7 and we even added C7. Lots of information, but I can see how learning a musical instrument (musicality, rhythm, strumming patterns, reading music, timing etc) feeds into tap dancing. Love it.

Watching Ballet on stage is like being in a dream

At the weekend, my SO and I went to Sheffield to visit his sister. On the Saturday evening, she took us to see Northern Ballet, currently celebrating 50 years, perform Cinderella at The Lyceum. The dancing was high quality, and because the story is so familiar (I loved my Ladybird books LOL), it was intriguing to see how they would stage the story. For example, in this production, the Fairy Godmother is a magician, first introduced at a Moscow winter market among other interesting circus performers.  I particularly enjoyed the crystal lake ice skating scene and the Prince’s winter ball. Enchanting, wintery and wonderful!

 

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I couldn’t quit tap if I tried

Last week I thought I’d made my mind up to take a break from rhythm tap classes once this 6 week block is up next week, and come back to it after Christmas, once my Ukulele classes have finished. I thought maybe I’d go swimming on a Thursday lunchtime instead – something that doesn’t require too much brainpower! But then I went to my class and LOVED EVERY MINUTE. I feel like I’m back ‘in the zone’, as Britney would say and I’m learning loads of new intermediate level things and have lots of fun things to work on…

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!

Heartbeat of Home

I hope you’ve had a great summer? I’m just coming to the end of a relaxing two weeks off work…😭

In our first week, my SO and I went to North Devon for a relaxing week by the coast. We stayed in a little apartment in Lynmouth and did lots of walking and visiting National Trust properties and fishing villages. We also did a boat trip to Lundy Island on our last day. Unfortunately the 2 hour voyage there was extremely choppy, our boat rolling around like you wouldn’t believe, to the point that most of the 150+ passengers were using sick bags. Not nice! I just managed to avoid it by pulling my body up the stairs to the fresh air of the upper deck and trying not to look at the rising and falling water, but my poor SO didn’t 😦

Anyway, it created camaraderie among the passengers and we chatted to people who we kept bumping into later on when wandering around the island. Everyone felt ill! Thankfully the boat trip back to the mainland in the afternoon was so much better (you could eat, talk, take photos and like, walk LOL).

In our second week, we visited Osterley Park National Trust House in West London (making good use of our membership gift!), but the main task of the week was to paint the kitchen walls to finish off our Property Brothers style Farrow and Ball makeover, which began earlier in the summer with painting the cupboards and spraying the handles hammered black. Almost finished! I might do a separate kitchen makeover post at some point.

On Thursday we travelled into London to see the show Heartbeat of Home at the Piccadilly Theatre, to get my latest Irish dance fix! First we had pizza and pasta at Vapiano in Soho, before browsing some of the quirky shops and then heading to the theatre’s top floor bar, for a drink before our matinee performance at 2.30pm.

Heartbeat of Home comes from the producers of the world famous Riverdance, and is a high energy show telling the story of the common ground found by immigrants who travelled to the new world with nothing “but the hopes and histories remembered in the music”, through an amalgamation of dance styles, namely Irish soft shoe and hard shoe dance, Flamenco, Latin, Hip Hop, and Contemporary. I also spotted a bit of tap dance in there! There was an amazing live singer and live musicians on stage, which included the traditional Irish Uilleann Pipes and Bodhran drum. It was fantastic!

The theme of leaving one’s homeland echoed Rhythm of the Dance which I saw at my local theatre recently, but Heartbeat of Home differs with the addition of other dance styles and cultures.

Verdict: Still obsessed with Irish Dance!

The show is at the Piccadilly Theatre, London until 13th October.

Anyway, back to work on Monday – boo!

11 Reasons Why Gregory Hines Was Awesome

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Gregory Hines (1946-2003)
  1. He revived Rhythm Tap in mainstream culture in the 1980s and 1990s after it had seriously gone out of fashion
  2. He was an amazing improviser (just watch some of his stuff on YouTube for inspiration!)
  3. He started dancing semi-professionally aged 5, with his brother Maurice, and took lessons with Broadway choreographer Henry Le Tang, who taught people such as Bunny Briggs, Eleanor Powell, Sandman Sims and Debbie Allen
  4. He was inspired by some of the tap dance heavyweights, including Sammy Davis Jr and the Nicholas Brothers
  5. He has influenced many, many artists such as Savion Glover, Dianne Walker, Jane Goldberg, Ayodele Casel, Michelle Dorrance
  6. In 1988 he successfully petitioned ‘National Tap Dance Day’ in the US (25th of May, which happens to be Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson’s birthday), which has now morphed into International Tap Dance Day!
  7. He starred on Broadway, and in many films, including ‘White Nights’ (1985), ‘The Cotton Club’ (1984) and ‘Tap’ (1989), receiving a Tony Award in 1992 for the musical ‘Jelly’s Last Jam’ plus several other nominations.
  8. He created a fantastic documentary for PBS in 1989 on the history and culture of tap dance, called ‘Tap Dance America
  9. He was a great singer, fronting a rock band in the 70s and later performing with artists such as Luther Vandross
  10. In the late 90s he had his own sitcom ‘The Gregory Hines Show’, plus he had a recurring role on the popular sitcom ‘Will and Grace’
  11. In 2019, 16 years after his untimely death at the age of 57,  the US Postal Service created a Gregory Hines Black Heritage postage stamp

Awesome.

Easy Breakfast Muffins

I’ve gone from leaving home at 7.30am to 6.30am this year just so I can have a better journey to work, and a seat on the train! Because of this I’m struggling to fit breakfast in and often end up buying something on the way to the office. I find a protein based breakfast, such as eggs, keeps me going longer than say, cereal or croissants.

Solution: I decided to make a batch of breakfast Muffins that I can grab on my way out in the morning!

  • 10 whisked eggs
  • Bacon
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Mature cheddar
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Fresh parsley

Fill a greased muffin tin three-quarters full with whisked seasoned egg and then add the chunky ingredients on top. (I put the bacon in raw as it will cook in the egg).

Put them in the oven on about 180 degrees for about 10 minutes and boom! Delicious.

I’m definitely going to make these again and try some different ingredients too…

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….