More Practise > More Classes

Wall of tap shoesLately, I’ve found myself having conversations encouraging some of my classmates to practise outside of class. Before class people tend to ask each other if they’ve practised the routine, and I find some people are saying they don’t practise and they’re shocked at how much I do (and I really don’t do that much compared to some tap dancers). Now I know I am obsessed with tap, and want to get to a higher skill level, so I do try to practise the class routine at least 3 different days a week (not particularly long sessions), otherwise I find it doesn’t get into my muscle memory… and that’s a separate thing to doing drills etc, which I try to do on weekends, but I haven’t managed much of that since the autumn. I also know some people just want to do tap dance for fun and not really have to do homework – I definitely get that…BUT THEN they get frustrated in the class and sometimes even with the teacher. A lady recently told me she’s been doing tap classes on and off for about 20 years now, and she’s not improving, so her solution was perhaps to enrol in more classes. I asked her how much she practises outside of class – she doesn’t really. AHA. Imagine if we were talking about learning a musical instrument – I’m not improving but I don’t practise outside of my lessons. Unfortunately, it won’t happen by OSMOSIS 🙂

More Practise > More Classes

Review: Creature

Front cover of the Creature ballet programme with theatre auditorium in the background

 

Yes, I was at Sadler’s Wells again! Last Saturday my SO and I headed to Islington to see Akram Khan’s English National Ballet production Creature. 

It was a full house that afternoon and there was lots of anticipation and excitement as the lights went down and the show began…

“In a dilapidated former Arctic research station, Creature has been conscripted by a military brigade into a bold new experimental programme. He is being tested for his mental and physical ability to adapt to cold, isolation and homesickness…” (Act I synopsis)

The mission is to colonise space, man’s final frontier.

Creature is based on medical student Georg Buechner’s play Woyzeck (1875), a tragedy where a lonely soldier agrees to take part in medical experiments conducted by a doctor, to earn money – his mental health gradually breaks down and he begins to have apocalyptic visions.

The staging of Creature is a large wood panelled room, where the creature is being kept and tested. He falls in love with Marie (Emily Suzuki), his keeper who spends much of her time mopping the floor, but shows him kindness. She is assaulted by the evil Major (Skylar Martin) who is in charge of this mission and because she has rejected his advances, his rage turns towards her.  A sinister and repetitive voice over from The Lord of the Rings’ Andy Serkis added to the sense of foreboding that was being created by the menacing and jarring music. On and off throughout the show we hear part of a speech by President Nixon congratulating Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong “because of what [they] have done…” which gradually becomes more and more twisted and slurred, where we suddenly realise (if we’re paying attention) that the meaning has morphed into something different.

A sinister and repetitive voice…

Rentaro Nakaaki was excellent as Creature and beautifully expressed the many emotions his character went through. The military brigade were very effective as a sinister and faceless troop, following the Major’s orders, and I loved the contemporary style of dance. The story raises many questions about the quest for space, how we treat our planet and at what cost, and of course, how we treat each other.

Creature is an engaging, Frankenstein-esque, edge-of-your-seat ballet and I’m so glad I went to see and experience it!

 

Scottish Ballet Company Class

Last Saturday morning I took myself along to Sadler’s Wells in London to watch  Scottish Ballet’s company class! I have a free membership with Scottish Ballet, which includes invitations to watch company classes. As the company were performing a sold-out run of ‘Coppelia’ at Sadler’s Wells, I thought I would take the opportunity to go along and watch them warm up and rehearse.

I got to Islington early, so I had a wander along Camden Passage and stopped for a cappuccino before heading to Sadler’s Wells. I arrived at the Lilian Baylis Theatre entrance on time and went in to join the others who were waiting. We were met by the lady organising the event and she crossed each of us off the register. Then, at 11.30am we were taken through the stage door, down to the auditorium where everyone spread out across the seats so we all had an uninterrupted view (I think there was about 15 of us altogether). The company class had already started, and I was really excited to see how they get ready for a day of not one, but TWO performances!

The rehearsal director took the dancers through barre class and floor work and then they moved onto rehearsal for Coppelia. It was so interesting to watch everyone and I have to say what we all know already – they are SUCH TALENTED ATHLETES! We watched them for an hour before we were collected. I didn’t have tickets to see the show later on, but I didn’t feel like I was missing out – the company class was fab!

Watching the warm-up gave me the motivation to put more effort into working out, and to persevere with my online ballet classes 🙂

The Best On-Demand Ballet Classes

Black ballet shoesThere was no tap class this week, so most days after work I’ve been doing an on-demand online ballet class with English National Ballet with the aim of making it a habit. The site is called BalletActive and is part of their ‘ENB At Home’ offering, which I think they set up during the Covid lockdown.  You can download their ENB At Home app to do the classes from your phone or to cast onto your TV with a Google Chromecast or just play it from your laptop as I am. It costs £9.99 a month, and you can try it out with a free 7 day trial. At the moment I’m doing the classes in my bedroom – unfortunately, I don’t have much space there, so I did hit the back of my heel on my bed on Wednesday evening 🙁  I really should get back to the garage now the weather is milder…

I’m currently working my way through the ‘Bitesize Ballet’ classes for beginners/improvers with Richard Bermange (Creative Director of ENBYouthCo), beginning with the barre class and then moving on to centre. I’m really enjoying it, and I like the fact there’s another dancer demonstrating, so it’s really helpful that the teacher gives him corrections and feedback during and after a sequence. It has definitely reignited my passion for doing ballet (and not just watching!), which is great, because I’ve felt very much like I can’t be bothered recently – HELP! I actually got onto this because I was signed up to ENB’s newsletter and they were promoting their Sofa2Studio programme after Christmas, which I signed up to (a bit like Couch to 5k) but never actually did! I used to do ‘Ballet at the Barre’ classes at City Lit in Covent Garden, but I find it hard to do that as well as tap classes in my working week. I think timetables and travel make it harder – doing an on-demand class at home cuts that part out, but of course you need to be disciplined.

With this in mind, here is my list of the best on-demand ballet classes I’ve come across this year:

  • ENB BalletActive – Ballet, Kathak, Pilates, dance cardio, yoga, barre fit, warm-ups £9.99 a month (free 7 day trial)
  • Rambert Plus – Ballet, contemporary, contemporary fusion, Caribbean dance, GCSE Dance, Kathak, Pilates, yoga, dance cardio,  workout playlists, over 60s classes. £8.99 a month (free 2 week trial)
  • My Ballet Coach – Ballet, warm-ups, workouts, stretch and body conditioning, pointe and pre-pointe, live classes £14.99 a month (free trial)
  • Sleek Ballet Fitness – ballet-style fitness, ballet repertoire, dance cardio, body conditioning plus a schedule of live classes. £22.49 a month or book live classes (free 7 day trial and free starter workouts)

Speaking of ballet, I’ve just bought tickets to see Akram Khan’s Creature  next month and Northern Ballet’s The Great Gatsby in May, both at Sadler’s Wells – can’t wait! 🙂

Under Pressure

Yesterday afternoon I went to the last tap class before a week’s break for half term. In the morning we welcomed our new line manager to our team with coffee and cake in the office, as well as catching up with colleagues and doing some WORK!

I’d missed last week’s tap class because my SO and I had a week in Devon as a bolt-on at the end of a weekend conference in Torquay. I didn’t get a chance to practise the fab routine we’ve been learning while we were away, and I came home with a sore throat and feeling a bit off, so I didn’t do anything at the weekend. I did spend some time on Tuesday evening recapping what we’d added on last time I was at the class, but I only got around to learning the choreography I’d missed the night before the class. I went over and over it, but I find it doesn’t go into the body unless I do at least TWO separate practises (three even better!). So I turned up to class yesterday feeling a bit sketchy on the last part.

We did some exercises travelling across the studio in 2 groups, which is always fun, before cracking on with the routine. I gradually picked up the new choreography, which helped build on what I did the night before and then we actually did a section as a canon (also known as a round) with one half of the class (A) dancing to one melody and the other half (B) dancing to another. It was great!

At the end, our teacher asked if I (person A) would be happy to dance with her (person B) so she could film the last part of the routine for a video recap for class. Well, I kept going wrong! I guess it still wasn’t cemented yet, the camera was rolling and I think I just felt under pressure (I could feel the eyes of my classmates on my back…even though they weren’t there)! Still, it was a fun thing to try 🙂

On another note, I have a new colleague who found out that I do tap dance and she was interested in getting back into it herself but couldn’t find a convenient class, so I searched HIGH AND LOW for a class near to where she lives in the ‘burbs and managed to find her a rhythm tap class with a great teacher. She’s a beginner and is visually impaired, so she needs to be taken to the class. Well, she’s been going for 4 weeks now and is LOVING IT! She even gave me a card and a bar of chocolate to say thank you 🙂

My Highlights of 2022

Happy New Year! I meant to write this blog post on New Year’s Eve, but there was a lot going on over the holidays, including a trip to the theatre, so I’m writing it now! Today is actually Epiphany, so we’re still technically in the Christmas season 🙂 

2022 was a better year than the pandemic years, and it was good to be out of the house and fairly ‘back to normal’, but it was still a bit strange with all the crazy politics, the death of the Queen and trying to get into some sort of hybrid work pattern, plus I got rid of my car. Here are my highlights of 2022:

Sadler’s Wells Gift Membership

I was given this amazing gift for my birthday, which gives me priority booking and 20% off tickets, so I made sure I went as often as I could! I saw some great ballets and other dance shows including:

Plus I saw Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty on New Year’s Eve, which was my first Matthew Bourne experience and I loved it!

Return To In-Person Tap Classes 

It was just so great to be back in the studio with other people, especially some of my old classmates! I include attending the tap intensive in this, because that was the first in-person class I attended after the pandemic and I learnt SO MUCH and surprised myself how I got back into things after being in the garage with a laptop for 2 years. But really good to be back to my weekly class.

Tina Turner the Musical 

A postponed birthday treat from 2021. I mean, it was just AMAZING!

Anything Goes

Once again, another FABULOUS SHOW with an excellent cast, including Simon Callow, Bonnie Langford and Kerry Ellis. It was a lovely Summer’s day at London’s Barbican.

Commonwealth Games

 

Athletics and diving – It was such a fantastic, positive atmosphere in Birmingham! Plus we stayed at a spa hotel outside of Birmingham (got an amazing deal!) and drove in to the designated park & ride car parks as the city hotels were stupidly expensive during the games.

Breaks in Devon and Kent

My SO had a week away in Devon in June, and then a colleague let us have her flat in the Thanet area of Kent for a week in September, so we took my mum with us. We were really fortunate to have great weather (most of the time) on these two weeks away – because you never know!  I wasn’t familiar with Kent, so it was nice to discover a new area.

Living Room Makeover

It hadn’t been changed since we moved in at the end of 2017 and I was sick of the blue walls, plus some of the paper was peeling and bubbling. In our second week off work in September, when we were back from Kent, we stripped wallpaper, filled holes, hung new paper, painted and rehung pictures where we wanted them (rather than where there were already holes)! There’s still an area to sort out in the corner behind the TV which requires replacing guttering outside, but WE LOVE IT NOW. The fireplace now stands out as a feature and I learnt how to do wallpapering properly.

Home Alone with Live Orchestra

In early December my SO and I went to see Home Alone with Live Orchestra at the Birmingham Symphony Hall as part of his birthday gift. It was also at the Royal Albert Hall in London something like a week before that, but it was pretty much sold out, standing room only, so we went for Birmingham…with a seat! There was even a choir onstage for the choral sections and they sang Christmas songs at the end. Those who left during the end-credits missed out! It’s my favourite Christmas film (I watch it every year) and it gave us all the Christmassy feels.

As you can see, I saw A LOT of shows last year, and I haven’t even mentioned all of them in this post. But you know I love the theatre, and when you go off-West End, the ticket prices are SO MUCH more reasonable. 

I usually write my goals for the year ahead, but I don’t think I managed to write anything last year – I was just glad to get out of 2021! This year I’m sharing a simple More & Less list:

More:

  • Quality sleep
  • Tap dance
  • Cardio exercise
  • Reading
  • Stretching
  • Writing

Less:

  • Trying to catch up
  • Things in the diary
  • Spending ££

Let’s see how it goes! How about YOU?

Review: Burn the Floor – The Reunion

I know. I’ve been at the theatre a lot lately. All the way back in December when Strictly Come Dancing was heating up towards a dramatic final, tickets were going on sale for the spin-off touring shows, such as the Live Tour and the Professionals Tour . I couldn’t make the Professionals Tour dates, but instead I jumped in and bought tickets for Burn the Floor – The Reunion: A Celebration of 25 Years at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham.

Well, last Friday night was the night! My SO and I drove up the M40 to Birmingham on Friday morning and as the show was in the evening, we stayed over until Saturday. We parked up at the Mailbox and wandered into the centre to get something to eat. WELL, as we were walking along the road, we were approaching a zebra crossing when we suddenly saw a couple riding a tandem bike towards us. How lovely, you say! Yeah, except they were STARK NAKED. IN THE MIDDLE OF BIRMINGHAM FOR CRYING OUT LOOOUUUD.

The middle of Birmingham

Later on (when I was enjoying noodles, egg-fried rice, spicy pork and salt-&-pepper chicken) and had processed what HECK I had witnessed, I wondered if they had been protesting something. When I told my mum about it on the Saturday evening, she asked me if they had a banner. I told her I don’t know –  I didn’t want to look again to find out…HA-HA!

And….now onto the show!

Birmingham Symphony Hall

The show kicked off at 7.30pm and the auditorium was pretty much full, apart from the row in front of us (as usually happens, that row suddenly populated after the interval). The award-winning Broadway show Burn the Floor is the show from which most of the Strictly pros are scouted. The Reunion starred our favourite former and current pros: Robin Windsor, Aliaz Skorjanec, Janette Manrara, Trent Whiddon, Karen Hauer, Kai Widdrington, Dianne Buswell, Luba Mushtuk and sibs Kevin and Joanne Clifton, as well as other BTF dancers I hadn’t necessary heard of, but some of whom have been Strictly/Dancing with the Stars pros in other countries.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but the show was a much bigger production than I imagined! At the beginning, director and choreographer Jason Gilkison came out to introduce the show and talk about its beginnings and evolution. We gave a huge round of applause, and it was quite emotional for him and the dancers as it was the final time they would probably all perform together. Then the lights lowered and it began. These amazing dancers took us through a variety of incredible ballroom, Latin, contemporary and jazz routines to a fantastic set of songs, led by incredible singers Rietta Austin and Patrick Smyth, with plenty of light and shade. There was Charleston, cha-cha, samba, paso doble, rumba, waltz and bit of Fosse I believe. The colourful lighting effects were exciting and atmospheric, and the whole thing was really quite “wow” in that size of auditorium. We sat in the Grand Tier but if you were lucky enough to be in the stalls, the dancers performed and strutted in the aisles around you on several occasions.

I have to say that although everyone was fantastic, my stand-outs of the show were Karen and Janette – just fabulous and so much precision. Towards the finale the show blew up with an explosive jive to Tina Turner’s ‘Proud Mary’, which I LOVED of course!!

You know that big wheel keep on turning
Proud Mary keep on burning
And we’re rolling, rolling
Rolling on the river

And just when you thought it was over, they came back out to a really apt musical number – ‘Ballroom Blitz’! As you can imagine the applause went on for AGES! At the end the show’s creators came onto the stage at the end to a round of applause and the dancers were all hugging each other and some had their phones out filming the audience and capturing the electric atmosphere. The whole thing was so uplifting!

Verdict: An exciting, energetic, exuberant Strictly Spectacular! 

Happy International Dance Day!

Friends! Today is International Dance Day, so I thought I would take the opportunity to wish you a happy one! 

I’m not dancing today because I seem to have done something to my left foot and it feels uncomfortable when I walk in shoes. In fact, I had to miss my tap class last night for this very reason. Maybe I overdid it in my Wednesday evening practise. But I hope you are able to spend some time celebrating dance today. I’ve been working my way through some online talks related to tap dance, such as this one, and this one. Oh, and this one.

But why is April 29th International Dance Day? Well, it was started in 1982 by the Dance Committee of the International Theatre Institute, for dance to be celebrated on the birthday of the creator of modern ballet, Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810), particularly celebrating the fact that dance breaks down  barriers and brings people together under one common language… dance.

Enjoy the day!

Strictly 2021

BBC Strictly Come Dancing

I do this every year – I say “Oh I’m not bothered about getting into Strictly Come Dancing this year”, and then I get completely engrossed and I’m watching the live show, the results show, all the weekday It Takes Two shows and I’m all over the social media! Well, this year my favourites are the stunning AJ Odudu & new pro dancer Kai – AMAZING chemistry and fantastic routines, especially their sizzling Argentine Tango, which I can’t stop watching, a banger of a Jive on week one and THEN on Saturday night they pulled off a killer Charleston. Yes, I’m obsessed! I definitely think John & Johannes and Rose & Giovanni will be joining them in the final –  it’s such high standard of competition this year!

Are you watching?

Review: Ballet Black Double Bill

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

Last Thursday I went to see Ballet Black at the Watford Palace Theatre. I was so burned from work last week that I wasn’t really in the mood until we got there. In their 19th season, Ballet Black were performing a double bill of two very different pieces: Then Or Now and The Waiting Game.

Then Or Now

This muted piece was set to a spoken score, the poetry of American poet Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) from her Dark Fields of the Republic, along with the music of Heinrich Franz von Biber (1644-1704). Being set to poetry made it a series of shorter pieces, with themes of the breakdown of community, selfishness, individualism, politics and violence. For me, Then Or Now was powerful but I found the spoken word difficult to concentrate on after a while (probably because I was really tired), and it was a little abstract for me, but it was danced really beautifully and I enjoyed the variety of Will Tuckett’s choreography.

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

The Waiting Game

Choreographed by Mthuthuzeli November, this was my favourite piece of the evening, on the topic of something almost everyone can relate to: the monotony of the daily grind and the desire to escape! Spoken over and over again were the words (I hope I’ve remembered this correctly) “Wake, shower, eat, work, eat lunch, work, home, dinner, sleep, wake, shower, eat, work….” and it went on and on like that. The main character, the work drone, is ruminating on the meaning of life and death and is trapped in a cycle of constantly trying to leave his life via a mystery door, that seems to be enticing him (through a group of mischievous dancers) to an exciting life…but he keeps being prevented from opening it. He meets his sparky alternate (female) self on his cyclical journey of torment and eventually the door is opened and he joins the party, complete with sequined jacket, dancing with gospel church joy to Etta James’ fabulous song Something’s Got a Hold of Me…before returning to his monotonous old life, and the punchline is delivered. This scene was so uplifting and a visual treat.

Verdict: A really enjoyable contemporary ballet double bill, displaying creativity and contrast. As you’ve probably gathered, The Waiting Game was my favourite piece.