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.

 

March Motivation

Hey, how are you doing? Sorry I haven’t posted in a while – I’ve found it hard to find the motivation to write, despite having lots to write about and trying to make THIS year my ‘Year of Writing’ (last year didn’t really work out…). So here’s a brief run-down of what I’ve been up to:

Tap Dance Standards Workshops

I recently attended a trio of tap dance standards workshops on Zoom, hosted by Sole Rebel. I literally jumped at the chance to learn some classic repertoire! I told you about the first one, Leon Collins #53 in my last post, and the next two were Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson’s King For A Day, which I absolutely LOVE, taught by Old Kent Road’s Avalon and Buster Brown’s Laura (some of which I’d learnt at Tap Dance Festival UK in 2019), taught by Old Kent Road’s Ryan. Thankfully recordings of the class and of the full routines were provided, so I can continue to work on these in my own time. I’ve just signed up to the next trio of workshops, which will be focusing on improvisation, musicality, rhythm and body percussion, which will be challenging and amazing!

Writing Challenge

In February I signed up to a ‘Couch to 5K’ writing challenge called Wake Up Your Writing, where I received a timed writing prompt by email every day for a whole month. Unfortunately I got to day 5 and gave up…*sigh*…BUT, I still have the emails, so I am going to pick up where I left off: “Pick a character you know and love and make them do the thing you always wished they would”. I’m going to have a think now about which character I want to write about 🙂

BOP Jazz Workout

My SO and I are still working from home, and while it can be too easy to flop on the sofa in the evening, one thing I have been motivated to do is the BOP Jazz dance workout every day after work. I think part of it is the feeling of stretching and lengthening those stiff muscles after a day at the desk, and the other part is the wonderful chilled jazz music that accompanies the workout. It’s a manageable bit of cross-training. I also like the fact it’s more of a body conditioning and stretch class than a bouncy cardio workout, which I really have to be in the mood for! (BOP are the London-based Body of People Jazz Theatre Company, and the founders, Dollie Henry and Paul Jenkins have written a fantastic book called The Essential Guide to Jazz Dance, which is on My Must Reads list).

Thanks for reading!

How are you staying motivated at the moment? 

Number 53


Hey, how was your weekend? Same as last weekend? I know what you mean! I’m so relieved that my mum has had her first Covid vaccination and is waiting to be contacted about having the booster. The NHS is doing an AMAZING job.

This weekend was a little bit different to the lockdown norm for me. My teacher’s tap and theatre company are running three online ‘Standards Sessions’ of Sunday afternoon workshops to learn pieces of legendary tap dance repertoire of the great hoofers. On Sunday the amazing Adele Joel taught us the tap legend Leon Collins’ routine #53, as it would have been his 99th birthday.

When Adele demonstrated the routine, I found myself standing there in awe, thinking there’s NO WAY I’m going to pick that choreography up in an hour and a half! (Ever been there?) But I surprised myself and actually picked up everything she showed us…until we had to go double time! It was fun to try, but it was crazy quick. (“Blimey!” someone wrote in the chat box :-)) It was so much fun and such a lovely way to spend a locked-down Sunday afternoon. I’m looking forward to the next two workshops!

I recently bought tickets for Tap Dance Festival UK 2021, which takes place online between 12th-21st February. This time I decided not to go for any choreography classes, because I do choreography every week (and have a load of tap choreography videos from the summer onwards that I haven’t even looked at yet), and I just booked three intermediate technique classes instead:

  • Drills with Robin Passmore
  • Relaxed Technique with Michelle Dorrance
  • Rudiments with Adele Joel

Plus, there’s also some other stuff included in my ticket, like the kick-off party, warm-up sessions, a footage viewing party and a couple of Tap and Tea talks from Theatre Tap London with Michelle Dorrance and Dianne Walker – amazing!

Tap Dance UK (confusing, I know) also have some fun events coming up this month, so it looks as though I’ll be busy!

 

Cancelled

Virtual rhythm tap class got off to a good start last week. Even though there are only two of us enrolled on the online daytime course, the course is NOT cancelled (yay!) so we can carry on. It would be a different if we were physically hogging a studio. The alternative would have been to switch to Wednesday evenings again, but I like tapping at lunchtime 🙂

I was supposed to be starting ukulele ensemble class last Friday evening, and I logged onto MS Teams at 6pm…and nothing happened. There was no meeting taking place, so I emailed and phoned the college, and finally, today I’ve been told that there weren’t enough students enrolled, so it’s cancelled. Boo! Waiting for my refund.

I also got an email earlier this month to say that our beachfront hot-tub break in the South-West is also cancelled, which is no surprise with the current lockdown situation in the UK. We really love a late January/early February break (plus it’s cheaper, being outside of peak holiday season), but it is not to be this time. But I’m thankful that we got to go away in the Summer.

I have enrolled on Tap Dance Festival UK’s online festival in February! I wasn’t actually intending to do this, but then I saw that Robin Passmore will be teaching drills, and I jumped straight onto the registration page (unfortunately missing the early bird registration by a few weeks)! New Jersey-based dancer and studio owner Robin was on the faculty at the very first Tap Dance Festival UK event I attended in Manchester in 2018, and I definitely enjoyed her class the most because she concentrates on drills and precision, which is evident in her extremely clean and accurate tap sounds. Some people find drills boring, but I absolutely LOVE THEM. After all, that’s how you get better.

This Friday I’m having a digital fitting with Tap Dance UK for some Artefyl Zapatos tap shoes from Spain – my first ever pair of customised tap shoes! I had enquired about Miller and Ben tap shoes through a UK based distributor, but there’s been a massive delay in communication between them and New York, so on their advice I cancelled the order, and then the Artefyl opportunity popped up. Hopefully shipping from Spain will be much less complicated!

Happy New Year

Hello and Happy New Year to you! Well, we’re actually 8 days in now, and things in the world seem crazy at the moment, what with Covid and Trump and Brexit…but I hope the start of the year is going okay for you.

Christmas was very different this time around because we weren’t allowed to meet with other households, so on Christmas day afternoon, after our online church service, a sunshine walk and a massive gammon dinner with all the trimmings, we ended up hosting a 3 and a half hour quiz with my family on Zoom which included rounds on country flags, Strictly Come Dancing and a (particularly difficult) music round, and then we video called my SO’s family straight after. We managed to do lots of walks in the evenings to see the amazing Christmas light displays that people had done on their houses, and we walked around the village in the daytime to try and get some vitamin D. I completed a very tricky 500 piece jigsaw and a couple of books I’ve had on the go. My SO painted the bathroom in Cooking Apple Green (Farrow & Ball) and made chocolate fondants, a baked cheesecake and pastel de natas (Portuguese custard tarts) – I also worked (from home) on the 30th, but who wants to hear about that?

Usually in the run up to Christmas, many of us like going to the theatre (if the bank account allows!) to see a pantomime or another show. Last Winter we saw The Mousetrap in London and the Northern Ballet’s The Nutcracker in Sheffield. This Winter, the theatres are closed, but we were able to get tickets to watch the film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) at a drive-in in North London (complete with burger…and fries!), and we also got tickets for the Barbican’s live streamed performance of A Dickensian Christmas, which featured beautifully sung Christmas carols and dramatic excerpts from A Christmas Carol, read by actor Kevin Whately (of Inspector Morse, Lewis, etc). Definitely gave us all the Christmas feels.

We made a point of watching movies over the holidays, including Running on Empty (1988), Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), North by Northwest (1959), Die Hard (1988), Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1994) (technically a TV episode, but hey ho) – we did have more Christmassy/wintery movies on the list (Uncle Buck, Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street) but we haven’t got around to those yet!

Another thing I did was to spend a little bit of time in the garage working on specific tap steps, something I’ve been trying to do since the summer. This time I concentrated on my ‘Shirley Temple’. A very well-known combination, but one that you can trip up on, or add too many extra bits to. To make it even better, I had some Christmas Jazz songs on in the background! I’m back to tap class next week, and because we’re on lockdown and therefore online-only again, I’m able to join the Thursday afternoon class – a welcome break in the working day. I also start ukulele class online next Friday – I’ll let you know how that goes 🙂

Have a great weekend x

Tap & Tea with Heather Cornell

DSC_1307.JPG

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.

Some quotes from Heather

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

 

 

Tap & Tea with Ayodele Casel

Ayodele Casel Magazine

Guys, I’m so behind with my promised write ups of the Tap & Tea history talks, but I think I’m getting back on track, and so today I’m going to sit down to tell you all about Thursday’s tap history talk with special guest Ayodele Casel.

 

You may even want to have a cup of tea to hand!

Described by the late Gregory Hines as one of the “top young tap dancers in the world”, Ayodele Casel is a New York based tap dancer and actress. She is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades for her art, including the 2017 Hoofers Award, and she was named one of the ‘Biggest Breakout Stars of 2019’ by the New York Times. She was artist in residence at Harvard between 2018-2019 and became a Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard 2019-2020. She has performed with Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, American Tap Dance Orchestra and Jazz Tap Ensemble. She is co-director of Operation Tap, and as you can see from the image above, she is on the August cover of Dance Magazine. Her mission is to “make tap dancing a relevant presence in the arts”. .

I was really inspired to hear that Ayodele was a relative late starter to tap dance at the age of 18. (Not as late as me in my 30s, but it’s nice to hear from someone who didn’t start at 3 years old for a change!) She was actually an Acting major at university (NYU), but was drawn into tap dance classes as part of her Movement for Actors class. Prior to this, at high school a teacher had shown the class a Fred and Ginger musical as part of a ‘History of the Movies’ series and this first peaked Ayodele’s interest in tap. A year into her university tap classes, she met Baakari Wilder (“a real tap dancer!”), who invited her to classes at the legendary Fazil’s dance studio where she realised she didn’t know anything about tap. Baakari taught her the history of tap and introduced her to the idea of tap as self-expression.

A point that has come up time and again in these ‘Tap & Tea’ sessions is how the tap dancers of the hoofing culture taught – not as a transactional relationship (I pay you, you teach me), but with generosity and sharing life and experience, like a family. Ayodele agreed that there is value in the teacher-student studio structure, but it is worth remembering that not everybody is there to become an artist and often the teacher doesn’t have time to mentor the individuals that are. For her the studio structure stirred something in her, where she wanted to learn more. She mentioned another point that has come up many times – young dancers who take every class going, but are making very little progress – because they’re not using their initiative to do their own learning outside of class. How much class is too much?

After training with Baakari, Ayodele went onto train with Barbara Duffy (who we heard from a few weeks ago) at Broadway Dance Center. She joined the ‘Funk University’, a training ground for young dancers to be channelled into Savion Glover’s Broadway hit Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk. It had a predominately male cast, but workshop director Ted Louis-Levy allowed her into the training workshops, changing the game in what was still a pretty male art form and giving Ayodele a huge opportunity to develop her art. She described it as being akin to being allowed into the Hoofers’ Club of the 1930s & 40s, where no women were allowed!

This led onto discussion of her current Harvard research on the forgotten women of tap (something I’m immensely interested in too, and will be doing some research on myself once Tap & Tea has finished). Being the only woman in Savion’s show Not Your Only Tap Dancer, people greeted her after the show with comments like “I didn’t know women could tap dance” or “You dance like a man!” This made her want to delve deeper, and so she researched women like Jeni Le Gon and Lois Bright of The Miller Bros & Lois. These women were so talented and were doing amazing stuff, just like their male counterparts, but they were then largely forgotten until now. You can check out Ayodele’s digital series Diary of a Tap Dancer on NY City Center’s Youtube channel, which gives a voice to these forgotten ladies.

It was another fantastic Tap & Tea session, and I found Ayodele so inspiring! I completely agree that you as the student have to take the initiative in your learning if you want to progress. Practice! Read! Watch!

Some Ayodele-isms:

You have to take the initiative. Give yourself the permission to go ahead and be great.

Exercise your bravery, don’t exercise your fear.

How do we use technique to create meaningful expression?

The marriage of information and the next level [of tap] is dependent on the student