Tap Dance in America

This weekend, I finally got around to watching Gregory Hines: Tap Dance in America on YouTube.

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Image courtesy of YouTube

It was originally shown on PBS back in 1989 I believe, and it is clearly from someone’s VCR recording that they probably transferred to DVD at some point.

It lasts almost an hour and gives a great run-down of the leading tap artists in America, quite a few of whom are sadly no longer around. But here you get the chance to see them in action, on stage or taking part in a tap battle. Tap is definitely a social dance! You might recognise legend Honi Coles as the bandmaster in Dirty Dancing (I’m talking about the original film, not the disrespectful-to-Swayze remake).

Watching the documentary, my favourite performances were from Gregory Hines (of course!), a young Savion Glover and the duo of Gregg Burge (choreographed Michael Jackson’s Bad) and Hinton Battle (Scarecrow in Broadway version of The Wiz). Battle and Burge really reminded me of the Nicholas Brothers in the way they did classical tap, complete with jetes, leapfrogs and the splits. Brenda Bufalino was also great to see perform as I’ve heard and read a lot about her and I believe she taught a masterclass in London earlier in the year.

There is also a bit of comedy running through the documentary about trying to get Gregory Hines to tighten the screws on his taps (some tappers dance with loosened tap plates, others don’t) – I’m quite a stomper, so I like my tap plates tightened to the shoe.

Verdict: This ever so 80’s PBS special is definitely worth watching as part of your tap immersion. Some enjoyable viewing on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

The next tap-related film I want to watch is Tap starring Gregory Hines (1989). I caught a clip on YouTube where people were dancing on tables and it looks so New Jack Swing FUNKY. Takes me back. Love it!

Shim Sham Shimmy 

Last night I went to the Tap Shim Sham workshop at Morley College. It was SO MUCH FUN! It was a much larger class due to there being people from levels 1, 2 and 3 present. I knew a lot of them, but not the level three-ers. Caught up with a few pals to explain my 3 week absence!

So what is the Shim Sham? It’s a simple routine that is known by tap dancers the world over, like the tap national anthem. It was developed by tap legends Leonard Reed and Willy Bryant back in the 1920s while touring the African American version of the Vaudeville circuit (TOBA).

Here is a clip of Gregory Hines doing the Shim Sham:

We started with a warm up and stretch  in a circle and then, working in 3 rows we started learning the steps, all done in a swing beat. We rotated rows just so that everyone got a chance to work in front of the mirror. For some reason my left ankle was hurting when I tried to shake it out, but it seem didn’t bother me while dancing. We learnt the dance to a slower track and then a fast one which was amazing!

We also did a short improvisation exercise back in a circle where every time there was a pause the next person in the circle had to fill 4 beats. Argh, scary when you know you’re next! This then fed back into the dance when we were free to improvise in the gaps. Several people did lots of taps when it was their turn, particularly the advanced people. I kept it simple with a cramp roll and three crawl beats but threw my whole body into it. This exercise plus the book I’m reading (The Greatest Tap Dance Stars & their Stories 19001955) has actually made me realise that it’s ok to have my own style and it’s not necessarily about hundreds of intricate taps but feeling the music, working within the rhythm and doing your thing!

Afterwards there was lots of chat about who’s coming next week, what are you doing in the Autumn, the Dorrance Dance and Old Kent Road workshops that some people attended on Sunday and Monday plus the Dorrance Dance show that’s currently on at Sadlers Wells. My teacher said I’d really enjoy it, but I really can’t fit it in this week or justify going to the theatre 4 times in the space of 4 weeks (2 performances were featuring relatives or people I know) 😩 I told my teacher that I did see 42nd Street a few weeks ago and she was saying how that style of tap is not necessarily as technical…

Got home at 9.30pm and my Tap Board had arrived!!! I have Thursday off work, so I can get stuck in 😊 Maybe I can prepare for next week’s two hour Improvisation & Composition workshop…