Notes from Last Week

  • Fab rhythm tap class last Wednesday, although at one point I thought I was going to pass out I was sweating so much! We finished our high energy jazzy routine 🙂
  • I told my teacher about the three day tap intensive I’ll be attending at the end of the month (while trying not to come across as teacher’s pet!)
  • I had a really positive week at work!
  • I started reading ‘Brotherhood in Rhythm: The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers’, for real this time.

This week I am looking forward to the SHIM SHAM WORKSHOP!!!

How’s your week going?

End of Term

Hope you’re having a good week? Recovered from the Royal Wedding yet? I wasn’t even going to watch it and now I’m obsessed with them LOL

On Wednesday evening I went to the last Rhythm Tap class of the term at Morley College. I’ve included a photo of the college in its mid-renovation state so you can see what I’ve been going on about. Our studio is basically in the basement below the area to the left of all that scaffolding, which means we can’t really open the windows as it’s a building site!

I got there about 10 minutes before the class and the actor couple were there, along with R, chatting about the cost of getting into certain arts exhibitions in London. Then another girl came and sat and started chatting. I think she’s almost as obsessed as I am with everything tap! We had all seen the BBC4 documentary Tap in America at the weekend, so we were gushing about that and all the history and key figures and stuff before we went into the class. We all agreed that it makes us want to do more! As a self-appointed Tap Evangelist, I told them all about the London Tap Dance Intensive coming up at the end of July and how it’s a great opportunity to use what you’ve learnt so far, pick up other things and have a taster of quicker stuff.

The class was really good. We had another go at the drop-shuffle-ball-change exercise where instead of executing the shuffle in front of you, it comes around you as you travel forward, in a D shape (makes me think of a ronde de jambe a terre). I found this really difficult when I first learnt it some months ago and I spent a lot of time practising at home in the kitchen. Well, the piano guy (who played for us one time last term) said he felt so embarrassed that he couldn’t do it last time that he spent a lot of time practising and his improvement was noted!

Our Lionel Richie routine was still amazing! I think this is another of my favourites along with Cornflake Girl, I’m Only Human, and When my Baby Smiles at Me (which I sadly missed too many weeks of), which mean absolutely NOTHING to you! Sorry, I can’t post the class videos – they’re not to be shared on social media.

The routine is slow with sudden quick accents, there is travel, direction changes, a leap, flaps, pressed rolls (realised this week that’s what they are called!), crawls and a great section of heel scuffs, back brushes, toe jabs. It’s all in there! Despite me saying it’s not that complicated, it is actually very challenging, but finally I felt I could just go for it without having to think of what is coming next.

In the Summer our teacher will be running another Shim Sham class and an Improvisation and Choreography workshop. I’ve actually drawn up a timetable for July & August to help me decide what to do and what to miss this year – not decided yet!

What are your dance (or other) plans for the summer?

 

Big Fun

I had so much fun at Tap tonight! I mean, it’s fun every week but since I’ve been meditating on not pushing myself so hard (still give 100% physically – can’t help that – but less mental angst about getting it right in that lesson!)

I have been experiencing the freedom of just having a go and enjoying it, regardless of forgetting stuff or missing a step. I mean we did that shuffle-ball-change exercise (travelling forward, shuffle coming round in a D shape) that I don’t particularly enjoy because I struggled with it the first week and got left behind by the rest of the group as we were travelling across the room… but there’s others finding it confusing and all you can do with tap dance is be shown the step, have a go, then take it away as something to work on, which I did! Now not so difficult 😁

What made it really fun was the quick, syncopated steps that we did in the last part of the routine. So good!

Had a conversation with J afterwards, the most senior of the group, while we were all getting our shoes on, and he said he was finding it a bit too detailed. I quite like that! Then he was asking if I’d heard of Savion Glover – yes! He told me that Avalon of London based tap company Old Kent Road had been to seen him loads. Anyway, J said he didn’t enjoy seeing him when he was at Sadlers Wells, as apparently he seemed nervous or wasn’t expressing anything in his face. Er, ok. He then went on to tell me what a great show Michelle Dorrance of Dorrance Dance put on last year (I so wanted to see that!). Interesting chat – but then I had to run for the train!

I can’t believe next week is the final week of this routine already! I tried to book the next block of Wednesday night classes, but they were SOLD OUT! So I’ll be back to Thursday lunchtimes after that.

Daytime Dance

This week I was way too tired to hang around after work and go to Wednesday night’s Rhythm Tap II class, so I emailed my teacher to ask if I could come to the Thursday lunchtime installment instead – all good!

I got to the college and checked the display board to see which studio we were in. Not the usual one. But then I spent 5 minutes running around the building looking for studio C10 when it turned out to be just along from where we are on a Wednesday night! I have to say, even after someone showed me to the corridor where it was, I still went through the wrong door (towards the boiler room) and then realised it was round to the right and up a short dark staircase! I should have just asked at reception *sigh*

I walked in to what is usually used as a rehearsal studio (it has mirrors, black walls, stage style lighting and an upstairs gallery area) and saw all these people milling around, chatting, changing; a couple of theatre-types furiously practising intricate tap steps in full leg warmers and stuff (honestly, it was like Fame when I walked in) and couldn’t see our teacher or anyone I recognised. I thought, am I in the right place? Then I spotted some older ladies I knew from level I daytime sitting to the side changing out of their tap shoes – phew! I was in the right place.

After the level one-ers cleared out, it was a class of about 7 students. I think I had been slightly nervous on the way there of a smaller class being quite exposing, but actually it was really good and more laid back. I need to stop being afraid of not getting it right away. After all it’s 45 minutes a week. I found 2 particular steps difficult when we learned them last week but after going over them all week (in the kitchen, in the corridor at work, in various larger shops!) I had them down by yesterday. One involves travelling backwards and then changing it to perform it on the spot. The other is a drop-shuffle-ball-change step where you change the shape of the shuffle so it goes around you so that you can travel forwards. I had to remember to begin with a drop-step in front first. It also helped to snap up the second part of the shuffle. I did find this more difficult on the left leg, but there we are! 

I realised that this daytime class was a week behind, so I got to repeat week 1 – boom! We filmed the routine we’d learnt and our teacher showed us the next little bit too – this helps because she said to me afterwards that they did a bit more on Wednesday night (being week 2), but I’d be fine. 

As it was a small class and we didn’t have to exit the studio right away, I got a chance to chat with our teacher afterwards about tap shoes (she has some lovely custom Ruben Sanchez shoes) and find out a bit more about her dancing background which was nice. 

Before next Wednesday I’m going to practice the routine as much as possible and watch the video to get a feel for the next bit.  

Style

La La Land

This morning I booked a place on a La La Land tap dance workshop, taking place at Arts Educational in Chiswick in a few weeks’ time!

It will be half-term that week, so there is a break from my usual tap class. I am always looking out for opportunities to try out what I have learnt, so it will be interesting to try a 1.5hr workshop with a different teacher, and see how it varies in style. I know my usual teacher said that Hollywood style tap is very different to Rhythm tap, suggesting the Hollywood footwork is less technical. Rhythm tap is more syncopated and complex.

“Rhythm tap, made famous by John W. Bubbles, incorporated more percussive heel drops and lower-body movement rather than emphasizing toe taps and upper-body movement. It is more grounded and focuses more on acoustic rather than the aesthetic qualities. Gregory Hines brought back this style…demonstrating that rhythm tap’s focus is always on the feet.” http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/learn-the-styles-and-aesthetics-of-tap-dance

Maybe La La Land will be easier to pick up compared to what I usually do… or maybe not! I haven’t seen the film, and Ryan Gosling’s free hand really bothers me in the movie poster (see above), but maybe I should try and watch it before I go, to get into the character…

In the meantime, I have been practising the Tori Amos rhythm tap routine at every spare moment. The next part we’re going to learn looks a little complicated, but there’s a real sense of achievement when you get it. Hopefully I won’t have a lazy left foot today.

Oooh, I have lots of tap stuff lined up this Autumn – never mind that we’re anticipating a house move in the next month or so! (Yes, that scenario is still dragging on, *sigh*)

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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…

 

The Mind Boggles 

Tonight we were back to Rhythm Tap level 1 and 2 classes! As usual it felt a bit alien after a week’s break, but I got back into the swing of things pretty quickly. I find it’s best to just calm down and enjoy it… Especially the 1930s jazzzzz…

Both classes were quite large as is usually the case, but it didn’t feel like a hindrance this time as people spaced out quite well. It was great to see faces who had returned, including R and K!

One highlight of the week was learning the six beat riff, yes, SIX beats! It was very exciting! The other was a new time step that I feel I recognise maybe from watching tap dance in the past.

I have to say I found the routines quite challenging, and a few of us agreed about this at the end and decided that our teacher does it to gauge what students are capable of. A couple of people had just done their first double class (ie the addition of level 2) and were reassured when I (apparently a veteran!) said I found the routines really hard this time. And when they spoke to our teacher before that, I heard her say she is going to challenge us and not give us things we can already do! It’s true – that’s how you get better.