Swinging at the Cotton Club

A few weekends ago my SO and I went to see ‘Swinging at the Cotton Club’ at Watford’s outdoor summer event space, Stage in the Park. We opted to take our own deck chairs, rather than sit on blankets or sit in the area with chairs provided – cheaper tickets!

The park was also hosting the annual Jiveswing Festival that day, so we went along a bit earlier to make sure we caught some of that beforehand. We only got there to catch the end of the festival, but looking at their social media feed, it looks as though it had been a fantastic day.

Stage in the Park advertised lots of food options, so we didn’t eat beforehand. Unfortunately, there really wasn’t anything there, besides some sausage rolls. There was a Caribbean food van that was setting up, but wouldn’t be ready to serve until the interval…no burgers, no Mexican food as promised! And the people running the event didn’t seem to acknowledge the fact that none of the other food vans had materialised either. We ended up walking back across the park to the Jiveswing Festival to grab a burger from a van that was just starting to pack away and head home. Once we were in our seats, the HEAVENS OPENED and it continued to rain for most of the show. It got to the point where some of the dancers were slipping on the stage, which was mopped during the interval… ANYWAY, onto the actual show:

In celebration of the hottest joint in 1920s-30s Harlem, Swinging at the Cotton Club was a variety show of song, Lindy Hop, vintage jazz dance and tap dance, against the live music of Duke Ellington, played by Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra. The dancers were from the Lindy Hop Dance Company (which included Jreena Green, who was one of the special guests on BOP Jazz’s ‘Let’s Talk Jazz‘ series last year), and the featured tap dancer was Worthing-based artist Lee Payne, who is part of Tap Dance Research Network UK – I had no idea there would be tap dance in the show because it wasn’t mentioned in the blurb, so that was a pleasant surprise!

Lee did a GREAT job with his exciting tap routines, including one dedicated to Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, and he even pulled out a sand dance later in the show, which was awesome. Vocalist Marlene Hill breezed through classic songs such as ‘Is You is or is You Ain’t My Baby’ (with compere Megs Etherington) and ‘Stormy Weather’, which was particularly apt in the relentless downpour. The Lindy Hoppers did some flashy routines, which were really fun to watch, framed perfectly by the shimmering lights of the background staging and the various costume changes. They also showcased a bit of tap, and I particularly enjoyed their soft shoe routine – I love the fact that tap doesn’t always have to be fast and furious.

The audience was quite small, but very encouraging to the artists and most of us stuck it out in the rain until the end, and actually, the sun did come out in the second act. Many people got up to dance and I got out of my seat to join in with the Shim Sham at the end 🙂

Verdict: It was a great show and I loved the music and dance and atmosphere. I just think I’d rather watch it indoors next time!

 

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…