It’s October

Hello! Today is the first day of October and it definitely feels like it – yes I’m wearing a jumper. I haven’t written a post since I received my Tap Dance Postage Stamps in August, so here’s a rundown of what I’ve been up to recently:

The City of Bath 

At the beginning of September, my SO, my mum and I had a 3-day break in the beautiful Georgian city of Bath. My SO and I had been before as a short stop-off on the way to Cornwall, and we had been meaning to return for a proper visit. The sun was out the whole time and it was loooovely and warm. We wandered the city, ate great food, visited Bath Abbey and the Jane Austen Museum (we bought books!), did 2 different bus tours. We had a GREAT time and can’t wait to go back.

Tap Class

Tap classes restarted last week after the summer break! I’m continuing to work from home, so I’m not able to attend the classes in London. My teacher is running online-only classes on a Monday evening, so I’m doing her one-hour intermediate/advanced class. It’s pretty cool to be moving towards advanced level tap. The class is basically covering the same stuff as the in-person intermediate classes, but at a faster pace. Because it’s an hour as opposed to 45 minutes, we have more time for the exercises, such as rudiments.

I was determined this summer to do lots of practise down in the garage, and I was actually getting stuck in with rudiment exercises from the recordings of the virtual NYC Tap City festival….but then I had a flare-up of eczema on the tops of my feet that meant I wasn’t able to wear tap shoes or get hot feet. (I’ve not had any eczema for about 5 years, so it’s pretty frustrating). That knocked practise out for several weeks. Well, now I’m back to class and it’s back again – I think I’ve been a bit stressed lately. The steroid cream is working, so hopefully I’ll be okay for Monday.

Exercise

Like a lot of people I need to get back into shape after having sat around at home for over a year with no commute and no Tuesday gym sessions. Last year I was quite motivated to exercise. This year…not so much. But, I have been doing the BOP Jazz workout most weeks, which has helped with flexibility more than anything, and last week I renewed my £8.99 subscription to Rambert’s Home Studio for access to all their online classes – Ballet, Contemporary, Contemporary Fusion, Yoga, Pilates and Dance Cardio which I did on Monday and still haven’t recovered from! I went swimming a couple of times during the summer and even ran around a local running track with my SO (a club-runner!), of which I hated every minute because I really hate running 🙂 I’m hoping to maybe get into the swimming habit on a Friday, but we’ll see!

How are you keeping fit right now? Have you gone back to the gym? Are you back to in-person classes or still online? Let me know in the comments – I love to hear from you!

 

Tap Dance Stamps: Tap Collection

Tap dance stamp collection

I received my Gregory Hines stamps a few weeks ago, but LOOK what came through the door this week! This year, the US Postal Service issued a new set of stamps honouring the American art form of tap dance – featuring five of tap’s hottest performers today: Max Pollak, Michela Marino Lerman, Derick K. Grant, Dormeshia and Ayodele Casel. 

The stamps were designed by Ethel Kessler and the dancers were photographed by Matthew Murphy, and it’s important to note that the US postal regulations prohibit the honouring of a living person on a stamp, in case you were wondering why the dancers’ names are missing. Instead, the dancers are honouring the art form as representatives.

The first-day-of-issue ceremony took place in Times Square, New York City during Tap City, the New York City Tap Festival in July, and was attended by Max, Dormeshia, Ayodele and Michela, plus Tap City and ATDF’s Tony Waag.

As with my Gregory Hines set, I’ll be putting these into a frame to display in my garage dance space, as part of my tap dance memorabilia – but first we’re getting the garage roof replaced because it’s leaking. I’ll share some pics next month!

The stamps come in sheets of 20 and are available from the USPS or if you’re outside the US, try Gift Sampler on ebay.

Have you ordered yours yet?

Tap Dance Stamps: Gregory Hines

Gregory Hines Stamps Ordinarily I’m not a stamp collector, but I was really excited to receive THESE in the post! In 2019 the United States Postal Service celebrated the life and work of the award winning tap dancer and entertainer, Gregory Hines by making him the 42nd honouree in their Black Heritage USA Forever stamp series, with a ceremony at the Peter Norton Symphony Space in Manhattan, NYC. 

The event was attended by his brother Maurice Hines, his daughter Daria, his protégé Savion Glover, Tony Waag of ATDF, Chloe and Maud Arnold of the Syncopated Ladies and Jason Samuels Smith. The photograph used for the stamp was taken by Jack Mitchell in 1988 and the stamp was designed by art director Derry Noyes.

I’m planning to frame my little stamp collection with the following Gregory Hines quote:

I don’t remember not dancing. When I realised I was alive and these were my parents, and I could walk and talk, I could dance.

I’ll share some pics once they’re on display in my garage dance studio.

The stamps and artwork are available to purchase at the USPS Shop
– if you’re outside of the US, like me, check out Gift Sampler on ebay.

Have you got your stamps yet?

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!

 

Quick Bio: Buddy Bradley

 

Photo credit: Brook Bassett 1937

A few months ago I attended an online talk by Annette Walker of Tap Dance Research Network UK, where she was sharing some of her research on the forgotten African American choreographer ‘Buddy Bradley: Choreographing British Film and Theatre’.

He was a pioneer here in the UK, but most people haven’t even heard of him!

Who: Clarence ‘Buddy’ Bradley Epps

Born: Pennsylvania, USA in 1905 and was an orphan by his teens.

Died: 1975 in New York

Family: Married Dorothy, known as ‘Dee’.

Training: Largely self-taught in Tap dance, Charleston and the other jazz dances, influenced by the environment of the Harlem renaissance of New York City.

Known as: The UK’s answer to Busby Berkeley

Career: Being black in the US at that time, he was not credited for much of his early choreography of several Broadway shows. This changed when he was invited to work in the UK on the musical Ever Green in 1933 and decided to settle here. (This is a common theme when you look at the African American performers, like Josephine Baker and Will Gaines, who also found success and credit for their work once they moved to Europe).

Buddy Bradley, Jessie Matthews & Jack Buchanan featured in Picturegoer Weekly 1936

Notable Students: Fred and Adele Astaire, Ruby Keeler, Eleanor Powell. Buddy was the go-to person in London for tap training, and he taught lots of the UK’s big names, including Jack Buchanan, Jessie Matthews, Lionel Blair and the late Bruce Forsythe, John Mills and Roy Castle. He had his own dance studio at 25a New Compton Street and later Denman Street in Soho, London, called the Buddy Bradley School of Stage Dancing.  By 1950 the school had over 500 students!

Teaching style: Apparently he liked his dancers to move across the stage rather than hoof on the spot. He taught in routines, like Henry Le Tang (rather than the ‘watch me and pick it up’ style of some of the masters) and he was known to be a ‘task master’.

Some of his film & stage choreography credits: High Yellow (1932), Ever Green (1934), Radio Parade (1934), A Fire Has Been Arranged (1935), Anything Goes (1935), Brewster’s Millions (1935), Blackbirds (1936), This’ll Make You Whistle (1936), I Can Take It (1939), Full Swing (1942), Something in the Air (1943), It’s Time to Dance (1943), Sauce Piquant (1950)

Quotes: 

People lose sight of the fact that all these modern dance creations…beginning with the Charleston…the Black Bottom, Pickin’ Cotton, Beguine, Rhumba and Carioca, all have African origin.

When I set out to conceive such a dance as the Caranga, I first ask “what is the background?”

Unfortunately, there really isn’t a lot written about him. He wasn’t even mentioned on British television until about thirty years after his death, when the actor John Mills tap danced across the stage on the popular evening talk show Parkinson, and he was asked who taught him to dance – Buddy Bradley!

Buddy is mentioned in the following books that I used as my sources for this post:

  • Bourne, Stephen, Black in the British Frame (2005)
  • Stearns, Marshall & Jean, Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance (1994)
  • Valis Hill, Constance, Tap Dancing America (2014)

New Tap Shoes!

OKAY, my first ever pair of customised tap shoes arrived all the way from Madrid last week! They’re handmade by Arte FyL (who specialise in Flamenco shoes) and I ordered them from through Tap Dance UK back in January, after looking through all the available colour swatches and designs on the website. I also had a ‘digital shoe fitting’ one Friday morning on Zoom with Tap Dance UK, where they got me to draw around my feet and read out the measurements, so they could place the order. (They get a special discount with Arte FyL).

I went for the Astaire style Oxford shoe in dark blue leather with aubergine patent and laces. They weren’t cheap, but I put some Christmas money towards them, plus I’m not paying extortionate train fares while I’m working from home. (I noticed a slight imperfection on them when they arrived, so I actually got 10% back). I’m not going to wear them for a full class straight away because I feel they need breaking in a bit. What I will do is wear them to mess around in and for practise and just see how they go. They don’t have the ankle cushioning that my Jason Samuels Smiths have, so I may need to stick some cushioning in the back so I don’t end up with blisters!

Can you tell I’m excited?!

Tap Dance Festival UK 2021

It has been a crazy time of tap for me over the past week –  the 5th Tap Dance Festival UK happened (virtually) and I registered…even though I said I was going to take a break! Plus, there were some other tap events going on at the same time, so I had a pretty packed timetable! I bought a 3-technique class pass this time because I wasn’t so interested in learning choreography when I do this in my weekly class, plus I had the Standards Sessions hosted by my teacher’s company, plus I had access to all the community events of the festival.

Fri 12th Feb pm – Kick-Off Party (Dante Lara)

LA-based dancer Dante Lara opened the festival by throwing down some tracks and chatting with some of the faculty.

Mon 15th pm – Musicality (Sarah Reich)

I’d attended a music theory session with Sarah previously and found it SO helpful that I jumped at the chance to attend this session with my notebook to learn some more!

Tues 16th pm – Tap & Tea Talk (Michelle Dorrance)

I saw Dorrance Dance at Sadlers Wells in London back in 2018 and I was interested to hear Michelle talk about how she got into tap dance and about her life. Hailing from North Carolina, Michelle was a student of Gene Medler who would take his students to the St Louis Tap Festival and later Chicago, and formed the North Caroline Youth Tap Ensemble. She gave lots of good advice, including sharing some of the mistakes she made:

You should only ever be yourself.

Thurs 18th pm – Tap & Tea Talk (Dianne Walker)

I was so excited to hear from this beloved veteran and Aunt of the tap community! Dianne Walker grew up in Boston, MA and contracted Polio when she was small, so she basically had to learn to walk again. Once she could, she started dance lessons at Ethel Covan’s School for Ballet, but she liked tap, so she moved to the excellent Mildred Kennedy’s school (alumni include Sarah Reich, Dormeshia, Derick Grant, etc). Dianne had lots of performance opportunities in TV, theatre and film, but then her mother remarried and relocated the family to a remote airbase in California. She became a cheerleader as a teenager and ditched dancing for a while. It was only after she got married herself, and had children that she went to an event with her mother-in-law, where she met a guy who introduced her to the legendary Leon Collins! She tried to learn as much as she could…while working full-time at a psychiatric clinic, and her kids started to take classes too. One day Leon asked her to cover his class, which freaked her out, but his helpful advice was to “just share something that you know”, which how she teaches even now. Leon was her teacher and mentor, and she talked about how he created a bunch of routines for the purpose of teaching. (I recently learnt part of his routine #53!) She also talked how she was inspired by seeing Gregory Hines and Debbie Allen dance on TV in the 1980s, and how she got through an awkward audition for the show Black and Blue in New York City. It was such a wonderful chat, and I think the session overran by about an hour. The Tap & Tea ladies are hoping to get her back again for part 2!

You get to know a dancer through their dance

Fri 19th 12pm – Tap Dance Research Network UK

The team each talked a little about the Network and what they do, plus some of their most recent events and current research. I didn’t realise until part-way through that there would be separate breakout rooms to hear one person talk in more detail, and I didn’t really have time, so I’ll catch up on the recordings.

Sat 20th 2pm – Drills (Robin Passmore)

I took a drills class with Robin Passmore at the first TDFUK I attended in 2018 an absolutely loved it, so I was looking forward to this class. Robin is known for her clean footwork because she loves to work on drills! We drilled in our shuffles, crawls with paddles, crawls with shuffles, a cramp roll sequence, and we did some work on single and double wings – something I haven’t done enough of. Excellent!

7pm – Footage Viewing Slumber Party (Tony Waag)

American Tap Dance Foundation’s Tony Waag took us through a brief history of tap dance, from the lost Five Points neighbourhood of NYC and Master Juba, to blackface and minstrel shows, Jim Crow laws, Hollywood movies and the changing landscape of New York’s theatre district. He also covered a bit of his own story with Brenda Bufalino, Gregory Hines and Woodpeckers Studio. A very interesting session! We need a part 2.

Sun 21st 2pm – Standards Sessions: King for a Day (Avalon Rathgeb) 

This wasn’t part of TDFUK, but I managed to fit it in before the next event! (Although silly me, I went for a walk that was just a bit too long on a day of 3 almost back-to-back tap classes). Avalon of Old Kent Road tap company taught us a section of Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson’s King for a Day repertoire. It’s a great one to learn because it has a repetitive holding pattern (the double time step) with variations in-between. I really enjoyed this one and will definitely keep working on it! I left this class 5 minutes before the end because next I had:

3.30pm – Relaxed Technique (Michelle Dorrance)

This is something all tap dancers need to keep working on! If you want to execute some of the trickier steps and sounds, you MUST have LOOSE ANKLES. A shuffle shouldn’t come from the ankle or from throwing the knee, but from the top of the leg. Michelle got us to work on applying this to our shuffles, plus some trickier steps. It was SOOO helpful! I’m going to try and practise some of the other exercises she suggested over the weekend.

5.30pm – Rudiments (Adele Joel) 

Guys, my feet were killing me and the top of my left leg was hurting by this point, so I sat this one out! (Thankfully there’s a recording).

6.30pm – Happy Birthday TDFUK

We watched a video montage of the last 5 years of this amazing festival that usually takes place in Manchester, and then there was a Lifetime Achievement presentation to Dianne ‘Lady Di’ Walker, which was really lovely.

7.30pm – London Tap Jam

Hosted by MADD Rhythms’ Bril Barrett on Instagram, the London Tap Jam was full of music, chat and performances from people all over the world. Not only tap dancers, but a bass player and a drummer too!

I usually take the Monday off work after travelling and attending this amazing and positive festival in person, but I didn’t think I needed it with an online event….How wrong was I?! 

 

 

Deliberate Practice

I’m currently reading the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It’s a revolutionary book about the power of introverts in a society that seems to only value and promote those who shout the loudest. I’m definitely more of an introvert (perhaps ambivert is more accurate because I have my moments), and although I accept and value my quieter personality (which was suddenly highlighted when I did things in the past like the year of training in youth ministry – “try to be more like Vicky!” – and when learning to teach aerobics – “you need to be louder!”), the book has encouraged me even more to accept my creative, quieter, thoughtful, reflective personality that is sensitive to others and to my environment because it is immensely valuable! Now I know why my primary school teacher chose me to buddy and befriend a nervous new pupil, who I’m still friends with now.

In a particular workplace full of loud people where I was basically overlooked in favour of party girls, I’m actually still in touch with a couple of colleagues over 10 years on, who felt I actually had time for them. When I worked at a London university for 6 months, the managers were really pleased with how I dealt sensitively with the students…and their demanding parents. In the charity HR I work in now, I have found my personality to be a positive thing as we deal with ups, downs, births, deaths, mental health, difficult conversations, confidential info and everything else. And as a Christian, I believe every personality is valuable to God. I mean imagine if everyone was the same, right?

In her book, Susan Cain names loads of introverts who did amazing things and changed the world because of rather than in spite of their personalities, so if you fall somewhere on the introvert scale and have been made to feel like there’s something wrong with that, be encouraged by people like Rosa Parks, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Stephen Spielberg, JK Rowling, Mark Zuckerberg (despite how you feel about Facebook LOL), Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Charles Darwin, Barack Obama, plus many, many dancers, comedians, musicians, actors, singers…there are so many people, I don’t have space to list them all 🙂

Anyway, the main reason I mention this book is that one of the chapters talks about the concept of ‘Deliberate Practice’, which immediately caught my attention. The author references a study into 3 groups of violinists at an elite music school in Berlin – the best, the good and those who only wish to teach – but I was interested in relation to tap dance. Deliberate Practice is described as “serious study alone” and the “key to exceptional achievement”. In other words, if you want to be an amazing tap dancer, you’ve got to practise on your own…a lot. (The lowest group of violinists put in 1.3 solitary hours a day, whereas the top-level violinists put in 3.5 solitary hours a day and regarded group practice as leisure).

A few of the guests we had on the ‘Tap & Tea’ history talks last year posed the question ‘how much class is too much class?‘ – i.e. you can take all the tap classes going but still not show any improvement because you’re not taking the time to put the work in on your own. I know my real improvements in tap came when I actually spent the time in my garage studio, in front of the mirror going over and over things until I got them…and then refined and cleaned them up. (It’s not that I spent 3.5 hours shedding wood in one go, but even the 40 minutes spent on a Saturday afternoon make a massive difference in what I bring to my next class).

“When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks…just out of your reach…,strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress and revise accordingly” Quiet, pg81

Have you read the book? Are you an introvert? What do you think about ‘Deliberate Practice’ in relation to tap, or perhaps other styles of dance?  Let me know in the comments 🙂

 

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!