Fitness Friday

Still not sure how I feel about toe socks…

Hey! Hope you’re well? Guess what? I’ve started going to Pilates on a Monday evening with my SO at his running club! I’m really trying to get my fitness (and core muscles) back after having been mainly home-based for the last 2 years, and so what better than a Pilates class after a day at the desk! I do get out for a short walk every lunchtime, but I no longer do the daily power walk commute, I quit the gym in March and what with the rigours of tap dance, I really need the lengthening and strengthening. So many back problems can be traced back to lack of core stability, sitting down all day and bad posture.

Studio at Birmingham Royal Ballet

 

I’m also trialling a membership of the Sleek Ballet Fitness app this week. Sleek Technique is the creation of professional ballet dancers Victoria Marr and Flik Swan. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know I had their DVDs and wrote reviews of their Sleek Ballet Bootcamp and Sleek Barre Technique workouts – there were 3 DVDs in the boxset, but I never got around to the third one! Membership gives you access to over 200 workouts, plus livestreamed interactive classes. The workouts are challenging and they really do get you sweating straight away. The settings vary from ballet school studio to warehouse-style brick studio to garden room to stunning beachside! They definitely sell you the lifestyle of the woman who sculpts her ballet body in affluent Thameside West London (think Chiswick or Kew) while wearing stunning Bloch leotards and shopping at Sweaty Betty

The ladies

I’ve only had a go at 2 full-body workouts so far, but I think I’m finding the same issue I found back in 2016 – the speed at which some of the exercises are carried out means I’m finding it difficult to maintain form, and I’m slightly concerned about pulling something – I’m happy operating at half-time! I think I need to have a go at some of the other types of workout before I decide. Perhaps I’ll concentrate on the lower body barre, stretch and mat exercises. Membership is £22.49 a month, and if I did go with it, I’d pause my £8.99 Rambert Home Studio membership (ballet, contemporary, Indian, street, yoga, Pilates, warm-ups, plus playlists, podcasts and other goodies) for now. However, as slick as Sleek Technique is… I’m thinking I should probably stick with Rambert, not only for financial reasons, but also because they’ve extended their offering since I first joined during the pandemic. We’ll see – I think I just need a bit of a change of routine right now.

I’m also taking a break from my Thursday rhythm tap classes once this block finishes later this month, with hopefully a return to the in-studio class in September. I’d like to spend a bit of time doing some of the many, many practise videos I’ve accumulated on things like technique, musicality, timesteps and rudiments, without having to spend that time practising a routine for weekly classes. I’m signed up for another Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation tapathon next weekend, which I haven’t yet learnt the routine for, and I have a 3-day tap dance intensive in London lined up for July 🙂

Enjoy your weekend!

ps. hope this blog post came out ok. This laptop has become very temperamental. My space bar suddenly stopped working at one point, and every now and then while I’m typing, the cursor jumps to a different line!

My Highlights of 2021

Happy New Year! I do hope you had a good Christmas. Unfortunately my SO and I both had COVID-19! We’re both vaccinated and I’d just had my booster, but by then my SO was already ill and he then passed it on to me. Being vaccinated at least meant we weren’t seriously ill, but it was like a type of flu for about 5 or so days (headache, eye ache, body ache, sore throat, altered taste and smell, high temperature etc) followed by feeling very, very tired. Our next door neighbour got us some supplies and my family dropped off Christmas dinner and nibbles on Christmas Eve, which was MUCH APPRECIATED (although I had no appetite for a while).

Because we felt rubbish and couldn’t leave the house, we watched A LOT of Law and Order. We made a point of watching a carol concert from the Royal Albert Hall, and the Royal Opera House’s Nutcracker online for all the Christmassy feels, and we also watched several movies…

My COVID Christmas Movies:

  • Back to the Future (1985)
  • Uncle Buck (1989)
  • Mrs Doubtfire (1993)
  • Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1994) 
  • Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)
  • Lady in the Van (2015)
  • The Fugitive (1993)
  • US Marshals (1998)
  • K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

I had some actual Christmas movies, like Home Alone, lined up, but we haven’t got around to watching those yet. We did get to see family properly later on in the week after Christmas, including a lovely (yet windy!) walk along the beach at Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex.

 

Thinking about the craziness of 2021, I struggled to recall what stood out to me as highlights of the year, even though I know there were many. Here’s the list I came up with…

My Highlights of 2021:

I’m now having a think about my goals for 2022, but I’m not putting myself under any pressure right now. The main things on the list are a bookbinding course, improving my tap dancing, more writing… but I’ll come back to my 2022 goals in another post 🙂

What were your highlights of 2021? 

Show Me Jericho

Image: BBC Strictly Come Dancing

Hey! Hope you’re ok, hope you’re well? Sorry I’ve been MIA for a while. Things have been a little busy round here, and as you can see from my last post (and the photo above), I’ve also been engulfed in the world of Strictly Come Dancing – or should I say the World of AJ Odudu & Kai Widdrington? At the weekend, they performed an outstanding, champagne-quality Quickstep to Benny Goodman’s Sing, Sing, Sing, followed by a beautiful, sensual Rumba to Maria McKee’s Show Me Heaven. I mean, STUNNING! Anyway, it all comes to an end this weekend with the GRAND FINAL. Unfortunately, I’m hearing news of injury today, but whatever happens, they’re my WINNERS anyway! (Plus, we’re all really hoping they’re more than just good friends 🙂 )

In other news…

  • Tap classes finished last week for the Christmas holidays and I am determined to keep practising the routine we’ve been doing to the swing number Jericho by Hot Sugar Band while I have the space to work on it. I might also try to get back on the exercises I got from the Tap City tap festival this summer.
  • There was a talk by Tap Dance Research Network UK last week on the Whitman Sisters, which I had to miss because I had my class. I was happy to hear they would be sharing the recording with members for a limited time, so I set aside the afternoon to listen to/watch it…but they took it down early! I’ve sent them an email!
  • Here’s a helpful co-ordination exercise we did in one of our classes this month – I only recorded it on one side, but you keep switching sides:

Keep dancing! x

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?!

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 🙂