Tap & Tea with Barbara Duffy

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On the final week of the latest Tap & Tea series we were joined by special guest Barbara Duffy, author of Tap into Improv

Barbara is a sought after teacher, dancer, actress and choreographer. She is a former member of American Tap Dance Orchestra (ATDO), performed with Gregory
Hines for the Clintons at the President’s Gala in 1996 which she called ‘the biggest gig of my life’, and she created her own tap company, Barbara Duffy and Company.

Barbara’s story is a really interesting one. She began her training at a dance school that managed to fit ballet, jazz and tap into a short half hour lesson! Needless to say,
technique was not taught, and this was evident when Barbara auditioned numerous times for the University of Massachusetts dance programme (five times in fact) and
was not successful. After this, she moved to Boston and took private lessons in high-heeled Broadway tap with Esther Dolan, going right back to the beginning. At this
point she knew nothing of ‘Rhythm tap’ and decided to quit dancing altogether. However, her sister invited her to watch a local tap show, and Barbara was BLOWN AWAY by the musical tap of Leon Collins. It wasn’t until Leon Collins’ dance studio relocated to be opposite her apartment building that Barbara got to study tap with him. (It was at this point that she switched from high heels to flat tap shoes). Here Barbara was introduced to tap jams and improvisation, and she was freaked out!

Tap study was a much slower process than many of us are used to these days – every week there was an hour and a half class where they’d learn just 8 bars and then go away and work on that. Similarly, while studying with Brenda Bufalino later on, classes would include things like a 5 whole minutes of just clapping and flapping, giving students the time to really settle into it and find themselves before moving onto something else. Back in those days people really STUDIED and were intentional. Nowadays, she observed, many students just want to go to class for fun and to socialise and express themselves, but they don’t work on what they’ve learned and so they turn up each week with no memory of the week before – and they see zero improvement.

After Leon Collins died in 1985, Barbara moved from Boston to New York to study with Brenda Bufalino, and was invited to join ATDO, with whom she performed and toured until around 1995. Being in based in New York City she also got to study with famed theatre choreographer Henry Le Tang and learn all of his routines. She was also invited to assist a teenage Savion Glover in ‘translating’ his choreography for his young students – and this was how Barbara Duffy’s name got out there.

The legendary Jimmy Slyde was known for having a regular Wednesday night tap jam where he would call people up onto the stage and say “show me a time step!” Barbara started going along to try and get over her fear of improvising, but the negative self-talk would creep in while she was performing, and then she would avoid going back. (I was really keen to hear Barbara speak about getting over her fear of improvisation, because I have felt that fear…and it’s coming back again with another improvisation workshop happening next week!) Her advice was to ‘stay where you are’ until you’re ready to move forward because improvisation is a “life-long process”. An example she gave was where you might berate yourself for doing the same step again and again…but that’s absolutely fine and you will get better! I’ll try to remember this and not beat myself up if I get stuck only doing paddles next week. A guy at our improv workshop last year kept returning to a spin on the spot if he ran out of ideas – and it was fine! (Better than running out crying, am I right? LOL)

Barbara described how rhythm tap was such a man’s game back in the day, but then Gregory Hines suggested that she get some women together, and Barbara Duffy & Company was born! Company dancers included Michelle Dorrance, Lisa La Touche, Maya Jenkins, Flavia Costa, Pia Neises and Karida Griffith among others, and the goal was to allow each dancer’s voice to emerge. Sadly, the company had to fold when they ran out of money during the 2008 recession.

While studying for her ESOL degree, Barbara wrote the amazing guidebook Tap into Improv for her course project. (Being a natural procrastinator, she benefitted from having a supervisor and a deadline!) The book came out of starting to teach improvisation to her own students and realising that they were just as afraid of it as she’d been. (It’s a great book, and I’ll try and review it at some point – but either way, make sure you get yourself a copy!).

I wrote down SO MANY notes from this Tap & Tea talk because Barbara had LOADS to say and was so interesting to listen to! I managed this, even though I had to run upstairs and relocate to the landing at the top of the stairs because my WiFi signal decided to play up! Here are a few of the useful tips she shared with us:

Barbara’s Tips for Tap Students:

Bring yourself to the class and be present and open. What are you bringing to the class? Are you engaged? Or are you waiting to be given something?

Sing everything. It will up your game immediately.

Practice everything before the next class.

Don’t listen to your feet; decide what you want to hear.

It you want to grow and expand, you’ve got to feel uncomfortable sometimes.

Barbara’s Jazz Playlist:

Oscar Peterson (pianist)
Benny Green (saxophone)
Christian McBride (double bass)
Lee Morgan (trumpet)

Check out this video of Barbara (on the far right) dancing with Gregory Hines at the President’s Gala for Bill Clinton in Washington, DC in 1996:

Great news – we start a new 4-week series of Tap & Tea next week!

4 Points from Last Week

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1. I completed a 5km run for charity (in stages) to a 90’s music playlist! The longest distance I ran in one go was 1km, which I was really pleased with. My SO is a proper runner, so he did a great job coaching this reluctant jogger. Now I’m waiting for my ‘I Love the 90s’ medal and t-shirt, and even though I said I was done with running…I’m wondering whether to sign up for the ‘I Love the 80s’ run…

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2. I quit Twitter. Well, my personal account anyway. I’ve kept my side biz account for now. I mainly used my personal Twitter for keeping up with London travel, news stuff, dance, cute animals and reading funny comments about TV shows. BUT, I’m just DONE with all the negativity and bigotry and politics that is oozing from it at the moment. It’s not even that I follow these accounts, but you know, you get drawn into reading the comments underneath. I really do have better things to do with my life!

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3. Tap class was cancelled on Thursday because our teacher (and most of London’s Virgin Media customers) had broadband problems. To be honest, I didn’t actually mind because I was quite hot and bothered in the humidity. I had practised quite a bit on previous days, and I had another Tap & Tea history talk in the afternoon, with repeat-guest Andrew Black, who this time took us through the history of tap dance in New York City, so it certainly wasn’t a tap-free week by any means 🙂

Writing Handbook

4. I set up a Writing Handbook. I think I mentioned on here last year that I wanted to return to my original teenage goal of becoming a professional writer (but often life and lack of confidence gets in the way and you end up just getting ‘a job’). Over the lockdown period I’ve been doing an online writing course, and last week I set up my Writing Handbook to gather all the helpful writing tips I’ve discovered into one place. Progress may be slow right now, but it’s still progress!

Today:

I’m still trying my best not to put myself under pressure to achieve loads during this period of being on furlough and stuck at home, because let’s face it, it’s difficult to stay motivated at the moment, despite having lots of free time! I am still writing myself a to-do list every week, but it’s much shorter than usual, and if I don’t complete a task, so what? The list is there for structure and motivation, rather than to create pressure to DO DO DO. Plus I love lists!

Work has said, sensibly, that everyone should be using their annual leave (pro-rata) just so we’re not all trying to take it at the same time later in the year. I’ve booked a week of annual leave (yes, leave from furlough) just so I have some days where I won’t be wondering if work is going to call me, or if I’m going to be called back to work at short notice. I was in touch with a friend (and former colleague) over the weekend who was made redundant from her job recently, and she said that at the moment she’s not putting herself under pressure to get another job straight away, but she’s using the time to enjoy the break and top up her tan after a sustained period of work stress. Now that’s the spirit!

Tap & Tea with Sarah Reich

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On this week’s ‘Tap & Tea’ session we heard from the amazing LA hoofer, Sarah Reich! Sarah is one of the new leaders of the tap dance movement.

She has taught in over 40 countries – I was lucky enough to take a class with her at Tap Dance Festival UK 2019 in Manchester – and her main goal is to re-programme the public perception of tap dance. She toured internationally as the featured tap dancer with Postmodern Jukebox for 2 years, and has appeared in various music videos and TV specials. She created the Tap Music Project to teach people how to dance with more musicality and has released a collaborative jazz album called New Change, which I was excited to get a copy of last year. Sarah is also the artistic director of LA-based youth tap company Tap Con Sabor (Tap with Flavour), which aims to expose tap to the Latino community.

Sarah Reich began learning to tap dance at age 5 at the California Dance Center in Culver City, after her progressive parents thought it would be beneficial to enrol Sarah and her sister in a mainly black dance school to expose them to people different from themselves. At age 12 the sisters also began salsa dancing. Sarah moved on from California Dance Center to study with Alfred Desio, then Syd Glover, and the list goes on.

Sarah has a long list of mentors, but she spoke particularly of Paul Kennedy, who she called ‘one of the greatest tap dance teachers ever’, Jason Samuels Smith, Chloe Arnold and the late Dr Harold ‘Stumpy’ Cromer, who she described as her ‘best friend’. Paul Kennedy learnt from his mother Miriam Kennedy, and as well as teaching Sarah, he also taught Derick K. Grant, Dormeshia Sunbry-Edwards and the Nicholas Sisters (granddaughters of Fayard Nicholas). In these classes, it was all about performing and they tapped to all the old jazz, including Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

Learning with Jason Samuels-Smith, Sarah said this is when she fell in love with tap dance and her “passion and love for the art form came from Jason”. Chloe Arnold gave Sarah her business savvy by demonstrating how to create your own opportunities (Jason & Chloe started the LA Tap Fest in their early twenties), so at age 16, Sarah was already producing her own events. Sarah described Harold Cromer as “real old school”, a class act, and a “song and dance man”. She gave us two nuggets he instilled in her:

Learn to do by doing

Be classy…don’t look like a bum

Sarah discussed her love for other dance styles, especially swing dance and salsa, and as many of our guests have said over the last few weeks, she insisted that other styles of dance will always help your tap dance, and that it’s good to know the history of swing dance as it has links with tap dance and its jazz origins.

We heard all about the fun she had touring the US, Europe, Asia, Australia and South America with Postmodern Jukebox – a gig she initially turned down – and how this helped to establish her huge fan base, which enabled her to produce her New Change album at the right time.

Her conclusion on the state of tap dance today was that it’s getting better and more exciting, and that musicality and technique has got stronger. But, she feels that tap dance could do with more big time exposure, although she thinks it’s starting to happen…slowly.

Tap dancing allows you to be yourself

Respect the dance

Sarah Reich is so energetic and upbeat, and I can tell you, I really needed that positivity this week!

Check out this interview with Sarah in Dance Magazine: What Sarah Reich Wishes You Knew About Tap Dancers

Tap & Tea with Brenda Bufalino

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I wish I’d got a better photo because she had a huge, warm smile

On Thursday we were joined on ‘Tap & Tea’ by the amazing tap master and legend Brenda Bufalino! Brenda founded the American Tap Dance Orchestra (now the American Tap Dance Foundation), and was a trailblazer in the revival of tap dance, after it fell out of favour from the mid 1950s to the early 1970s. As well as being a solo performer, she partnered with legendary hoofer Honi Coles, who was also her mentor; she performed many times with the Nicholas Brothers and Gregory Hines and has received numerous awards, including the Tapestry Award, the Flobert Award, and the Tap City Hall of Fame Award, among others. Brenda is the author of several articles and books, including Tapping the Source, which comes highly recommended, and she currently teaches classes at ATDF in New York City. Did I mention she’s 83?

Brenda’s mother was a classical singer and her aunt a concert pianist, and they performed as the Strickland Sisters. Brenda joined the Strickland Sisters as a dancer at the age of around 8 or 9. Between the ages if 6-11 she studied at Professor O’Brien’s Normal School of Dancing before moving on to Alice Duffy’s School of Dance in Salem, Massachusetts. She was influenced by the jazz music her family enjoyed at home, including Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway. She started dancing in the night clubs in Boston at the age of 14 and began to study West African and jazz dance under revered dance instructor Stanley Brown. She moved to New York City and worked with Honi Coles for around 6 months. Tap dance had died a death in the 1950s and lots of the venues had closed, but Brenda met Honi again 15 years later and brought him and the Copasetics group to her studio to create the documentary ‘Great Feats of Feet’, and eventually tap dance started to make a come back.

Eventually, Brenda began creating tap shows for the concert stage, which included the musicians being on the stage with the dancers, rather than in the pit as was the traditional way. This set the precedent for how tap is presented on stage today. Honi wasn’t convinced that people would sit still long enough to watch a whole night of tap dance, and he was heartbroken that tap dance had ‘died’, but thankfully he was proved wrong! Apparently the Nicholas Brothers were late coming back to the tap dance scene, but they did, and Brenda did lots of shows with them, particularly Fayard Nicholas, and she later danced at Harold’s funeral.

She shared loads of stories and anecdotes with us, and talked about touring the world with Honi, and the fact that tap in the UK, Australia and South Africa seemed very stiff, upright, formal and up on the toes, and jazz tap took a while to take hold, which everyone acknowledges was because of the prescriptive ‘syllabus’ tap that was and continues to be taught (although I’m told improvements have been made). I’ve never done syllabus tap – and the more I hear about it, the more I’m glad I went straight into the freedom and technique of rhythm tap classes. ‘Hoofer’ tap is down in the heels, and apparently people were furious with Brenda for ditching high heels and dancing in flatter tap shoes. Who knew? Some audiences were unimpressed at seeing a white woman on stage with a black man. SO STUPID, but unfortunately that was life in those days.

Brenda had a lot to say about Broadway. Choreographers on Broadway were generally not tap dancers and the choreographers who were tap dancers rarely received credit for their work. It was a case of having to fight for credit and the extra pay that came with that. Interestingly, she said she auditioned for 42nd Street and the choreographer didn’t know what to do with her – big giveaway, right? She did stress that in the old movie musicals, the choreographers were tap dancers – and you can tell this when you watch the tap sequences.

What a fantastic, inspirational lady! I think she was my favourite Tap & Tea guest so far, and they’ve all been pretty amazing.

I could have listened to Brenda Bufalino all day!

Quotes:

Those tap years were sexy!

Never work mechanically while doing technique or rudiments

Sense your whole body

Engage your whole self in getting that tone

Do not use music as a metronome; engage in it wholeheartedly

[Improvisation] is not a competition

When I put my tap shoes on, I fall in love

 

 

Tap & Tea with Bril Barrett

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Bril Barrett is a tap dancer based in Chicago, founder of M.A.D.D Rhythms (Making a Difference Dancing Rhythms), director of the Chicago Tap Summit, a provider of tap outreach in Chicago’s public schools and even has his own TED Talk. He describes his mission as being “to preserve and promote tap dance as a percussive art form…”.

He kicked off by discussing the fact that tap dance is a musical art form, and this is how it began, before it was grabbed by Hollywood to become something where you copy a routine perfectly; the creativity being removed. The original ‘hoofers’ were all about the music and didn’t even have names for the steps – it was just ‘bah dee bah dah’. You weren’t taught, you just learnt. Somebody would be doing some steps – you either picked them up or you didn’t! (Reminds me of an oversubscribed class I did at the MOVE IT Dance exhibition in London LOL). Improvisation was how tap was created, and that was how Bril created M.A.D.D Rhythms.

Bril is a massive champion of improvisation, and he includes it in his classes right from the beginning, so particularly with children, there is no fear, and his goal is to help them keep this fearlessness throughout their tap education. (Obviously it’s much more difficult to be fearless in improvisation as an adult beginner, speaking from experience!)

He started learning tap in free classes at his local community centre in his Chicago neighbourhood, before following his teacher to another studio on the North side of the city, where family members had to pool together to pay for $5 lessons for Bril and his cousins. At this studio, all the boys had to take tap and gymnastics, echoing the skills of the studio founders, Sammy Dyer and The Dyerettes. At the age of 11 Bril saw a guy called Mr Taps in the subway, a tap dancing busker, and asked if he & later his cousins, could tap with him after school every day. Mr Taps improvised his dancing, and this is where Bril got his improv education. Amazing! It was through him that he was introduced to the Nicholas Brothers and the Four Step Brothers, which was life changing. Through a family member, he and his cousin were introduced to a talent agent and they performed as a double act.

Bril was a tap dancer in the world-famous Riverdance, and told us a bit about being on tour with the company (including backstage jam sessions), and how the show touched on the trading of steps and sharing of dance styles that happened between Irish immigrants and free Africans in New York. (There was a similar story line in the Irish dance show I saw last summer called Heartbeat of Home). As mentioned in other posts he was also in Derick Grant and Aaron Tolson’s show Imagine Tap. Bringing together people from different tap backgrounds (such as Ray Hesselink) this was when he wanted to stop being classified as a type of tap dancer. As Ray said in his talk, Bril agreed that Derick bridged the gap between the types of tap. Just because someone dances in a theatre tap style, it doesn’t mean they can’t do other things! He actually said he likes the term ‘tap dancer’ and doesn’t like the term ‘rhythm tap’. I definitely appreciate what he’s saying. The classes I attend are called ‘rhythm tap’ (and we do a more heel-drop style of tap), but I think that helps people looking for classes to know what to expect, just like you know with ‘musical theatre tap’ classes (I chose from a list of ‘American Tap’, ‘Rhythm Tap’, ‘Theatre Tap’, ‘Jazz Tap’ and er ‘Tap’ classes in London and picked ‘Rhythm Tap’ because it sounded interesting…and was close to work). But yes, call yourself a tap dancer, rather than a rhythm tap dancer because all tap should have rhythm! Right?

We also chatted about tap jams (London has an amazing one in Hoxton, currently on Facebook Live every other Sunday night) and Bril runs some free tap jams as a way of building community and also removing the barrier for those who are without, so that they too can learn, grow and perform. I don’t know if I’d be able to get up on stage just yet 🙂 But it’s fine to go along and watch, and see where the evening takes you!

This was another amazing talk, and of course we overran because there was so much to say! Maybe they’ll invite him back again. I just loved hearing about how he’s removing barriers and making sure tap is accessible to all, no matter your background.

Bril’s Jazz Playlist:

  • Oscar Peterson
  • John Coltrane
  • Nina Simone
  • Miles Davis
  • Thelonious Monk

Quotes:

Once you make tap your own, you’ll do it; you won’t need to be told to practice

Improvisation is how tap was created

If you’re a good tap dancer, style is a choice

Tap jams make us better

Tap & Tea with Ray Hesselink

 

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I didn’t get a Tap & Tea photo this week, so here’s my cat

Hey everyone! Hope you’re doing okay; the world is pretty stressful at the moment…

(With regard to George Floyd, I was shocked but sadly not surprised that he was treated this way because it seems to be an ongoing trend in the US. I love to write this blog to share Tap Dance and its (mainly) African American history which is at times uncomfortable to the modern reader who hasn’t experienced racial segregation or apartheid, or perhaps doesn’t have the slave trade in their family tree, but it’s no good pretending it didn’t happen or that it doesn’t affect life and societal structures today. I am ALL ABOUT THE UNITY OF PEOPLE and treating others as you want to be treated, and I love how the Tap Community in all its diversity has come together in this). Enough said.

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This week: Not only did I temporarily return to working from home on Monday after a month on furlough to a tonne of emails and work that needed to be done yesterday, but the Tap & Tea History talks resumed on Zoom last week! I didn’t get a chance to write about last week’s talk, so here it is! I’ll share this week’s talk from Bril Barrett straight after this one.

Ray Hesselink

Ray is a tap dancer, director, choreographer and comedian based in New York City, who teaches at Julliard, Steps on Broadway and previously taught at Broadway Dance Centre. He’s also done some instructional tap videos! His background was really interesting to me because he started as a pianist, and then got into tap dance at UCLA when he auditioned in the theatre programme, but couldn’t do the tap required, so he started taking lessons! Being based in LA, he was in the right place to meet up with and learn from lots of older tap dancers who had retired from the movies, including Miriam Nelson, who became his mentor and told him he needed to move to New York! (This theme has popped up in several Tap & Tea sessions – New York is the place to be). Ray talked about how he moved into teaching, his discovery of Eleanor Powell (who apparently only had 10 private tap lessons and choreographed all her own movie dances), how he choreographs and how to sustain an audience.

I was interested to hear that Ray studied classical Indian dance, after becoming obsessed with Jack Cole, who did the same, and how it informs his tap dancing. I was also interested to hear him say that he wished there was a bit more respect for tap dance, particularly from his students, which comes from knowing and respecting its history. It’s difficult when children are being made to do it by their parents!

As has been the case for a few of the guests we’ve had on Tap & Tea, Ray was invited by Derick K. Grant to be in his big-budget show Imagine Tap (2006). It was inspiring to hear that he saw who else was in the cast, like Maud Arnold, Jason Samuels Smith, Ayodele Casel, Michelle Dorrance, Bril Barrett, etc (people he described as ‘fierce’) and felt totally out of his depth and wondered why Derick had invited him, but then he realised he had something else to bring! Basically, the gap was bridged between ‘theatre tap’ and ‘rhythm tap’.

Finally, he discussed inspiring the next generation, and the fact that he’d like to see more interesting tap choreography on Broadway and more people in tap classes! Apparently lots of people ignore tap until they get an audition – I can vouch for this. When I was doing Beginners Tap, this actor came to the class and said he’d got a part in a show and needed to learn to tap in 6 weeks…and then said he wasn’t learning it quick enough. Crazy!

Another amazing Tap & Tea session!

Quotes:

Practice what you’re not great at

The only person who will push you, is YOU

The more you can do technically, the more rounded you’ll be…but do something because you like it!

You never stop learning

 

Tap & Tea with Stephen Mear CBE

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On Thursday I attended week 4 of Theatre Tap London’s ‘Tap & Tea’ tap history series. This time we were joined by two time Olivier Award winning choreographer Stephen Mear CBE! He has had a prolific career in musical theatre, and is known for his work on West End and Broadway shows including Mary Poppins, White Christmas, Funny Girl, Singing in the Rain, Sinatra, Sweet Charity and many more. He was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 2020 for services to dance.

Tap dance was the first type of dance he learned at his mother’s dance school, and he later trained in Matt Mattox style jazz dance (aka Freestyle Jazz) at London Studio Centre. I was interested to hear that he took 14 ballet classes a week to get his ballet up to scratch! He’s also probably the 4th or 5th British dancer I’ve heard say that they were the best tap dancer in their home town; then they went away to a college in London or took tap classes in New York and found themselves at the bottom of the class!

Stephen showed us and discussed clips of jazz isolations in Beat me Daddy 8 to the Bar from Bob Fosse’s ‘Big Deal’, the jazz-tap combination in The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing from ‘White Christmas’, and we also looked at a clip of his idol Ann Miller on stage in 1987 with her famous ‘Easter Parade’ number ‘Shakin’ the Blues Away‘ as part of variety show Happy Birthday Hollywood. 

There was much discussion of jazz dance, having been inspired by Matt Mattox, Jack Coles, Chet Walker, Bob Fosse, and Hermes Pan, who collaborated a lot with Fred Astaire. We found out loads about Stephen’s choreographic process, particularly as someone who is dyslexic. Someone asked during the Q&A how he notates his work, and it turns out he films everything (although assistants will write it all down in detail). He also uses dance college students to map everything out before taking it to teaching the cast.

Useful Advice from Stephen:

  • Auditions – leave your attitude outside! Choreographers all speak to each other as well, so be nice to everyone. Do the best you can, know who and what you are auditioning for. He said he looks for people who are passionate over those who are just technically brilliant.
  • Starting out as a choreographer? Try not to be too overzealous – i.e. “Just because you have a parasol in your hand, doesn’t mean you have to twirl it”. Keep a notebook by your bed to jot down ideas.

I wasn’t sure what to expect this time as I’m not so into the West End stage type of tap dance, but Stephen was so interesting to listen to! I loved hearing about how it all works behind the scenes, the ups and downs, how he started out, who he worked with and who inspires him.

After this session, my passion for jazz dance was reignited and having googled Matt Mattox, I’ve ended up subscribing on YouTube to ‘Monday Mattox’ jazz (and tap) technique classes with Bob Boross (who trained under Mattox) – LOVE IT!

This coming Thursday, we’ll be joined by Broadway performer and choreographer Andrew Black.

A New Exercise Habit

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Rhythm tap restarted last Thursday afternoon after a two week break, and we’re learning a really fun routine to Sweet Georgia Brown by Brother Bones and His Shadows – it involves A LOT of jumping! Exciting news – next week we start rehearsals for a performance that we’ll be doing at the college’s Flamenco & Latin Cabaret at the end of this month! I’m really looking forward to revisiting the Latin-flavoured Peanut Vendor routine that we did last term. It will also be my TAP DANCE DEBUT! I’m waiting until nearer the time to invite people…LOL.

In other news, our teacher also announced yesterday to the daytime intermediate class that she is offering each of us a 15 minute private lesson in April/May to make up for the abandoned final class of last term where she was taken ill. I’m currently having a think about what I would like to learn or explore. Wings? A time step? Cross-phrasing? I’m not sure yet.

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Guys, this week I just went ahead and cancelled my £10-a-month gym membership at the university. Not because of COVID-19, but because I literally haven’t been for WEEKS. WEEKS! I’m trying to make a habit of exercising 3 times a week to stay fit and flexible, but I’m also trying to work on my writing, so to make life simpler I have swapped the lunchtime gym session for writing time. My SO and I have set up a pretty good weights gym in the garage at home, so I really don’t need to pay to use someone else’s (no matter how cheap it is at the moment!). Another thing – I only work in London Monday-Thursday, so sometimes it feels like a squeeze to fit the gym in, what with tap dancing, writing and trying to go for coffee catch-ups with colleagues etc 🙂

So as well as saving £10 a month, I’m also getting a lunch hour back and my exercise schedule now looks like this:

  • Thursday afternoon – Tap class (Cardio)
  • Friday afternoon – Ballet barre video & stretching (Cardio & Resistance)
  • Saturday or Sunday afternoon – Weights session to music in the garage (Cardio warm up & Resistance)
  • Daily – Stretching!!

Hopefully this will be more sustainable going forward :))

Happy weekend and stay well everybody x

 

 

Quick Bio: Honi Coles

A still of Honi Coles from ‘Dirty Dancing’ (1987)

In my intermediate Rhythm Tap class this half-term we’re practising a combination created by tap legend Honi Coles. Who? You know, the guy who played bandleader Tito Suarez in Dirty Dancing (1987). But he was much more than that, so I thought I’d share with you everything you need to know about him:

Who: Charles ‘Honi’ Coles

Born: 2nd April 1911 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Died: 12th November 1992 in Queens, New York

Learnt to tap dance: On the streets of Philadelphia where people would challenge each other in ‘cutting contests’, which are basically tap dance battles.

Known for: The fastest feet in showbiz. After being let go from the dance act ‘The Three Millers’ he apparently shut himself away for a year and practised constantly (known as ‘wood-shedding’), and when he returned to the performing circuit he had perfected his technique and could fit a crazy number of steps into a bar of music.

Tap Dance Style: Classic, class act, soft shoe, high-speed rhythm tap

Said: “If you can walk, you can tap”.

If you can walk, you can tap

Recognition: Drama Desk Award (1982), Tony Award for Best Choreographer (1982), Dance Magazine Award 1985, Capezio Award for Lifetime Achievement (1988), National Medal of the Arts (1991). He was inducted into the Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2003.

Performed with: Cholly Atkins (an expert Wing dancer) as class act ‘Coles & Atkins’ for 13 years. Prior to that, he was one the ‘Three Millers’, who were known for performing extremely intricate steps on tiny platforms…until he was replaced by someone else. In the late 1930’s he performed with the ‘Lucky 7 Trio’. He also toured with the Swing bands of Duke Ellison, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong.

Stage: Vaudeville circuit, Broadway (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, My One and Only)

Movies: Rocky II (1979), The Cotton Club (1984), Dirty Dancing (1987)

TV: Tap Dance in America, Conversations in Dance, Great Feats of the Feet, The Tap Dance Kid, Mr Griffin and Me, Charleston, Archives of a Master, etc

Taught: Taught Dance History at Yale, Cornell, Duke and George Washington universities. He opened the Dance Craft Studio on 52nd Street in New York City with fellow tap dancer Pete Nugent in the 1950’s, but by then tap dance was falling out of fashion.

What they said about him:

“A supreme illusionist”

“Brilliant”

“…the delicacy and power of a master pianist’s hands”

“…makes butterflies look clumsy”

Amazing! I have to admit, I knew nothing about him until reading the book ‘Tap! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and their Stories 1900-1955’. Watching some of his performances on YouTube are definitely inspiring me for my rhythm tap classes. Just need to get quicker!

References:

Keep Going

Thursday 12th September would have been my first week back at Rhythm Tap, this time in the intermediate class, but I had to go home from work the day before as I was unwell, and I didn’t return until this past Tuesday. I had also been intending to get back in the gym after having most of the summer off, but besides being unwell, the university gym that I use is now closed because…they are demolishing the building to build a shiny new one!

To be fair, the gym will be temporarily rehoused in another part of the campus from some time in October, and full memberships will be heavily discounted to only £10, but I wonder if there will be a reduction in the number of machines. Until I get to try it out, I plan to concentrate on doing some stretching.

But yeah, I was really annoyed that after a lovely two week break to recharge for the autumn, I had to then be run down by illness. I had my weekly timetable all mapped out: Gym on Tuesday lunchtime. Ukulele class Wednesday evening (starting this week). Tap class Thursday lunchtime. Just shows how our plans are not always under our control!

I managed to get along to my tap class on Thursday, and it was EXTREMELY CHALLENGING! I knew it would be, from the last time I had a go at that class in the evening, but not being 100% better, I felt ever so slightly vacant. The warm up was all call-and-response, which is one of my favourite things, but being a bit out of it, I felt slightly like a rabbit in headlights…especially with only 5 of us in the class – nowhere to hide! In the exercises and routine I felt like I couldn’t keep up with instructions and the speed of the steps.

Then I had that creeping feeling again. You know the one. It’s too difficult, I can’t do it, I don’t want to do this anymore, etc, BUT I’ve been through this before at previous levels – it’s challenging and you want to give up, but actually, if you want to improve, you have to push through it, and in time it will get easier. Besides, those of us who have just moved up from advanced beginners are all in the same boat and we can support each other!

We are learning a routine to a song by Gentleman’s Dub Club, which is just my thing. I just need to watch the video I took of the routine and practice a lot, because I retained NONE of the information given – doh!