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?! 

 

 

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!

Festival Fever

I’ve just returned from Manchester where I attended the amazing Tap Dance Festival UK 2019!

I travelled up on Friday afternoon so I could be there for the 9.30am start on Saturday. This year they had a separate ‘Adult’ level, which made it a lot more approachable for those of us aged 30 plus!

After registration I went to the canteen to wait for the first session and bumped into someone from my Thursday lunchtime rhythm tap class! We didn’t know either one of us were going to the festival, and she had left the class straight away on Thursday, so she didn’t hear me mention I was going. Phew, someone to have lunch with!

We started with an energetic aerobic full body warm-up before being led to our studio for the day. The day ran as follows:

Rudimentals with Liz Carroll (New Jersey Tap Ensemble)

Liz got us learning a Steve Condos combination, which uses a basic crawl (heel, toe, heel, toe), but adds in the heel (or toe) on the other foot, in between each). It got very mind-bending, but it was fun to try and do it! Then she taught us some of Buster Brown’s trademark dance Laura. Loved it!

Musicality & choreography with Sarah Reich (Sourtaps)

Everyone was excited about headliner Sarah Reich’s class! Hailing from Los Angeles, she has performed with the Syncopated Ladies, Postmodern Jukebox, Jason Samuels Smith; she founded her own company Tap Music Project and has just released a tap jazz album called New Change, which I now own. It’s amazing!

In her class we worked on rhythm turns, the basis of which is a cramp roll (toe-toe-heel-heel). We worked on a basic turn and then a travelling one. I managed to get through the class without getting dizzy for once! (My spotting technique for turns is rusty LOL). Then we learned a short routine that included two turns. SO GOOD! I love her style and emphasis on musicality. She is the second tapper I’ve heard say “learn to play drums”… I’m still thinking about it!

Classic repertory with Tony Waag (American Tap Dance Foundation)

Tony Waag is the founder of the ATDF, based in New York, along with the legendary Brenda Bufalino and the late Honi Coles – wow! His class was really good fun! We worked on a short routine that got us working out left and right, and there were a couple of complicated combos, but he emphasised not thinking about it, which is definitely the tip of the week!

Lunch, Intro to faculty & Q&A

We sat in the theatre space to eat lunch and listened to each faculty member introduce themselves and give a bit of their background and then answer our questions. Needless to say, this session overran massively, so the advertised ‘Open Space’ was moved to the end of the day!

A big part of the discussion was (not very technical) British syllabus tap versus (extremely technical) American rhythm tap. We were fortunate to have Alison Forrester on the panel who is a dance examiner and syllabus writer who shed some light on this. Many of the Brits on the panel said they passed all their tap syllabus exams and thought they were accomplished… Until they went to a tap class in the US, and realised they didn’t know anything. Amazing. So they all retrained in the US. And then brought it back to the UK! (Of course syllabus tap has its place in a formalised standard of progression).

Tap Attack (Jo & Kai Scanlan)

In this class Jo asked us what we wanted to work on, and we went with cross-phrasing! We did a slightly complicated exercise that she does with all her students and it got us tapping across the phrase of music as well as on the beat. Then we had a go at pickups/pullbacks travelling forwards and backwards – something to work on! I always enjoy Jo’s classes.

After Tap Attack I met my SO outside to make sure we got on the road to do the journey home.

It was such an amazing day, and if I could have, I would have done the entire 3 days, or maybe add on the evening show, social and tap jam for a bit extra.

It was so great to learn new steps and techniques from some of the masters, who themselves learned from the American greats, many of whom are no longer alive (Gregory Hines, Honi Coles, Jimmy Slyde etc).

It’s funny, I felt so jaded after my class on Thursday (tiredness etc) and was considering taking a 5 week or 1 term break, but the festival has filled me with fresh enthusiasm and a renewed desire to learn more and get better!

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Winter Festival

Oooweee! I am VERY excited to be heading to Tap Dance Festival UK 2019 in Manchester in two weeks’ time! Although it lasts an entire weekend, complete with Friday night showcase and Saturday night tap jam, I’m only doing the Saturday classes. After checking the website nearly every week since I booked, the schedule has finally come through:

tap fest uk 2019

Last year I attended for the first time and had a half day pass, which included 3 amazing classes in the morning. This year’s schedule looks great, and I’m especially looking forward to the Musicality and Choreography class with Sarah Reich, an amazing tap dancer from the US, plus the Tap Attack workshop with the award-winning Jo & Kai Scanlan – I really enjoyed their class last year!

Last year I booked Beginner Level (0-5 years’ experience), but this time I have booked the ‘Adult’ stream, just because the Beginner to Advanced levels are aimed more at teenagers in their teaching style. I probably won’t stay for the Musical Theatre Tap at 15:30 just because we could do with getting on the road for the 3.5 hour drive get home, and I am actually attending her Theatre Tap class at the MOVE IT dance exhibition in March! I will let you know how it all goes. WHOOP!

 

Winter Plans

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Best foot forward

After wondering all weekend whether to do a half day or full day, I have gone and booked a one-day pass to the Tap Dance Festival UK Winter Intensive 2019! The festival takes place in February in Salford, Greater Manchester, and you may remember that I went along for the first time last Winter for the Saturday morning only, which included 3 classes. They haven’t released half day passes yet, and seeing as there were very few adult spaces left, I bit the bullet to make sure I don’t miss out… Apparently the teaching faculty will include American Tap Dance Foundation! Can’t wait!

At the last festival I learnt so much in just a few hours of tapping and got to learn different things from different people who teach in their own unique style. It was a bit scary going on my own, but really, I’m used to it. I thought about not bothering and just doing the summer ones (London Tap Dance Intensive and Brighton Tap Festival) but considering the heatwave this Summer just gone and the fact I overheat massively at these things, I decided the WINTER would be best!

Tap Dance Festival UK Winter Intensive 2018

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Wow, what a weekend! Now that I’m back from Manchester and have had 12 hours’ sleep I can tell you all about my experience of the 2nd ever Tap Festival UK Winter Intensive.

Friday

My SO and I drove up to Salford (Greater Manchester) on Friday, reaching our accommodation in the afternoon. After a rest and a bite to eat, we went to the Festival venue Pendleton College for the Professional Showcase at 7pm. We were all made to wait in the small canteen area until the start, but in the meantime there was a presentation to the amazing Jo Scanlan of Tap Attack and a short tap performance by her very talented son.

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Next, we were shown through to the Eccleston Theatre where the Apartment 33 ‘Where Dreams Are Made’ Professional Show was taking place. Written and presented by Maud Arnold, and choreographed by her sister Chloe, the show featured some of the weekend’s faculty members, and shared the story of how tap dancers were able to relocate to Chloe and Maud’s actual Apartment 33 in New York to be able to “pursue their tap dance goals and dreams”. The score included Alicia Keys, John Legend, Beyonce and Rihanna, among others, and the dance was a fantastic blend of tap, crump, contemporary and more. My favourite performance was pocket-rocket Robin Passmore tapping furiously to Destiny’s Child’s Survivor. So good! The Syncopated Ladies’ routine to Beyonce’s Formation was also a big crowd pleaser. Unfortunately, I had someone’s huge hair in my eyeline, but I managed to move a seat along so that I could actually see the performers’ feet!

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After the show was a Q&A with the panel of Suzanne Clandon (founder of Tap Dance Festival UK), Maud Arnold (Syncopated Ladies), Robin Passmore, Vikas Arun, Linsey O’Neal, Josh Nixon. There were some good questions from the audience such as “did you ever feel like giving up?” and lots of advice on pursuing your dreams in the performing arts. You have to be a go-getter!

Saturday

Saturday morning my SO dropped me back at Pendleton College and went off to run and then go and see friends near Stockport. I went in with my dance bag, a bit apprehensive because last night seemed to be all teenagers, which made me wonder if there would be ANY ADULTS in the classes on Saturday. I went into the ‘holding area’ as per last night and found some adults (phew!). There turned out to be quite a few there for classes thankfully! I had received an email in the week to say that the classes were geared towards teens, so adults were welcome to attend the ‘Teachers’ Studio’ classes free of charge. I thought I might do that for the final class of the morning, but I didn’t in the end!

Before going to any classes, we were in the sports hall for the AFRO FUNK warm up with Maud. Ok, it was only about 20 minutes long, and I heard someone say “I’ve got a stitch!” Yep. That’s Afro Funk! It’s kind of dance hall style winding and grinding and body isolations. Lots of fun, a real laugh, but OH BOY does it wear you out.

After this we were shown by the respective people where to go for our class levels. I was in the Beginners/Advanced Beginners (0-3 years experience), and we had a very nice studio with mirrors.

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10.00-10.55 Tap Attack (Jo Scanlan)

This was a really fun class where we did some warm up exercises at the mirror and across the floor (including travelling on one leg – wow that burns) and then learnt a short routine. I was breaking in my Jason Samuels Smith tap shoes, and they were fab! That was actually my second time learning with the Guinness World Record holder Jo – the first time was at MOVE IT 2017 in London.

11.00-11.55 Technique (Robin Passmore)

A proper tap drills class with a proper drill sergeant! Some people find drills tiresome, but I love it. As was explained to us, that is how you get better and cleaner. Watching Robin on stage the night before, she stood out as someone who was really on it and exceptionally precise, so I was looking forward to learning from her. Her demonstrations were amazing and we were just standing there with our mouths open! We worked on crawls, shuffles in all directions, paddles, riffs, pick-ups, pull-backs AND I had my first ever go at wings! Very exciting. Couldn’t get the sound, but at least I know what I should be doing. Now go home and practice!

12.00-12.55 Choreography (Vikas Arun)

Vikas explained at the beginning that we were going to find the class too difficult. Um, what? But then he said that there was no point him flying all the way from the US and us paying for a class that was too easy. Very true. We were there to be challenged! He also said please ask questions or say if you don’t get something, otherwise he’ll move on.

Now, I thought it was going to be a class where you were encouraged to come up with a bit of your own choreography (have to say I wasn’t especially up for that on a Saturday morning, and was considering beforehand running along to the Teacher’s Studio with Jo Scanlan), but we were actually learning choreography.

We learnt a really cool routine, and I think it moved a little faster than I’m used to, but he threw in useful tips about weight placement and height, which helped me with one particularly tricky step which you’ll see below (toe-heel-f-lap, toe-heel-f-lap). He also said, as had been said throughout the morning that it is better to try and get that one thing right than to just do it fast but get it wrong. Some other sound bites I picked up were ‘don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t do it wrong‘ and ‘learn the drums’. I actually decided to either learn drums or learn to tap, and I went with tap. I should do both!

Here’s what we learnt (slower version first followed by with the music):

 

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It was such an amazing day and I’m so glad I went! It was scary to go on my own, but it was fantastic and got me out of my comfort zone…again!

If you have the chance to go to any sort of dance festival or intensive, go for it!

Tap Festival Schedule

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This coming weekend I will be attending the Tap Dance Festival UK’s Winter Intensive in Manchester! Very excited!

The timetable for me is as follows:

Friday 16th

7.30pm Professional Showcase: Where Dreams Are Made (Starring Chloe Arnold’s tap group Apt 33)

Saturday 17th

9.00-9.30am Registration

9.30-10.00am AFRO FUNK Warm Up (Maud Arnold)

10.00-10.55am Tap Attack (Jo Scanlan)

11.00-11.55am Technique (Robin Passmore)

12.00-12.55pm Choreography (Vikas Arun)

1pm lunch/home time!

I’m only doing a half day of Advanced Beginners classes, and I think that’ll be enough for me!

I’ll report back on Sunday how it went…

Brighton Tap Festival 2016

Yesterday I travelled down to Brighton for the last day of Brighton Tap Festival 2016!

The Festival was held at the Brighton Youth Centre, within an easy walk of the sea front. When I arrived, I registered and while sorting myself out I bumped into my Tap teacher from Morley College! I had a feeling she might be there.

I had purchased a 2 class pass and was booked onto Maud Arnold’s Beginners class, followed by founder member Kate Ivory Jordan’s Beginners class.  However, I found out from Facebook the day before that Maud’s class had changed to ‘Afro Funk’. I had no idea if that meant it would be a Tap class or not, so I took my dance sneakers just in case. Good thing I did! It turned out to be a HIGH ENERGY dance class with a West African & Jamaican Dancehall fusion. It was so much fun, but I had to step out a few times (as did others) because it was so energetic, with plenty of winding and grinding, and it was a pretty warm day. I think next time I will take a bigger water bottle. It ran out pretty quickly!

I met some really nice people there who had been there since the start of the Festival (Tuesday) and they stayed on for Kate’s Tap class afterwards. There was just a really nice, friendly atmosphere, even though I had just turned up on the final afternoon and was a bit nervous because I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Kate’s class was just the right level for me with a bit of challenge to be able to pick up the steps quickly and perform them at speed. That’s how you improve! I defintely agree with not thinking about it, but just going for it. After learning a short routine, we did some rhythm exercises in circle and then a bit of improvisation. Although that was quite cool, I didn’t feel I knew enough steps to be able to just go for it in the same way as if I had a bit more experience. But, not a bad thing at all. It’s good to come out of your comfort zone once in a while!

After that I met Clive and we went for coffee and a chill out at Small Batch Coffee Co. followed by a nice walk along the sea front, which was buzzing with people eating, drinking, playing beach volleyball and basketball. I have to say my legs were like lead and I was completely bushed. I’m blaming Afro Funk! Had a filling Vietnamese noodle soup at Pho (although I felt almost too tired to be bothered to eat), then headed back to get changed for the evening UK Showcase and Masters Tap Gala at the Brighton Dome Studio Theatre, which was sold out!

All I can say is WOW. The show was AMAZING. The talent of these Tap dancers! Everyone was incredible and I loved the live accompaniment of Jazz music by the Michelle Drees band, but my stand-outs were Avalon Rathgeb (wow, wow, wow – she teaches at Pineapple Studios and is part of Old Kent Road performing group with my teacher) and Alexandr Ostanin. A fantastic end to the festival!

I’ve definitely come away with the motivation to get practising and I can’t wait for next year!

https://www.brightontapfestival.co.uk/

https://www.instagram.com/brighton_tapfestival/