Why I’ve Cancelled My Gym Membership

Sad news – my SO and I cancelled our gym membership at the retirement village! We’ve been members since November and made quite good use of the gym, swimming pool and sauna, and it gave us a boost in those dark winter months of working from home, but there were a few things that brought us to the decision to end the membership this month:

  • The gym room and swimming pool are very small. Any more than 4 people would be a squeeze. Now that covid restrictions are gone, it’s getting busier.
  • Although there is a booking system via an app, people seem to be ignoring this and turning up when they feel like it – not great in a small gym!
  • There’s always a shortage of towels and shower gel in the changing rooms in the evening – not a major thing, but when they’re provided as part of your membership, you don’t want to have to bring your own.
  • Following on from the lack of towels and shower gel, the staff don’t seem to be checking the changing rooms and poolside often enough, so nearly every time I’ve been, the rubbish bin is overflowing, someone’s left their bra on the dressing counter, there’s talcum powder all over the floor and there’s often a wet towel or two left on the recliners by the pool from earlier in the day.
  • The cost of living is rocketing here in the UK for various reasons and we could do with chopping unnecessary spends. We have our own equipment we can use for free in the garage and I still have a Rambert Home Studio subscription that I’m using to do Pilates, dance cardio, contemporary and ballet classes.
  • We’ve been very busy recently with church prep and other things, so we haven’t been able to get there much as we would have liked in recent weeks.
  • My workplace is asking us to return to working in the office at least 40% of the week (at some point soon), so I may try and go back to the university gym. It’s currently £10pm as the building renovations are still ongoing, but it’ll soon be reopening in the former sports centre and then I’ll probably do pay-as-you-go via the Hussle app. (Although I don’t miss commuting, I do miss the gym-Tuesday, tap class-Thursday lunchtime routine I was in.)
  • On a side note – I also cancelled my Spotify membership last month. I mainly used it to listen to the track for my tap dance class routine, various podcasts, and maybe a jazz mix for improvisation. BUT I wasn’t using it enough to justify the spend. If I do use Spotify now, I’ll have to live with the adverts and random shuffling! I’ve basically gone back to downloading the tracks for tap class as I used to, because it works out about £1-2 every 6 weeks or so, and I own the track and have a great collection of songs that work for practise. (I originally had a Spotify membership deal of 3 months for £9.99, but when that finished it flipped to the usual £9.99 per month and I just don’t think it’s worth it for me.)

Anyway, thanks for reading, and happy weekend! Any plans? As well as chores and getting out for some walks in the sun, I’ll be attending a tap history talk on Zoom this Sunday evening with Lisa La Touche, so I’ll be sure to make some notes and give you the lowdown in the next few weeks.

Why I’m Not Attending TDFUK This Year

I’ve been going to Tap Dance Festival UK for a couple of years now, including the virtual-only event during the last 2 years of the coronavirus pandemic, and I absolutely love it. They always have an amazing international faculty of teachers and I always get HEAPS out of it. This year the festival is once again taking place online, but (very unlike me) I’ve decided not to take part this time. BUT WHY? 

  • I’m actually busy that weekend with a trip to Kew Gardens amongst other things, so I won’t be able to join live
  • I’ve got SO MANY tap and musicality workshop recordings to catch up on that I really don’t want to add even more to the list (you know how you can end up stacking up videos to catch up on, and never actually get around to it??)
  • Although the class recordings will be available for a month after the festival has taken place, last time I just didn’t manage to find the time to do them before they expired
  • I’m happy to wait until I can go to the physical event, which will hopefully return next year

I recently purchased the recordings of two really helpful TDFUK classes that I attended last year (with no expiry!), ‘Rudiments’ with Adele Joel and ‘Drills’ with Robin Passmore and I’m going to set aside some time this month to go through them…I promise!

The virtual Tap Dance Festival UK takes place 26th-27th February 2022 

Why Rhythm Tap?

Image from TDRNUK

Last week I spent a lot of time umming and ahhing over whether I was going to join Tap Dance Research Network UK’s lastest Zoom networking event: Tap Café – Open Space.

Because I’m a member, my ticket was automatically booked and I got an email notification to let me know. I’ve only ever attended TDRNUK’s talks on a particular subject where I could just listen and write notes, and up to this point I’d chickened out of attending the networking events. I mean, the word ‘networking’ can make a lot of people run a mile. Well, last Thursday I decided to stop being silly and just GO!

It was a REALLY great session where a couple of questions were put forward and then we discussed them. We actually ran over time because an hour is really not enough to talk about all things tap dance, am I right? There weren’t as many people as at the last event I attended, but numbers have dropped off a bit on all kinds of online events since things have opened up again, and TDRNUK do vary the day of the week and time of day of their events to make sure everyone gets a chance to attend something. We started off by going round and introducing ourselves, something I had prepared myself for in advance. I was the only one there who is not teaching tap, but not the only newbie to the networking events, and can I just say, Jane Goldberg joined us from New York!

Rhythm Tap?

One of the questions that was raised was why we call it ‘rhythm tap’. The class I attend is called ‘Rhythm Tap’ and that name actually drew me in over the ISTD syllabus-led ‘Tap’ that was also available at that particular college (and I’m glad, from what I hear about syllabus tap). There was also ‘American Tap’ at Citylit, which was my other choice, and ‘Jazz Tap’ at Pineapple Studios, which are all the same thing and sound exciting! We kind of came to the same conclusions in our chat – in the UK, most people think of West End/Broadway musicals, like 42nd Street when they think of tap dance, which is all about the aesthetic quality, rather than the ‘rhythm tap’ style which is about sounds, musicality and improvisation.

If you go down the dance school route as a child in the UK, you’ll likely be doing the ISTD tap dance syllabus, which is fairly restrictive in terms of steps and rhythm, but it gives you what you need for a career in musical theatre. I’ve heard people say that by their early teens they’d learnt all there was to learn in tap, had nowhere else to go with it…and quit. This blows my mind because there is SO MUCH TO LEARN! But this made sense when, in our discussion, someone mentioned that when they were learning as a child, it was a case of ‘this is a shuffle, this is the timing for a shuffle and that’s that’. By saying ‘rhythm tap’, we are making the distinction, but I don’t believe this distinction really applies in the US. What do you think?

The Tap Café session really picked me up after a busy and frustrating day at work and I really can’t wait for the next one! 

 

Quick Bio: Jeni LeGon

Over the last year or so of online talks and events, I’ve learned about so many different legendary tap dance artists, and written about a few of them too. This time, I thought I would write about one of the pioneering women of the artform – Jeni LeGon:

Born: 14th August 1916 in Chicago, Illinois as Jennie Ligon.

Died: 7 December 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Known For: Being one of the first black women to develop a successful solo dance career, for dancing in trousers (unusual for women at the time) and for being the only black woman to dance on screen with Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, who was regularly paired with Shirley Temple.

Training: She developed her art on the streets of Chicago’s South Side and went on to win a tap dance contest in Savannah, Georgia. At 13 years old, she got her first musical theatre job, dancing as a soubrette. She went professional by age 14 when she started performing with Count Basie. Later, in 1943 she took lessons in African dance from the amazing Katherine Dunham, dancer, anthropologist and creator of the Dunham Technique.

Style: Flash – acrobatics, flips, double spins, knee drops, flying splits, toe stands

Early Career: In 1931 she started performing across the Southern US states with the Whitman Sisters’ all female chorus (the Whitman Sisters were four African American sisters whose successful touring company challenged racial stereotypes, ran for over 40 years and was the best paid act on the TOBA circuit). Later, Jeni formed the LeGon & Lane tap duo with her half-sister Willa Mae Lane in 1933. She danced in speciality acts in the Detroit nightclubs and then went on to dance in Los Angeles.

Hollywood & Beyond: Jeni was discovered in 1935 by manager Earl Dancer and she signed an extended contract with MGM Studios. Her first film casting was Broadway Melody of 1936, starring Eleanor Powell, but the contract was cancelled soon after because the studio “didn’t want to have two [female solo] dancers”, which basically meant they didn’t want her to outshine Powell. In the end, LeGon worked as a dance consultant and dance director for MGM, who didn’t know how to market a solo black female dancer. She said “I didn’t fit in at that time as one of the kids next door”. As was the case in those days, many of the Hollywood roles she did get cast her as some type of servant or maid. It was only when she starred in all-black films with people such as Cab Calloway, such as Hi De Ho (1947), that she said she got the chance “to be the heroine, to get kissed”. Her first actual screen role was in Hooray for Love (1935) where she danced with Bill Robinson. The film also starred Fats Waller, who she went on to work with for much of her career.

In 1936 she got some work in the UK, appearing on the West End stage in C.B Cochran’s revue, Follow the Sun and in the film Dishonour Bright (1936). 

Movie Credits: Hooray for Love (1935), Dishonour Bright (1936), Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937), This Was Paris (1937), Start Cheering (1938), Fools for Scandal (1938),  Double Deal (1939), I Can’t Give You Anything But Love (1940), Birth Of The Blues (1941), Bahama Passage (1941), Sundown (1941), Arabian Nights (1941), While Thousands Cheered (1943), Stormy Weather (1943), Hi De Ho (1947), Easter Parade (1948), I Shot Jesse James (1949), Somebody Loves Me (1952), Bright Road (1953), Documentary – Jeni LeGon: Living in a Great Big Way (1999), Bones (2001).

Later Life: Jeni quit Hollywood in the 1950s, studied percussion, and continued to work in dance and music, including teaching and running drama workshops. She relocated to Vancouver in Canada, a place she found much more welcoming than the US.

She Said:

I decided I wanted to be in show business. I used to sneak out of school and go see Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway and all the wonderful bands they had at that time

I’ve had a dance school all my life

I danced like a boy

Hollywood was a black and white world

[MGM] were paying me $1,250 a week and telling me I wasn’t good enough to eat in their dining room

Honours

  • Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame
  • National Congress of Black Women
  • Doctorate of Performing Arts in American Dance, Oklahoma City University (2002)
  • International Tap Dance Hall of Fame, American Tap Dance Foundation (2002)

Modern References:

Jeni LeGon is the subject of obsession for one of the protagonists in Zadie Smith’s novel Swing Time, that I am yet to read!

Sources:
  • BFI https://www2.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/features/jeni-legon-hollywood-dance-pioneer-swing-time
  • The History Makers https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/jeni-legon-38
  • Vancouver Sun https://vancouversun.com/Entertainment/african-american-tap-dancing-diva-jeni-legon-dies-at-age-96-in-vancouver-with-video?r
  • The Province https://theprovince.com/entertainment/celebrity/im-doing-ok-and-im-living-in-a-great-big-way-jeni-legon-often-stole-the-spotlight-dancing-with-the-biggest-stars-of-the-20th-century
  • American Tap Dance Foundation https://www.atdf.org/hall-of-fame-bios
  • Malone, Jacqui, Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago (1996)
  • Valis-Hill, Constance, Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History, Oxford University Press, New York (2010)

A Holiday, A Decision & A Festival

Holiday

I can’t believe it’s July already! My SO and I recently had a week’s holiday in Torbay, aka the English Riviera, which basically consists of the seaside towns of Torquay (as in Fawlty Towers), Paignton and the beautiful fishing harbour of Brixham. We had such a great time, and we were really spoiled with the lovely weather (because everyone back home had rain a lot of that week). The week ended up having an Agatha Christie theme because we visited her holiday home Greenway, by the stunning River Dart, we saw an Agatha Christie exhibition at Torquay Museum and some of the set and costumes from ITV’s Poirot (one of my favourite shows ever – although only series 1-8. Not so bothered after it changed production and we lost the comedic relationships between Poirot and Inspector Japp, Hastings and Miss Lemon), we saw her comedy-thriller play Spider’s Web at Paignton Theatre one evening, and while visiting her hometown of Torquay, we also found the site of her childhood home, which is sadly no more. What a week!

Big Decision

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

After thinking about it for quite a while, today I closed my soap business that I’ve been running for about 10 years. Although I had been thinking about doing it for a while, Brexit ended up being the catalyst as I had to jump through a number of hoops to submit all my product details to the new government cosmetics portal, and I just knew I was over it already. Although I feel a little sad about it, I also feel like a BIG WEIGHT has been lifted off my shoulders. About 5 years after starting my craft business I got into tap dancing which requires time and dedication, plus I didn’t have much time for writing for fun anymore, so it feels good to have that extra time back! I have a small-scale wholesale customer who I will continue to make for once a month, but I’m just done with all the other stuff.

Tap City

American Tap Dance Foundation’s TAP CITY festival starts on Monday!!! I’m really excited to be able to join in while it’s taking place online. I mean, who’s getting on a flight from London to New York at the moment?? I’ve printed off the schedule, highlighted all the intermediate classes, and added in the class times in GMT (big thanks to my SO for reminding me about that!). I will actually be working Monday and Tuesday (still working from home, so I can join in from 5pm) and then I am on holiday the rest of the week so I can take part live, but my registration actually includes 30 days access to the recordings. Result!

On another note, I am currently working on a mini-bio about a female tap dance legend to share with you shortly. I did start doing research while I was in Devon, but I was too distracted by the sea views!

A Journalism Workshop

I hope you’ve had a good week? Yesterday I had my last tap class of the half-term. The next block of 6 begins the week after next, but I’m wondering whether to take a break until September (shocking, I know!) and try to work my way through some of the video content I still haven’t looked at from the various festivals, workshops, classes, one-off events, etc that I purchased last year. I find it hard to fit in when I have exercises and choreography to practise for my weekly class. I’m unavailable about 2 or 3 weeks of the next block, if I sign up for the usual Wednesday or Thursday class, so if I do enrol, it’ll be on the Tuesday night class. I may…I may not.

I continue to explore writing as a career, and so last night I attended an online masterclass from The Guardian newspaper entitled: ‘Kickstart Your Freelance Writing Career: A Journalism Workshop’, with journalist Coco Khan. I did actually write for a couple of student magazines when I was at university all those years ago – I was a writer for a publication called Student Pages, where I did a travel piece and another piece where I interviewed friends about their courses and career aspirations. Alongside that, I also did music reviews for another publication (can’t remember what they were called now), where they sent me free CD singles and I wrote what I thought of them! Unfortunately, both magazines closed down in my final year, and what I should have done when I finished university was get in somewhere else while I had a current portfolio of work. But you know, life gets in the way, you get an unrelated job and forget about it for several years. (Also, when I was at secondary school I had a theatre review published after my Classics teacher submitted it to a magazine – I have to say they changed it so much, it didn’t sound like me at all!)

Anyway, back to last night’s Guardian Masterclass. There were 60 of us on Zoom meeting, and Coco talked about finding and developing your own voice, how to break into journalism, pitching your story to (extremely busy) editors, delivering great journalism, building relationships with editors, building resilience and handling rejection. It was a two and a half hour class, but we were late starting due to internet issues, and by the time we came to the 5 minute break, nearly 2 hours in, I had a thumping headache, and had to exit before we got onto having a go at writing a pitch and the promised ‘mammoth’ Q&A at the end. Questions were asked and answered at various points throughout, which was helpful, and they will be sending through the presentation slides. I got SO much out of the session, and it made the idea of pitching a story, opinion piece or personal essay to a magazine, newspaper or website a lot less intimidating – if no-one replies, or they don’t go for your story, don’t take it personally! They’re busy and they get hundreds of pitches in their inbox every day. We’ll see what happens!

Try not to second-guess yourself.

Get back on the horse.

Don’t put your pen down.

(Coco Khan)

On Musicality

I’ve been vaccinated!

Great news – my SO and I both had our first Covid vaccinations last weekend! We had the Pfizer Biontech jab as they’re no longer offering under 40s the Astra Zeneca, due to the risk of blood clots. I was glad about that because I had a DVT when I was 20. I’m a little scared of needles, and felt quite worked up just before I had it done, but honestly, I didn’t even know the nurse had done it until I saw her drop the needle into the disposal bucket. I was given a green sticker to wear on my hand to indicate my nervousness, and the nurse was great and just chatted away to me about my plans for the weekend, so I was distracted 🙂 I’ve never, ever had a bad experience with needles, but for some reason I get super nervous and start freaking out. They asked me if I was likely to faint and needed a bit of time, but I said “nope, I’ll be fine, I just get a bit worked up” (i.e. just get it over with!). I posted about how I hate needles and how easy and painless it was on social media because I have a cousin who is flat out refusing to get the vaccination because she is a proper needlephobe.

Musicality

In other news…I recently attended a series of three online workshops on musicality for tap dancers. Hosted by my teacher’s tap company, we were joined by guests Jess Murray (The Tap Project/London Tap Jam/Tap Dance Research Network UK), Gustavo ‘Tato’ Sassone (The Luthier Dance School Barcelona), and Max Pollak (Rumba Tap). These guys are all amazing in their own right and I came away having learnt SO MUCH:

  • Jess got us to explore improvisation, looking at beats, units of time, accents and space, and we looked at which steps we can fit into different rhythms (such as cramp rolls into swung eighths), which will really help with future improvisation.
  • Drummer and percussionist Tato took us through the very basics of music theory, which was so helpful to me because I had forgotten a lot and my understanding was vague up until that point. We didn’t do any tap, but we spent the session clapping out the rhythms, which was helpful for concentrating on that, rather than what you’re doing with your feet.
  • Drummer and percussive dancer Max showed us the Afro-Cuban rhythms of the Clave. Stepping, clapping and singing, all at the same time – argh! But he broke it all down in such a way that you found yourself able to do it…if only for a while! These things take practise. My teacher had actually let me know about an opportunity to do online classes with him on a Friday evening, but I don’t want to take any more on right now!

I actually had clarinet lessons for a couple of years when I was at secondary school (and I hated them!), and although I could play okay and can still read music (although I needed a refresher), I was better at playing by ear than by music score. Revisiting music as a tap dance student has been interesting; our teacher will use musical terms like ‘sixteenth notes’ and ‘triplets’, and it literally means nothing to me, despite attempting to learn what they are. I’ve gradually realised over the years that I don’t really retain numbers and amounts in the way that I retain words.

I’ve attended 2 online musicality workshops with Sarah Reich over the last year and these recent sessions have gone over it all again, with things like bars and note values, and I write myself loads of notes, but I don’t seem to be able to retain the information in my head! Some students want to know how many steps we’re doing, or how many counts something is, where as I learn from retaining the ‘bah-dah-bee-bah-dah’, which isn’t a bad thing at all, because you want to move from counting into feeling the rhythm. After all, the masters did it by feel. But, I still want to be able to understand what I’m doing musically. Our teacher is very good at recognising that we all learn differently, because she’ll explain it both ways. My solution for now, has been to create index cards with the note values and explanations and stick them on the wall of my garage tap studio! 🙂

Anyone else struggle with music theory? Let me know in the comments 🙂

March Motivation

Hey, how are you doing? Sorry I haven’t posted in a while – I’ve found it hard to find the motivation to write, despite having lots to write about and trying to make THIS year my ‘Year of Writing’ (last year didn’t really work out…). So here’s a brief run-down of what I’ve been up to:

Tap Dance Standards Workshops

I recently attended a trio of tap dance standards workshops on Zoom, hosted by Sole Rebel. I literally jumped at the chance to learn some classic repertoire! I told you about the first one, Leon Collins #53 in my last post, and the next two were Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson’s King For A Day, which I absolutely LOVE, taught by Old Kent Road’s Avalon and Buster Brown’s Laura (some of which I’d learnt at Tap Dance Festival UK in 2019), taught by Old Kent Road’s Ryan. Thankfully recordings of the class and of the full routines were provided, so I can continue to work on these in my own time. I’ve just signed up to the next trio of workshops, which will be focusing on improvisation, musicality, rhythm and body percussion, which will be challenging and amazing!

Writing Challenge

In February I signed up to a ‘Couch to 5K’ writing challenge called Wake Up Your Writing, where I received a timed writing prompt by email every day for a whole month. Unfortunately I got to day 5 and gave up…*sigh*…BUT, I still have the emails, so I am going to pick up where I left off: “Pick a character you know and love and make them do the thing you always wished they would”. I’m going to have a think now about which character I want to write about 🙂

BOP Jazz Workout

My SO and I are still working from home, and while it can be too easy to flop on the sofa in the evening, one thing I have been motivated to do is the BOP Jazz dance workout every day after work. I think part of it is the feeling of stretching and lengthening those stiff muscles after a day at the desk, and the other part is the wonderful chilled jazz music that accompanies the workout. It’s a manageable bit of cross-training. I also like the fact it’s more of a body conditioning and stretch class than a bouncy cardio workout, which I really have to be in the mood for! (BOP are the London-based Body of People Jazz Theatre Company, and the founders, Dollie Henry and Paul Jenkins have written a fantastic book called The Essential Guide to Jazz Dance, which is on My Must Reads list).

Thanks for reading!

How are you staying motivated at the moment?