5 Things in 5 Pictures

Autumn has definitely arrived

Despite the torrential rain (a hangover of Hurricane Lorenzo), this is still my favourite time of year. Well, apart from the clock change. Coats, scarves, boots, red and orange leaves, bonfires, firework displays, squashes and soups!

I joined a new gym! 

On Wednesday lunchtime I went to the council gym near work. Coming from the familiarity of the neat University gym, I had to have a look around the machines before getting started. They seem a bit more fiddly to load weight to, and some of them were broken. The air con wasn’t working properly. The steam room was CLOSED. But it is a busy gym of heavy usage, so not entirely surprising. I’ll be back on Tuesday, and I might even try the swimming pool. If it doesn’t work out, I may quit and return to the Uni gym in its temporary location.

On Wednesday night I had my second Ukulele class

I realised after the first class that I needed to cut my nails so I could press the strings properly! We had a substitute teacher as our tutor was unable to make it this week. The stand-in was very good and even got us onto strumming. We went over chords C, F, A minor, G7 and we even added C7. Lots of information, but I can see how learning a musical instrument (musicality, rhythm, strumming patterns, reading music, timing etc) feeds into tap dancing. Love it.

Watching Ballet on stage is like being in a dream

At the weekend, my SO and I went to Sheffield to visit his sister. On the Saturday evening, she took us to see Northern Ballet, currently celebrating 50 years, perform Cinderella at The Lyceum. The dancing was high quality, and because the story is so familiar (I loved my Ladybird books LOL), it was intriguing to see how they would stage the story. For example, in this production, the Fairy Godmother is a magician, first introduced at a Moscow winter market among other interesting circus performers.  I particularly enjoyed the crystal lake ice skating scene and the Prince’s winter ball. Enchanting, wintery and wonderful!

 

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I couldn’t quit tap if I tried

Last week I thought I’d made my mind up to take a break from rhythm tap classes once this 6 week block is up next week, and come back to it after Christmas, once my Ukulele classes have finished. I thought maybe I’d go swimming on a Thursday lunchtime instead – something that doesn’t require too much brainpower! But then I went to my class and LOVED EVERY MINUTE. I feel like I’m back ‘in the zone’, as Britney would say and I’m learning loads of new intermediate level things and have lots of fun things to work on…

Workshop Week

I felt a bit disappointed in myself on Tuesday. For the second year in a row, I enrolled on a 3-day tap dance intensive (2 hours per day) and once again I ended up bailing out after 1 day.

This time I intended to attend days 1-2 and then rest on day 3, but this wasn’t to be. My problem left knee started giving me grief afterwards, and then my right achilles tendon and plantar fascia (arch of foot) followed suit, so I ended up hobbling around at home for the remainder of the course…

…Apart from yesterday when I hobbled into West London to run an important errand and then attend a 3 hour ukulele workshop in Southwark the afternoon! I’ll tell you all about it, but first the tap intensive.

The intermediate tap dance workshop was a lot of fun! The teacher, I’d forgotten, is a little scatty in his teaching style, but I picked up so much in those 2 hours. My usual teacher is fab, but I also enjoy learning with a different teacher every now and then as they will have their own style, choreography and way of teaching. Quite often, you have to absorb a lot very quickly.

We covered shuffles, slurps, the Shim Sham, rhythm turns, riffs, paddles, and a particular favourite for me was when we travelled backwards across the studio doing fast side shuffles:

R-L-R-R, L-R-L-L, R-L-R-L-R-L-R-R, L-R-L-R-L-R-L-L

I’ve never done this travelling backwards before, but I like it! Luckily we got to film the routine we’d put together so far, so I can have a go at this again in my garage once my knee and foot have had adequate rest.

I really enjoyed having the time to go over things in detail when you don’t have to squeeze everything into 45 minutes. I think my next task will be to make an appointment with a podiatrist because I’m pretty sure my knee and foot issue is to do with pronation when I walk and dance, and also having lower arches.

Now onto the ukulele…

I was thinking for a while that I’d like to be able to play a musical instrument at church as we’re short on musicians, and because I like singing, I was thinking about a non-wind instrument. So, rather than the guitar, I decided to go for the Ukulele! It’s apparently one of the easiest instruments to learn, it’s compact and portable, and it’s cute!

It’s compact…portable, and it’s cute!

To see if it was definitely for me, I enrolled the day before on the Wednesday afternoon 3-hour workshop near my work, and then I’d know whether I wanted to enrol on the regular class in the autumn. Well it was so much fun! Taught by an enthusiastic jazz singing, uke playing cabaret artist (who incidentally has a swing group that includes a tap dancer), the 9-strong all-female group introduced ourselves to each other, learnt how to tune our instruments and then learnt to play 4 chords (C, Am, F, G7), plus a couple of strum patterns. For each song that we did, we sang along and it was lovely!

It’s true what they say, learning an instrument really feeds into your understanding of tap dance rhythm, musicality and multitasking.

I think I’m hooked!

2nd Attempt

On Wednesday night I went to my second ever Tap Improvisation and Choreography class! About half an hour beforehand, I felt really nervous and wanted to bottle it, trying to come up with various excuses as to why I couldn’t go (like the heatwave)…but then I got myself together and went for it!

There were 10 of us for this mixed-level class, where we played various improvisation games, working in one large group, smaller groups, pairs and solo to build up our confidence to improvise tap steps. The focus was on rhythm, rather than executing amazing steps. The music was a variety of 60s soul/R&B, Blues and other newer music.

For our first exercise, we just used our hands and one at a time, clapped different rhythms for the group to copy. That was manageable. Next we did the same, but with our feet. A bit more complicated.

We worked in pairs to create something for our partners to copy. We also worked in pairs to create something to a simple song or nursery rhyme which we then performed to the rest of the class. My partner and I used ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and had a lot of fun with it – jazz hands were included! I can say I actually quite enjoyed performing it to those watching. We messed up the first time, but we did it again and got it right.

I also enjoyed the exercise where we travelled as one group along the length of the studio, doing whatever came to mind. At the end of the class, we repeated this exercise, but this time we just walked and allowed space for one person at a time to do some steps. This was very effective.

It was such a fun evening, if not a little nerve wracking in places. We all had a great time and I definitely came away feeling a bit more confident to try stuff. In public.

Common issues in improvisation:

  • Self-consciousness
  • Worrying that everyone else is better/more experienced than you
  • Trying to make your feet actually do the steps that are in your mind
  • Trying to recall all the steps you have built up in your ‘bank’ over the last however many years of learning
  • Staying on the rhythm
  • Counting bars and beats when you’ve been asked to do something for a certain number of counts
  • Going from a single beat to doubles to quadruples..when everyone’s watching
  • Brain freeze!

Next week I have the week off work as I have three 2-hour days at a Tap Dance Intensive in London’s Covent Garden, followed by a few rest/study days.

Have you ever done tap improvisation? If yes, tell me more in the comments….

Round of Applause

 

Vests
Last week’s tap & gym outfits

Tap class is going really well at the moment. We’re doing a fantastic percussive routine to the song SOB by Nathaniel Ratcliffe and the Night Sweats, which includes lots of steps and lots of clapping. The thing with tapping and clapping, it’s a bit like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time…and sometimes we’re stepping on the beat and clapping on the off-beat. It’s amazing, I LOVE IT. It takes a lot of practice to get it right, and I am making sure I do that when I’m at home (and sometimes at work during a break), otherwise I think I’d be struggling every week with the speed of it.

We only have this week and next left of the term, and then we head into the summer break…but not before the ‘Summer Shorts’ workshops! I’ve enrolled on the Tap Improvisation workshop, but this year I’ll be giving the Shim Sham workshop a miss because I have a church BBQ. Then, in the last week of July I will be attending the 3 day Intermediate Tap Intensive at CityLit, along with a couple of my classmates! I can’t wait, but I’m going to make sure I pace myself this time.

In need of a break last weekend after doing lots of summer fairs and things, my SO and I headed to the south coast for a long weekend on the beach. It was so warm and Mediterranean-feeling, that we could have shut our eyes and thought we were in Spain. The beach was looovely, a little shingly, but once we got over that bit and into the (chilly) sea (took me a while!), we found sand!

On a final note, I thought it was high time for a dance show, so next week I’m going to my local theatre to see an Irish dance show called Rhythm of the Dance. I’ll tell you all about it next week!

Beach
Sand…it’s in there somewhere

How to Make the Most of your Tap Dance Lessons

You may be a full time dance student or you may only have an hour of tap class a week (like me), so you have to find a way to make the most of what you have:

  • Pay attention in class! That’s right. Listen to what your teacher is saying and watch the demonstrations closely.
  • Learn from others who are more experienced or seem to know what they’re doing.
  • Ask questions when you have the opportunity. This is usually at the end of the class, but you may have opportunity during the class too (e.g. What is this step called? Which leg are we starting on? Who is your favourite tap dancer?! etc.)
  • Take the opportunity to film the routine or combination if given. Then you can become more familiar with it and practice outside of class. It helps to visualise even if you can’t physically do the steps for whatever reason, e.g. You’re on public transport or your leg is in plaster…
  • Practice as soon as you are able after your class just so it doesn’t escape your brain straight away!
  • Practice daily! Even if it’s only 5 minutes in the corridor at work. It helps cement things and keeps the muscle memory alive, so to speak.
  • Download or listen the track you’re using so you can familiarise yourself with the music, and any unusual rhythms it may have.
  • Take away one thing you can work on for next time. If you load yourself up with too many things to improve, you might stress yourself out and improve nothing.

Other general advice:

  • Watch tap dance online
  • Get to your classes early
  • Go to classes regularly
  • Read up on tap history
  • Watch tap shows at the theatre if you can
  • Read up on tap terms. Some steps have different names to what you’re used to (slurp vs closed third)
  • Attend workshops and festivals to try new stuff and meet other tappers
  • Follow tap dancers on social media
  • Join tap dance social media groups

What do you think?

I made a resolution this year to write a list of things I want to know and then try to ask my teacher a question every week, but sometimes I forget or chicken out 🙂

(We’re currently on a 2 week break from rhythm tap class, but I’m managing to keep up with my weekly workouts at the gym!)

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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Quick Bio: John W. Bubbles

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Photograph by Carl Van Vechten

Who: John W. Bubbles (born John William Sublett)

Born: 19th February 1902 in Louisville, Kentucky

Died: 18th May 1986 in Baldwin Hills, California

Known as: The Father of Rhythm Tap!

Partnered with: Ford L. “Buck” Washington and performed as ‘Buck & Bubbles’ on the Vaudeville circuit. Buck & Bubbles were the first black artists to perform at the Radio City Music Hall.

Big break: Ziegfeld Follies (1931)

Hollywood Movies: Varsity Show (1937), Cabin in the Sky (1943), A Song is Born (1948), Atlantic City (1944)

Tap Dance Style: percussive heel drops, complicated syncopation, jazz music style improvisation with traditional techniques

Invented: Rhythm Tap and the Cramp Roll (Ball-R, Ball-L, Heel-R, Heel-L done very quickly)

Notable Students: Fred Astaire

Recognition: Received the Life Achievement Award from the American Guild of Variety Artists in 1980, and was inducted into the Tap Hall of Fame in 2002

Catchphrase: “Shoot the liquor to me, John Boy”

Noteworthy quotes about him:

“Before Bubbles, tap was danced primarily on the toes, in the 2/4 feel of early jazz music”

“[There is] no tap dancer today who has not been influenced by Bubbles’s inventions”

“[He] revolutionised tap by cutting the tempo…and extending rhythmic patterns beyond the usual eight bars of music” (Margaret Morrison)

“He could get an extra thud whenever he wanted it” (Honi Coles)

“…a new style of tap dancing…he brought his heel beat into tap dancin’…” (The Nicholas Brothers)

References: