Back to Class!

On my way

Hey, sorry for the radio silence for the last 2 months! I’ve been away for a week on the Isle of Thanet in Kent, followed by a week of painting and wallpapering the living room. And then last Thursday I returned to my weekly tap class IN THE STUDIO!

My workplace has asked that we work from the office 40% of the month, so I’ve chosen Thursday as my main day in…so I can attend tap class in the afternoon. I have to say I was feeling a little nervous going back to the class, having not been there in person since MARCH 2020, but at the same time I was really excited!

Well, I arrived at the college (which has a snazzy new entrance) and asked which studio the class would be in – same one in the basement as usual! Some of my old classmates were sat in the waiting area outside the studio, so I caught up with them, and then some others arrived – including a couple of ladies who I’d never actually met in person but they recognised me from being on-screen in the garage! When the class before ours was done and exiting the studio, us intermediates went in and J and A, who were at the summer tap intensive in July were there already as they’re doing both levels. It was nice to be back there with people I know, and of course it was great to say hello to our teacher in person, after a couple of years on camera!

This half-term we’re dancing to Strange Game by Mick Jagger. I didn’t get any practise in over the weekend, so I ended up running through it about ten times the night before this week’s class. This week we did a few exercises in pairs, including working on spring-shuffles, which we do every week in our warm-up sequence, but a lot of us are either missing the floor a lot and/or not hitting the timing. I did work on this quite a bit in the last year at home, so it went better for me than it used to, but I still missed the floor quite a bit, and then when it came to doing 3x spring-shuffles on a single side…it all went horribly wrong. Oh, and someone fell over – not me, thankfully! I have to say, the new studio floor is VERY slippery…

It’s interesting doing these exercises in the studio again because it’s quite hard to hear yourself when we’re dancing all together. Due to this fact, our teacher had us run through the routine in 2 smaller groups so that she could hear us properly. I think there’s about 12-15 of us in the class – a bit bigger than the Thursday afternoon class was in 2019/20. Now, I had to do a bit of self-talk and tell myself not to think about the people standing there watching! It worked – I didn’t go wrong 🙂 It was much easier to hear the timings of the two groups, and my own steps of course.

After the class last week, I went back to work, showered and then carried on working for another hour, but this week I decided to just head back to work to check if any emails had come in and then headed home straight away to beat the crowds. Then I logged on from home and did another hour or so. I think that will work better for me going forward.

It’s SO good to be back. When I took a break from classes in May, I was feeling quite jaded, probably from being online for so long and not being in a physical class with proper feedback, but now I’m back, I’m absolutely LOVING IT!

 

Tap Intensive 2022

At the end of July I  was excited to attend the Improvers/Intermediate tap dance intensive at CityLit in London’s Covent Garden. I was only able to attend 2 of the 3 days because I didn’t have enough spare leave as I had 3 days booked the following week for the Commonwealth Games!

I’ve been to this tap intensive twice before, but on those previous occasions I burned myself out and I don’t think I had my hydration and nutrition quite right, because as I mentioned before, I felt hung over the following day! This time I made sure I drank enough water throughout, was fuelled and hydrated beforehand, had jellybeans I could pop during the class for extra quick energy, and then I had an electrolyte powder to add to my water for the journey home. IT WORKED!

I think what especially helped was that I’m now mainly working from home, so I was starting from a place of rest rather than the cumulative daily commute exhaustion of the past. Arriving on day 1, I was really pleased to see A and J from my pre-pandemic tap classes in Lambeth! It was so nice to be in a studio and dance with other people again after 2+ years!

Over the two days I was there we learnt the BS Chorus and worked on some other routines, timesteps and exercises, including travelling corner-to-corner across the studio. I particularly enjoyed being pushed to do some more advanced stuff and add in those extra sounds, and also to get lots of helpful feedback. It was great after having been dancing at home in the garage with limited feedback – it’s just not the same doing classes online! It was a really fun couple of days and we filmed the routines and exercises at the end of each day to take away for practise. On my last day (day 2) I realised I had been trying to film using my phone on camera mode instead of video (I mean, REALLY!) and then I wasn’t there on the final day, so J was kind enough to send me her video. It was great to learn some new things – like the BS Chorus and what a Maxi Ford is! I’m still not great on wings as I’ve not spent much time on them in classes…but I know what I need to do!

When I got home I put my feet in the air with yoga toe-spreaders for ten minutes, then plunged them into a bowl of water with Epsom salts. The next day while working at my home desk, I had my feet on the heated foot massager, which did the job!

By the way, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham were AMAZING! Such a positive, exciting atmosphere! We saw Athletics (100m T11/12, 400m, 800m heats and Heptathlon Long Jump – including Katarina Johnson-Thompson) and then we saw Jack Laugher (1m springboard) and Andrea Spendolini-Siriex (10m platform) win GOLD for England in Diving! I mean, these people are so inspiring – the WORK they must have put in. The diving was my favourite part, I guess because I’ve seen a lot of athletics before, and the atmosphere was amazing – everyone in the audience holding their breath as the diver got up into a perfect armstand at the edge of the 10 metre platform…before they threw themselves off into various twists and somersaults, finally hitting the water like a fish. WOW

Did you see any of the games? I didn’t see much of the gymnastics on TV, so I’ll catch up on BBC iPlayer.

I think those two days of intensive tap really geared me up for returning to in-studio classes from September – I think I just need to decide if I’ll return to my usual class or try somewhere else for a change…it would be great to see everyone again after all this time. In the meantime – more practise and Pilates!

Time to Tap Tapathon 2022

On Sunday afternoon I once again took part in the annual Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation ‘Time to Tap’ virtual Tapathon!

Unfortunately I didn’t really put the time in to learn the routine because I had so many other things going on, so I ended up learning the beginner’s routine as best I could and then I watched the intermediate version and added some of those steps in. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to take part on the day. However, I spent part of Saturday and the hour before the event working on it and managed to pull something out of the bag!

The event was led by TV presenter Naomi Wilkinson (Countryfile, Milkshake), who choreographed the routines and got everyone energised and pumped up on the day. There were over 100 screens tuned in on Zoom, and it was loads of fun. We performed the routine three times – beginners, intermediate and then all together! I danced all three times (muddling through the intermediate performance LOL). It was so great to take part from my garden on a sunny Sunday afternoon and to see so many tap dancers from all over the UK! 

Afterwards I was absolutely shattered, so I’ve spent a lot of time stretching and rolling out my muscles.

And today…I’ve just gone and signed up for another 5k run for the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation – Roy’s Regal Run, marking the Queen’s Jubilee! Eeek!

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)