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?! 

 

 

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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