Tap Workshop: Improvisation & Choreography

Tap Poster

Last night I went to the final Tap workshop as part of Morley College’s ‘Summer Shorts’…Improvisation and Choreography. There were less people than last week, but still plenty of us there for the 2 hour workshop.

We warmed up in a circle, then we went round the circle (like last week) and had to fill 4 bars with something using heels & toes only… ARGH! We did this a few times, and then we did some exercises in rows facing the mirror, such as playing with crawls, we refreshed our memories on some steps, did some call and response (i.e. respond to the teacher’s combination with something different, but to the same beat) and made up our own time step. We also made up some of our own choreography in pairs, and did some improvisation in smaller groups where one person danced in the middle and then signalled to someone that they were going to swap with them.

It was so much fun! But it was also kind of scary to come up with something on the spot when the spotlight is on you. I think it got easier as the time went on, but there is always that feeling of butterflies when you know you’re next! Everyone was in the same boat and really supportive of each other, and our teacher is very encouraging. I have done improvisation before in other styles of dance, but trying to make my feet do what I wanted them to do was another story! I’d love to drop into the splits and slide back up to standing like the Nicholas Brothers, or Prince, but it ain’t happening.

Great tips I picked up for improvisation:

  • Don’t plan ahead
  • Steal steps from other people!
  • Keep it simple

One I would add for me is to repetitively practice steps over the summer using your new tap board! We are DEFINITELY going to be moving to a house over the next few months (YAY!) so I will be able to utilise this resource more fully LOL.

Side note: I have been suffering a bit the last few weeks with tender Achilles tendons, but I didn’t want to miss this class, having missed three weeks of the last term of classes. I am wondering if my Achilles tendons are inflamed from over-use, plus I’ve had swollen ankles from the humid heat, which has thankfully cooled. I will rest after this…I promise (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)! I have one more summer workshop coming up – the Adult Summer Intensive at Rambert, Waterloo, which one of my Tap friends might be joining me at. I need to see how I go. Might have to wear ankle supports.

Prince Splits

Yoga

Last night we went to Yoga. It was a gentle hour and a half class in a nice calm dance studio. My body was stiff and achy so it was really nice to lie down on a mat and chill out. We did several poses and stretches which really helped to loosen up my hamstrings, back and shoulders. The standing poses were also great and I particularly enjoyed the Tree pose as it made me test my balance!

It’s Here!

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So my tap board arrived yesterday while I was at work, and I didn’t know about it until I got home from the Shim Sham workshop! I ripped the box open like a child at Christmas! Then the cat commandeered the bubble wrap.

It’s a lovely wooden board, heavy but portable. Might be too heavy to take in the car to Cornwall with suitcases and the Nutribullet… The bottom is mounted with stoppers so it is elevated off the ground and it won’t slip around when pounding it. I tried it with my Bloch Sync MEGA tap shoes, but they are bit too loud and I currently live in a flat, (aka apartment for USA friends!), so I might use it with my cheaper shoes that I have at work as spares that are much quieter, or even just some hard soled lace-ups.

I am really pleased with this purchase and it came really quickly, considering I only ordered it last week. Now, time to stop spending!

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Tap Practice Board from Dream Beams & Bars Ltd

Shim Sham Shimmy 

Last night I went to the Tap Shim Sham workshop at Morley College. It was SO MUCH FUN! It was a much larger class due to there being people from levels 1, 2 and 3 present. I knew a lot of them, but not the level three-ers. Caught up with a few pals to explain my 3 week absence!

So what is the Shim Sham? It’s a simple routine that is known by tap dancers the world over, like the tap national anthem. It was developed by tap legends Leonard Reed and Willy Bryant back in the 1920s while touring the African American version of the Vaudeville circuit (TOBA).

Here is a clip of Gregory Hines doing the Shim Sham:

We started with a warm up and stretch  in a circle and then, working in 3 rows we started learning the steps, all done in a swing beat. We rotated rows just so that everyone got a chance to work in front of the mirror. For some reason my left ankle was hurting when I tried to shake it out, but it seem didn’t bother me while dancing. We learnt the dance to a slower track and then a fast one which was amazing!

We also did a short improvisation exercise back in a circle where every time there was a pause the next person in the circle had to fill 4 beats. Argh, scary when you know you’re next! This then fed back into the dance when we were free to improvise in the gaps. Several people did lots of taps when it was their turn, particularly the advanced people. I kept it simple with a cramp roll and three crawl beats but threw my whole body into it. This exercise plus the book I’m reading (The Greatest Tap Dance Stars & their Stories 19001955) has actually made me realise that it’s ok to have my own style and it’s not necessarily about hundreds of intricate taps but feeling the music, working within the rhythm and doing your thing!

Afterwards there was lots of chat about who’s coming next week, what are you doing in the Autumn, the Dorrance Dance and Old Kent Road workshops that some people attended on Sunday and Monday plus the Dorrance Dance show that’s currently on at Sadlers Wells. My teacher said I’d really enjoy it, but I really can’t fit it in this week or justify going to the theatre 4 times in the space of 4 weeks (2 performances were featuring relatives or people I know) 😩 I told my teacher that I did see 42nd Street a few weeks ago and she was saying how that style of tap is not necessarily as technical…

Got home at 9.30pm and my Tap Board had arrived!!! I have Thursday off work, so I can get stuck in 😊 Maybe I can prepare for next week’s two hour Improvisation & Composition workshop…

 

Order!

 

I’m so excited – this weekend I ordered a portable tap practice board! I actually had two expensive purchase options in mind, some new Bloch tap shoes by Chloe & Maud Arnold of the Syncopated Ladies (I was fortunate enough to take part in an Afro Funk workshop taught by Maud last year) or a tap board, which are about the same price. Then I thought about it and came to the conclusion that I already have some pretty good tap shoes (Bloch Tap Sync plus the Jason Samuels Smiths in white), but my real frustration has been not being able to practice at home in my tap shoes because I will ruin the floor (I also have a neighbour below, but he works unsociable hours so thankfully is never home in the evenings). I will let you know how I get on with it when it arrives.

Tap Board

On another note, I am going to start going to gentle yoga on a Friday evening at my local leisure centre. I actually used to go to that class with my SO a few years ago, but we got out of the habit. He runs for an athletics club and has recently started doing pole vault. I dance, but don’t do nearly enough stretching at the moment. We were chatting about it last night and then you wouldn’t believe it…while walking around town this afternoon, we bumped into the teacher! A sign?! So we sorted out our free drop-in loyalty cards and booked in.

I’m really looking forward to it. That particular class had mainly older members, so it was way more relaxed than the one I tried at London South Bank University, which was like an hour’s push-up class :$ It will be a nice way to unwind at the end of the week and hopefully will help with a bit of the stress I’ve been under.

How do you cross train or stay flexible? Do you find yoga or Pilates helpful?

maudchloe
Photo of Chloe (L) & Maud (R) Courtesy of the Washington Post

Third Position 

I haven’t done ballet in over a year, so just checking if I’ve still got it LOL. Even if I don’t sign up to a class in the autumn, I have several DVDs of traditional ballet barre class (and some that are more of a fitness workout) as you can see below!

Actually, my achilles tendons are aching a lot and I need to sort out my posture and alignment…head to toe! 

(Lace-up Shoes from TK Maxx) 

Burnout 

Ok, I have to admit it. I’m burnt out. I have missed two weeks of Tap classes and am also missing tonight’s class because I am off work and have zero energy. Although I felt I had to go because I’d been telling my teacher for two weeks that I’d be back “next week” and hadn’t been, and it’s the final class of term, I just knew it wouldn’t be sensible to go. I need the rest. 

I’ve had a lot on my plate over the last few months. A lot of my stress is work-related, but I need to stay employed so I figured it would be better to not burn myself out further tonight at a class so I can actually go to work tomorrow! 

Another aspect of burnout that I’ve been reading about is that a lot of dancers hold very high standards for themselves and can end up overdoing it by signing up to too many classes and not having enough recovery or even overdoing it at each class when the fitness level is not there yet. Of course there are other factors like getting enough sleep and nutrients, but you must listen to your body. Must! 

I think a good thing for me to do would be a yoga type class for relaxation and stress relief, while also aiding flexibility and strength. 

Next week will be the first of our tap workshops, so I’m going to rest up so that I’m back in the zone for learning the Shim Sham!