*This Week’s Classes*

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Ballet

At ballet this week we learnt how to do a petit jet√©…

I left work earlier than last week after what was actually a good day (it has been a while!) and got changed and warmed up before the class began – yay! We were fuller than the previous week, so I tried my hardest not to kick or headbutt anyone’s clenched buttocks in front of me. There were a few more ladies who I recognised from previous courses, but I’m not sure they recognised me as one lady assured me she wasn’t the teacher.

We did a lot of work on our turnout and on our feet. My feet will eventually get better, and I even remembered some corrections from last week, but I know I do find it hard to isolate parts of the feet. Like, I’ll never be the person who starts to use their toes to type on a keyboard… Unless I had to ūüėā

One thing I concentrated on was continuing to breathe, relaxing and “indulging” in the movements. I definitely enjoyed it more this week because of that.

My rond de jambes were “almost there” but I now need to whoosh the movement bit more. One point our teacher made to the class was that we need to make sure we’re not moving our hips and upper bodies as we do it, and proceeded to demonstrate (with exaggeration) what some of us were doing, with his hair flying backwards and forwards – very comical!

I really enjoyed learning the petit jet√©¬†¬†towards the end of the class! It literally means ‘small throw’. I’ve never done one before in my life, but my teacher thought I was familiar with it. No, I just give that impression LOL. I think it probably helped when M demonstrated that I could recognised it through watching ballet. I am definitely a visual learner.

Rhythm Tap 

Tap seems to be ramping up a bit these days in terms of difficulty level! I think perhaps I am finding only 45 minutes a week too short a time to really cement anything in my mind, but that’s how it needs to be for now. It also made me think that I would like to go back to basics and perhaps learn syllabus tap next year. I had no experience of tap dancing prior to beginning classes back in 2014, and then didn’t start regular classes until a year later. K said something similar to me last week about perhaps doing the syllabus class on a Monday to learn it as you would if you were starting tap as a child.

Anyway, back to today’s class: we practised again our swung flap exercise which included turning on the spot. We also did the heel-toe-back tap-jump back-heel-toe-scuff, which is like a skipping action. I need to remember to keep it on the toes – weight placement again! We also learnt another complicated combination, let’s see if I can remember:

R: Side shuffle-dig-heel drop L: forward shuffle-ball change.

Then to change sides, you have a break where you do the combination 2.5 times, finishing mid-way through the ball change. I guess a ‘ball’ without the ‘change’. Then you can start on the other leg. Took a while to get it, but we got there in the end!

The routine is really cool, and I worked out the song is¬†Cornflake Girl¬†by Tori Amos. My teacher kept asking me if I knew what song it was, and it just wasn’t familiar at all. But on looking it up, it was released in 1994 when I was still a newbie at secondary school, so maybe I had too much other stuff on my mind to notice that song!

We learned the next part of the routine, and oh my, it got complicated! I’ll get it with time, I just need to practice from what I filmed at the end of class today.

 

 

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Tap Dance in America

This weekend, I finally got around to watching Gregory Hines: Tap Dance in America on YouTube.

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Image courtesy of YouTube

It was originally shown on PBS back in 1989 I believe, and it is clearly from someone’s VCR recording that they probably transferred to DVD at some point.

It lasts almost an hour and gives a great run-down of the leading tap artists in America, quite a few of whom are sadly no longer around. But here you get the chance to see them in action, on stage or taking part in a tap battle. Tap is definitely a social dance! You might recognise legend Honi Coles as the bandmaster in¬†Dirty Dancing (I’m talking about the original film, not the disrespectful-to-Swayze remake).

Watching the documentary, my favourite performances were from Gregory Hines (of course!), a young Savion Glover and the duo of Gregg Burge (choreographed Michael Jackson’s Bad)¬†and Hinton Battle (Scarecrow in Broadway version of¬†The Wiz).¬†Battle and Burge really reminded me of the Nicholas Brothers in the way they did classical tap, complete with jetes, leapfrogs and the splits. Brenda Bufalino was also great to see perform as I’ve heard and read a lot about her and I believe she taught a masterclass in London earlier in the year.

There is also a bit of comedy running through the documentary about trying to get Gregory Hines to tighten the screws on his taps (some tappers dance with loosened tap plates, others don’t) – I’m quite a stomper, so I like my tap plates tightened to the shoe.

Verdict: This ever so 80’s PBS special is definitely worth watching as part of your tap immersion. Some enjoyable viewing on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

The next tap-related film I want to watch is Tap starring Gregory Hines (1989). I caught a clip on YouTube where people were dancing on tables and it looks so New Jack Swing FUNKY. Takes me back. Love it!

Just Been

I’ve just been to my lunchtime Rhythm Tap class. I have to say I didn’t leave work early enough to get there with some breathing space, so I was overheated and a bit out of breath. Ah, how I miss the joy of last week when I was on holiday and able to breeze in, all relaxed with plenty of time to spare…

Didn’t really feel like my brain was totally engaged, and I felt like I was second-guessing myself at times. It didn’t help being woken up in the early hours by a cat paw prodding me in the face!

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Gimme biscuits!

But anyway…we practised some flaps and co-ordination exercises, and we also learnt an exciting new swung walk, which began with a heel-dig in front and ended with a spring onto the other foot. When I say swung, or swing beat, it means rather than doing a 4 beat step as an even ‘1-2-3-4’, you do it as ‘a-ONE-and-two’. ¬†I’ll try and practice this while it’s fresh.

Then we went through our routine, but as I said, I wasn’t being as deliberate with my steps as I would like.

Chatted to K at the end of the class about doing ballet and contemporary dance.  Our teacher had some amazing new blue Ruben Sanchez tap shoes. I like!

One thing about going back to Weds night ballet and Thurs lunchtime tap is to think about how I am going to co-ordinate kit bags. Need to ponder this when I get home later.

Hope you’ve had a fun dance week?

B2B (Back to Ballet)

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Filled with nervous excitement, last night after work, I went back to Ballet at the Barre! I left work at 4.20pm and caught the bus over Waterloo Bridge to Covent Garden, and then did a quick walk to City Lit. Went to the ladies toilets to get changed because the changing rooms are¬†always¬†occupied, but was a bit unsure about my outfit. I ended up wearing my pink leotard, black leggings, black wrap cardi and black ballet skirt, which I hadn’t worn before. The leggings kind of pulled down a bit during the class, so next week I’ll wear tights instead.

I recognised a lady called F who had been in the class the last two terms I had been, so I went on the barre by the window next to her. There were about 10 or so of us in the class, including 2 guys (plus our teacher M is also a man).

We did a head-to-toe warm up, followed by some fun things like grande battements en croix,¬†(which I actually remembered from last time, so I wasn’t phased by which direction I was supposed to be facing), ronde de jambe¬†(which were lightening fast for my unfamiliar feet, although it helps me to focus on the beat and the letter ‘D’). We concluded with jumps and changement.¬†Still amazed at how my achilles are problem-free since hill-walking in Cornwall!

I was surprised to be asked to demonstrate the changement¬†exercise while everyone watched. I mean, I haven’t done any ballet for well over a year! That was a definite feeling of imposter syndrome.

M then suggested that we take a few minutes at the end of the class to stretch before leaving. I made sure I did just that. He asked me if I’d been doing ballet class, and I was telling him all about tapping at Morley College and how weird it is to find ballet form again. Ballet is all poised and pointed and tap all bent knees and laidback.

I came away with a couple of things to work on:

  • Little toe on the ground & heel forward when pointing the toes en avant (forward)
  • General foot flexibility (tap, what have you done to me :))
  • Keep bottom tucked under ūüôā

 

First Week

A rare outfit post

Yesterday I travelled into London with my SO so that I could attend the first Rhythm Tap 2 (advanced beginners) class of the new term! I left him to do his 4 bridge walk of the Thames, while I headed to Morley College. I felt quite nervous again after the break and I guess anticipating who would be there as I hadn’t been to the daytime classes in a while.

Besides that, when I got to the display board, I saw that the class wasn’t in the usual studio in the basement, but in a studio in the other building next door! Thankfully, I knew the other building from having attended Pilates there a couple of years back, so I knew where to go.

I got changed in my usual venue (toilet cubicle in the main building) and then made my way to the other building, bumping into the head of the dance department on the way and smiling at him as though he was supposed to remember teaching me back in 2012…

Got to the correct place and then had to check in with the security desk there and basically they won’t let students through until a minute before the class begins. Not as relaxed as the main building!

I spoke to a couple of new girls on the way in and then caught up with K and said hi to a few other familiar people who were coming out of level 1. It’s a small class, being 1.30 in the afternoon, but I like that – there’s about 7 of us.

The class was really great fun! It felt weird being back in tap shoes after so many weeks, and it took a few moments to get balanced on the balls of my feet to execute quicker shuffles, but I LOVE the warm up song we’re using (California Soul by Marlena Shaw).

For some reason I had a reluctant left foot/ankle so I kept missing a few things. Part of that is probably because my ankle has been feeling like it has needed to click for about 2 months now…and hasn’t! But at the same time I think my tapping was a bit cleaner than it has been and I got some encouraging feedback. I actually think I prefer the new studio as it’s better ventilated and not slippery like the basement studio, but my front tap plates are still slicing the floor and getting stuck sometimes mid-flow.

The routine we’re learning is really cool, and I’ve actually remembered most of what we learnt!

At the end our teacher called me back over and said she thinks I perhaps should try level 3, which I guess is intermediate! I said “really? Are you sure?” and she said it would challenge me, but maybe do these 6 weeks of level 2 and see how it goes. My teacher was excited and I was like arrggghhh! Anyway, I’ll keep you updated on my progress. I want to stick with the daytime level 2 and evening ballet until January ideally.

Book Review

Tap book

Tap! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and their Stories 1900-1955 by Rusty E. Frank 

I have finally got around to writing this brief review, having finished reading this book back in July!

LA tap dancer Rusty E. Frank has compiled this fabulous book of interviews with all the tap dancing greats of the early to mid twentieth century as a potted history of tap. The book opens with a foreword by tap legend Gregory Hines (one of my faves!) who briefly describes the origins of the Jazz art form and the various styles and rhythms that evolved.

The book is then split into 3 parts:

Part 1: 1900-1929 (includes people such as Willie Covan, Ruby Keeler and Leonard Reed (of the Shim Sham Shimmy))

Part 2: 1930-1939 (includes the Nicholas Brothers (LOVE them!), Shirley Temple, Fred & Gene Kelly and Jeni Legon (known for wearing trouser suits…shocking!)

Part 3: 1940-1955 (includes Gene Nelson and Brenda Bufalino)

Within each section, each chapter covers a different dancer, with some introductory blurb on the historical context of the era and what was happening on the dance and entertainment scene, followed by an autobiographical interview with the dancer. Being an American art form, you can’t ignore the fact that the book covers the era of segregation. The biggest example of this is the separate entertainment circuits of Vaudeville and the TOBA (the African-American version), minstrel shows, and the separate clubs, such as the famous gangster-owned Cotton Club which was for black entertainers and white audiences. There was some cross-over, but mostly for those who were able to “pass” as white, such as Leonard Reed…until he was found out.

It was interesting to read how each dancer had their own style within a style (flash, soft shoe, Buck & Wing, rhythm tap, acrobatic). Some were tapping from childhood, some fell into it and some came from classical dance backgrounds (e.g. Gene Kelly, Ann Miller), which clearly influenced their tap style. It was also amazing how many dancers learnt from, danced with, were influenced by or loved to compete with Bill Bojangles Robinson, the world’s greatest tap dancer. (It is said that he was a tap perfectionist who put hours and hours into his craft).

Helpfully, there is a glossary of terms at the end of the book, which I referred to regularly, followed by a series of Appendices covering all the tap acts, the years they were active and what they were known for, plus a list of tap in film and on record, which is also worth looking at.

Verdict: A fantastic snapshot of tap dance and entertainment through the Jazz Age, the War years and the post-war years, straight from the horse’s mouth, if you will. A MUST-HAVE for any tap dancer if you want to understand where it all began and how it developed. I’m really pleased tap dance is making a come-back ūüôā

 

Late Summer Holiday

I’m now home after a nice week in St Ives in Cornwall. Although I took some of my home-laminated cards of stretches with me, I didn’t get around to doing many, although I did make sure I stretched my calves after all the uphill walking we did! We visited St Michael’s Mount, Truro, Falmouth and the famous cliffside Minack Theatre to watch a live performance of The Country Wife. I can’t believe tap starts again next week! It may be a bit of a shock to the system. I’ll still be on holiday, but I’m going to travel in, go to the class and maybe combine it with a trip to London Zoo.