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

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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…