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!

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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?

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 🙂

 

Goals

_20170823_155823In all my obsessing over whether or not I should return to ballet, I sat down with my notebook at lunchtime and found there my list of things to practice for tap dance over the Summer! These were:

  • Flaps
  • Shuffles
  • Shuffle-step-heel
  • Time step (single, double & triple)
  • New time step (can’t remember what this was – doh!)
  • Pick-ups (no claw toes please)
  • Pickup-hop-step (travelling backwards)
  • Suzy-Q (master the left)
  • The SHIM SHAM!!!

Although I have been distracted, I have actually been practicing the Shim Sham at every opportunity. This has often been at work either in the ladies toilets or the corridor to the stairs ha-ha!

Now that I’ve reminded myself of this list, I can get on with practicing some of these steps before we resume in September. My goal is to try to master some of these basic steps and then get a little bit quicker…

Did you set yourself any dance goals to achieve this summer? How about for next term?

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

A Little Practice 

This evening I decided to actually practice the routines for tomorrow’s tap class, using what I filmed 2 weeks ago. I know I missed what extra they learned last week, but it won’t be so bad if I get the first bit right! 

Decided to glam it up this evening!