Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A tap moment.

So, I'm waiting for the Light Rail in Jersey City.  The weather is rather gloomy and I'm feeling not 100% after staying at home all day yesterday feeling down and sick.  An announcement is made on the intercom that the next train coming in will be the "West Side Avenue" train.  A gray haired couple walks by me and as the woman of the couple hears the announcement she quietly says "East side, west side all around the town" to the man she is with.  I softly start whistling the rest of "Sidewalks of New York", which is the song she is talk/singing.  She turns to me and we both sing the next lyrics to the tune.  As the train pulls in, I do a little waltz clog step with an air heel kick and go into the train.  I smile back at her as she and her partner smile beamingly back at me.   Moments like this I live for.

If you do not know the song "Sidewalks of New York" and/or do not know what a waltz clog is, below are examples of both.  To do a nice waltz clog to "Sidewalks" the tune needs to go a little slower than this rendition.  The waltz clog example is done to one of my favorite tunes taken from the film "Hans Christian Anderson", as sung by Danny Kaye.  You'll see the dancer do an air heel kick toward the end.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Foot work!

A friend of mine, who is part of Max Pollak's "Rumba Tap" company, put this up on Facebook and I just had to post it here.  Watch it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fred and Ginger

The other day I happened to catch some of "The Barkleys of Broadway", starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, on Turner Classic Movies.  Made in 1949, this is the first film they did together after ten years.  I never had been as interested in this film as I have had of their others like "Top Hat", "Swingtime", "Shall We Dance" and others they did in the 1930s, which I have watched over and over again.  Well, the number I wound up seeing (I still haven't seen the whole film!) is called "Bouncin' The Blues" and I got caught up in watching it.  For the first time I really paid more attention to Ginger dancing than Fred.  She seemed so much more relaxed and looser in this number than in the earlier films.  There was also more of a sense of equality between them dancing, almost in the same vein as the famous "Begin The Beguine" number Astaire did with Eleanor Powell in "Broadway Melody of 1940".  She just has a presence and confidence that must have come from just being older.  It's a good number and I really liked it, a nice discovery after all these years.  Watch it below.  Notice the German translation of the title.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Carmen Amaya

When someone asks me to define tap dance, I often give the simple answer, "making sounds with your feet" and then go into a bit of history of it (if I think the questioner is really interested!) as an American art form.  Of course, there are many other "making sounds with your feet" dance forms around the world, one of the most famous of which is flamenco.  Flamenco is not only dance, but is also music and is part of the culture of Spain, with Andalusian, Gypsy, Sephardic, Moorish and Byzantine origins (my Wikipedia info).

A friend recently turned me on to the flamenco dancer and singer, Carmen Amaya, who died at the relatively young age of 50 in 1963.  She was a Spanish Gypsy, or Spanish Roma, and had an incredible talent.  Check her out below in a clip from 1937.  Evidently she always wore pants, which really lets you clearly see the moves she is making.  Sort of reminds me of the African American tap dancer Juanita Pitts.  There is a documentary about Amaya that has more footage of her.

I REALLY like this clip!!

Monday, March 8, 2010

"Tap Dancing America"

Constance Valis Hill has attempted the almost impossible by writing a book that covers the history of tap dancing during the entire 20th century.  Her book, Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History has just been published by Oxford University Press and this past Saturday she had a book signing at the Barnes & Noble near Lincoln Center.  Before signing, she talked about the book and her particular focus of looking at women in tap.  In keeping with that theme, she introduced the dancer/director/choreographer Mercedes Ellington who then shared some fascinating stories about her experiences in dance and shared the realities of being a women of color in show business at a certain time.  Next up was Karen Callaway Williams who did a great tap number and then came Michela Marino-Lerman and also did a great tap number!

It was nice to see the mixed generation of women talk about this art form and it made me think about the fact that the majority of people who are writing books about tap, as far as I know, are women.  There is Jane Goldberg with her recent book Shoot Me While I'm Happy, Jacqui Malone whose books on Cholly Atkins and Afrcian American Dance are important works, and Zita Allen (who happened to walk in and sit behind me) who has written on tap, just to name a few.

But the "fellas" did get their moment.  Joseph Wiggan hit the boards with his clean, crisp style and walking in at the very end was Jason Samuels Smith who was coaxed into dancing.  It all wrapped up with a Shim Sham, then all the dancers wound up signing books, along with Constance, since they were all mentioned in the book.  It was a decent turn out and some audience members had insightful comments about the dancing and evening during a brief Q & A.

Events like this need to happen more often and the history needs to be talked about, written about and read more often.  I have yet to read the book (I want to get it and read it when I'm not busy and can just take it all in), but I will.  If you want to get it, check out Amazon, or hit your local bookstore.  Keep tap alive!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Tap Happenings tomorrow - March 6, 2010

A choice to make.  
    Choice #1 -  Go to the book signing of Constance Valis Hill's new book,  "Tap Dancing America:  A Cultural History", at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Square (1972 Broadway).  There will also be special guests, Mercedes Ellington, Karen Callaway Williams, Dormeshia Sumbry Edwards and Michela Marino-Lerman, with Theo Hill on piano. Time:  7:30pm.   
    Choice #2 -  See Brenda Bufalino and Jay Clayton collaborate in performance at the 7th Annual Vision Nights:  "Dialogues in Dance, Music and Art", at 14th Street Y Theatre.  The performance will interact with the changing installation, "Sticks and Stones", a site specific art installation by Jo-Wood Brown.  Time:  7:00pm.
     I'm still trying to make up my mind which to see because I know everybody involved.  Patricia Nicholson, who produces the Vision series where Jay and Brenda are performing, is someone I have known of for years in the downtown dance scene.  Jay is a great singer who used to be a neighbor of mine when we lived in DUMBO in the early 80s when NOBODY KNEW WHAT DUMBO WAS!!!  Brenda is one the people who's been in there for many years keeping tap alive.  I remember Constance when she was in tap class with Charles "Cookie" Cook back in the day.  I also remember when my dad called me into the living room way back in the 1960s and pointed to the TV to say, "There's a colored girl dancing with the June Taylor Dancers on the Jackie Gleason Show!".  She was Mercedes Ellington.  Michela, Dormeshia and Karen are three of the hottest young women tap dancers nowadays who are continuing what some of us have tried to lay down.
    So, what to do?  But it's great that things are happening tap wise and I have choices.  Go see one of the events!

Monday, March 1, 2010

"The Typewriter"

Leroy Anderson wrote come nice catchy tunes, one of which is called, "Typewriter".  It's quite percussive and I once saw Dormeisha Sumbry-Edwards do a smoking tap to it.  Below are two versions of the tune.  The first is in Ludwigshafen,Germany and the second is in Canby, Oregon.  Both are in 2008