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On this page I will be giving my opinions on 'tap stuff '. This could be anything such as books, films, instructional videos, music, clothes and shows. Tap shoes deserve a whole page themselves so use the bar on the left to get information about shoes. If you have a favourite tap 'product' and would like me to include your own review please contact me.

Dance for Fun Exams

 

For a few moments the room was deathly quiet. Then there were gasps and cries of "Oh No" and "You're joking". Why? It was mid-November and we had just told the adult tap class that the Dance for Fun exams would be before Christmas.

 

We began learning the Dance For Fun syllabus by Maurice Kachuk about a year ago and just spent 10 minutes on one of the amalgamations each week. Everybody knew that they would eventually do an exam but we said we would wait until they were all ready. However, with a show looming in Easter 2003, we had to do the exams before Christmas as they would have forgotten it all by the Summer term.

 

I had been having lengthy discussions with Maurice about the word exam as it conjures up a rather scary image of a stern person sitting tight-lipped behind a desk, frowning at you as you try, under immense pressure, to show them how good you are, and how you can tap dance even whilst shaking like a leaf! We eventually decided upon the word presentation. However, no matter how many times I insisted to the class that it was a presentation, not an exam, it still didn't seem to help!

 

So, the dates were confirmed, the hall was booked and the combinations and dance were practised (a lot!).

 

As usual, there wasn't one day that everyone could make, so Maurice kindly agreed to spread the exams over two different days, as he doesn't live too far away. We had 3 or 4 people in each group, and 4 groups on each session. I had the pleasure of operating the music during the exams although I'm not convinced I was a reassuring presence for some of the ladies!

 

The principal of our school (Virginia Bennett) stayed in the changing room trying to calm everybody down before they came into the hall. Everyone was very nervous, some even said they were terrified! They were all doing Level 1, and although some people were obviously way beyond this in terms of ability, they still felt the pressure. As I watched them come into the room there were many false smiles!

 

Maurice was his usual cheerful self, and after establishing whom everybody was, went straight into the warm-up. For those of you who know the syllabus, doing straight taps with a tense foot is not very easy and some of the ladies struggled to relax for this, which was then reflected in their results and Maurice's comments. After the warm-up exercise Maurice always commented along the lines of "Okay, thats the first one over now breathe!" You could almost hear the tension ease, and from my position at the back of the room, I saw a lot of shoulders suddenly drop as the ladies relaxed a bit. One lady said "He made you feel relaxed enough to perform the routines rather than just do them!"

 

During the exam Maurice was very friendly and chatty, and really tried to put everyone at ease and make them feel comfortable, nearly all of our ladies commented on how nice this was. There were occasions when he would gently remind them what the start of the next combination was because they hadn't moved to the right position, or he was getting blank looks. The other thing that our ladies found very reassuring was the fact that if they went wrong Maurice would suggest that the whole group do that particular sequence again, without drawing attention to the person who had messed it up.

 

Each groups exam lasted between 7-10 minutes. We had told them to stagger the line so they had enough space, and we put more confident people slightly in front. This worked fine for the groups of 3, but Maurice struggled to see the back people in the groups of 4. Apparently a look of horror crossed one ladies face when he asked them to change positions and repeat the combination. However, they all coped well with this.

 

After the exams there was the usual "I can't believe I went wrong" and "I forgot to smile" comments, but generally they all really enjoyed it and thought Maurice had really tried to create a relaxed atmosphere.

 

The results came exceptionally quickly. Everybody had a marks sheet and a certificate. The results were out of 28 with 4 marks available for each exercise and 4 marks for the dance. Maurice scored the ladies either fair, satisfactory, good or excellent. Underneath Maurice had written comments based on the notes he made during the exam. The pass mark was 7 and there were 5 gradings Pass (7-9), Merit (10-15), Highly Commended (16-20), Honours (21-25) and Distinction (26-28).

 

We were very pleased with the results overall as the marks ranged from 20-28, with 5 of ladies getting full marks and 11 others also achieving a distinction. Some were very surprised at getting such good marks and felt that Maurice's marking system was very fair and that his comments were helpful and to the point.

 

I would definitely recommend this syllabus to all adult tap classes. The combinations are fun, the presentations are not too stressful and you obviously get that wonderful sense of achievement when you pass. We will be doing the Bronze medal and Level 2 later in the year.

 

When I told our class I was writing this piece I asked for a few quotes that I've used earlier. The whole experience can be summed up by what one lady said, "Very nervous beforehand, elated and relieved afterwards. Maurice was wonderful and I'm very pleased with my results!"

 

Dance for Fun is a very appropriate name for this syllabus and we hope to continue enjoying a similar success rate for years to come.

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More reviews to come - I am currently trawling my way through several 'tap' books, and hope to include reviews on them soon. I am currently on a 'labour of love' to watch as many musicals with tap dancing as possible, in order to compile a detailed list which I hope to be printed over several issues of Dance Expression. I also hope to include it on my website so keep checking back for info on that too.

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Instructional Tap Videos

 

Instructional and exercise videos are in abundance right now. You can learn and exercise in the comfort of your own home without anyone seeing you, but you miss out on the social aspect of attending a regular exercise or dance class. There are many videos available about tap dancing. Some of these claim to be able to teach tap to an absolute beginner. Whilst this may be true, I would still recommend also attending a weekly class as it impossible to learn properly from a video, plus there is no-one to tell you if you’re getting it right. However, they can help you improve your tap, practice basic steps, see variations of steps and learn new routines.

 

Broadway Rhythm Tap

This is presented by Germaine Salsberg who is a teacher from New York, and aims to combine rhythm tap and ‘show’ tap. The teaching sections are filmed from the back so the feet can be clearly seen. Germaine goes through each section twice, first saying the steps then the counts. Each section is then performed by one of the students with Germaine counting over the top.

The first routine is for 4 people and is for a fairly advanced level. The next piece is a duet which although has simpler steps is performed at quite a fast pace. The final routine has more of a soft shoe shuffle feel. The music is slower with the emphasis on clear sounds, and is again quite advanced.

 

Hot Tap 1 – Tap Dancing for Beginners

The first in a series of four videos by Susan Bishop who runs Tappers in Kent. There are 10 lessons covering basic steps. Each lesson consists of a teaching section and also a practice section. The steps are shown close-up on the feet then Susan expands each step with the help of her students. She also shows small combinations using each step, and different styles of music. After all 10 lessons the step learnt are put together in a dance.

 

Hot Tap 2 – Tap Dancing for the More Advanced

This moves on from the first video with slightly more complicated steps. Again there are 10 lessons, taught in the same way as Hot Tap 1 except there are no students performing. Also on this tape Susan performs several dances, all using very different music.

 

Hot Tap 3 – Timesteps

As the name suggests this video is all about timesteps. More than 50 are shown from the very basic up to more advanced steps like wing preparation, roll and 2 bar timesteps. The steps are shown as a close-up on the feet, then presented with music by Susan. There are also solo and duet routines throughout using timesteps. This video also retails under the name ‘Strictly Tap Dance’.

 

Hot Tap 4 – Master Tap

You really do need to know your stuff for this tape. As before there are 10 lessons each making a small amalgamation. The lessons are broken down into sections which are practised then performed to music. The steps are built upon and Susan emphasises using rhythm to change the sound and feel of a step. There are 4 people demonstrating – Susan, Diane Hampstead, Vicky Mansfield and Lynn Stonebridge. The video ends with a routine involving all of them using metal batons to enhance the rhythm. The Hot Tap series has just been released all on one DVD, and is also available as a video box set.

 

Bob Rizzo’s Tappin’ Rhythm

Charles Kelly presents this video with the help of Mark Santoro. Charles faces the camera while Mark face away so you get front and back view at the same time. Charles teaches the step with both the names of the steps and the counts. The first 30 minutes cover all sorts of time step building each one up from basics and singles to double triples. He then moves onto breaks, then a few common steps and some variations on them. Apart from a short burst at the end there is no music on this tape.

 

Bob Rizzo’s Tappin’ Across The Floor

Jimmy Kichler presents a series of basic steps but adds some interesting variations, building each one up to more advanced. He teaches the step shown from the back and goes through everything twice giving the steps then the counts. He uses several students to help demonstrate the steps, which they do first with him counting and then to music. This is quite a short video at only 30 minutes but contains a lot of tap!

 

Bob Rizzo’s Dance New York

There are 3 routines on this video – beginner, intermediate and advanced. It’s presented by Alan Onickel who is helped by 5 other dancers. The routines are broken down into sections and shown from the rear without, and then with music. However the sections are quite long and you would need to watch several times, or make notes, to pick it up. The Beginner routine involves 4 people to a medium 4/4 tempo, the Intermediate piece is a waltz duet and the last routine is a very fast Latin feel which is quite advanced.

 

Brenda Bufalino’s Tap Intensive #1

In the first part of this video from the fantastic Brenda Bufalino, she emphasises the importance of understanding the basics of jazz dance. We need to know these steps before we can become jazz tap dancers. The second part concentrates on Timesteps with Bufalino Breaks.

 

Brenda Bufalino’s Tap Intensive #2

The first section of this tape teaches the B.S. Chorus including the Bill Robinson Timestep, Cross and Wing steps, Over The Tops and Trenches. It then moves to the Old Soft Shoe with Timestep and Break, Double Break and Picture Step.

 

Brenda Bufalino’s Tap Intensive #3

There are six sections to this video – Swing Timestep, Improvisation, Single-Double Time & Triplets, Be-Bop Phrase & Rhythm Turn then Afro-Cuban phrase (which has no tapping). The final section is a performance by the American Tap Dance Orchestra.

All three of Brenda Bufalino’s videos are not specifically instructional as they are not directly to camera. They are a compilation of Brenda’s classes that have been filmed. However, there are quite a lot of close-ups on the feet so you can see what she’s doing as she teaches her students.

 

Tap With Ginger – Beginner, Intermediate & Advanced

I have this all on one DVD but they can be bought separately on video. Ginger de Paris is the teacher and she covers many steps from shuffles to wings. Each step is shown with music, then demonstrated close-up and again with music. There are also review sections so you don’t forget the steps you’ve learnt, and a tap dictionary with the theory of each step (I believe this is just on the DVD version)

 

This is obviously just a few of the many instructional tapes on the market. However, very few are available in the UK. If you have a video that can play NTSC, or a multi-region DVD player you can buy tapes from America. In the UK places to buy these videos are www.worldofhealth.co.uk (Tel: 020 7357 9393), www.amazon.co.uk and www.dancebooks.co.uk (Tel: 01420 86138). You can also buy online from America at www.amazon.com, www.activevideos.com and www.danceclassmusic.com. Bob Rizzo videos can also be bought from www.bobrizzo.com in PAL UK format. Brenda Bufalino products are available at www.atdf.org. I have also picked up a few tapes on Ebay, from sellers in the UK and US.

 

This article first appeared in July 2004 issue of Dance Expression. Copyright Jo Summerfield.

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Documentaries

 

We all love a documentary - an insight into the lives of our heroes, behind the scenes footage of the people we admire and, for dancers, those who may have had a big influence on our lives and careers.

There are many documentaries and compilations about the stars of the musicals such as Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Ann Miller and Eleanor Powell. They include:-

 

That’s Dancing -  narrated by Gene Kelly, this features many clips of all forms of dance. The tap section, introduced by Sammy Davis Jr, includes clips from the films 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1935, The Gay Divorcee, Swing Time, Broadway Melody of 1936, Honolulu, Down Argentine Way, Singin’ In The Rain and It’s Always Fair Weather. There is also a little footage of Ray Bolger, James Cagney and Bill Robinson & Shirley Temple. Available in the UK.

That’s Entertainment Part 1 - a series celebrating film musicals and giving a little of their history. This first one is introduced by Frank Sinatra and features tap dancing clips of Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, Mickey Rooney, Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers, Ann Miller and Judy Garland. During the film various stars look back on their time in the musicals with Fred introducing Gene’s section and vice versa. Available in the UK.

That’s Entertainment Part 2 - this is hosted by Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly who also sing and dance together with new words to the title song. It features many of the same artists as before in different films/clips. Available in the UK.

That’s Entertainment Part 3 - another trip down memory lane for the musical stars of the past. Available in the UK. All 3 can also be bought as a DVD box set from HMV.

That’s More Entertainment - a much later addition to the series, the clips shown are the whole song & dance routine rather than just excerpts. Performances include Ann Miller, Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland, Bob Fosse & Debbie Reynolds and Bobby Van & Jane Powell. Not available in the UK.

Musicals Great Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit At MGM - this focuses on the career of producer Arthur Freed and includes interviews with stars, writes, directors and choreographers. There are also many film clips and behind the scenes footage. The tap clips are Ann Miller, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. Available in the UK as an extra on Singin’ In The Rain DVD.

Hollywood Song & Dance: The Musical Years - another compilation of clips telling the story of the film musical. Available in the UK.

 

Other muscials compilations include 2 box sets, each with parts - Hollywood Musicals of the 40’s, 50’s & 60’s (available in the UK.) and MGM When The Lion Roars (not available in the UK.). BBC Four recently broadcast Broadway: The American Musical and this is available in this country on DVD.

The American Film Institute honoured Fred Astaire in 1981, and Gene Kelly in 1986, with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Both ceremonies featured lots of stars sharing their memories plus many film clips, and both are available on video from America..

 

It would seem however that the tap world is a little lacking in documentaries - particularly about the lesser known dancers. When I attended the Easter Intensive with Heather Cornell she had many stories about the people she had worked with, and I thought then how sad it was that we didn’t have access to more footage of the ‘masters’. There must be so much old film of these dancers just waiting to be re-mastered into video and DVD. Here are a few that have been put on video and I have managed to acquire:-

 

About Tap - introduced by Gregory Hines, this focuses on Steve Condos, Jimmy Slyde and Chuck Green. Gregory shares some memories and there are stories and performances from the featured dancers.

No Maps On My Taps - Chuck Green, Sandman Sims and Bunny Briggs reflect on some of the great influences on their lives, as well as what tap dancing means to them. Includes performances from all three dancers plus film clips of John Bubbles and Bill Robinson.

Fred Astaire: The Man Who Danced - the story of Fred Astaire narrated over film clips and photographs.

Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer - the life and career of Gene Kelly. It features many film clips and photographs plus interviews with Hollywood stars who worked with Gene, family members and Gene himself.

 

Only the Gene Kelly documentary is available in the UK but it’s on a Region 1 DVD. The other titles can all be bought from America.

 

The BBC have also recently broadcast 2 documentaries. Fascinatin' Rhythm: The Story of Tap - an Omnibus documentary from 2002 featured many stars of the past and today. More recently Bruce Goes Dancing - 2 programmes broadcast in October 2005 which included some tap dancing. Sadly neither of these are available to purchase.

 

The book Tap! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories, 1900-1955 by Rusty Frank features a huge catalogue of films, books, records and documentaries at the end with contact details. The website www.tapdance.org also has a list of documentaries and contact details where known. So, tap dance documentaries exist, but sadly most are not available to buy. I have found a few websites in America that sell some - www.atdf.org, www.directcinema.com, www.amazon.com, www.swingdanceshop.com. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts appears to have an extensive collection, but it’s for viewing only - not much help for us here in the UK!

 

This article first appeared in Dance Expression. Copyright Jo Summerfield.