Blog Archives

Understanding …. tap dance

Tap dance is a type of dance, in modern terms, that is performed wearing shoes fitted with metal taps and involves the rhythmical tapping of toes and heels, and sometimes quite complex foot work.

There are two main forms – jazz or rhythmical and Broadway. Rhythmical tap focuses on musicality and sometimes had softer shoes, and made use of the noises generates with slides and even used sand on stage to emphasise this. Broadway tap is probably the more familiar – and focuses on the dance element, as seen in musical theatre.

It’s a fusion style of dance with its history and roots going into African Tribal Dance as well as English, Scottish, and Irish Clog dancing. In the mid 20th Century dancers brought their own elements into this form of dance. Fred Astaire for example combined tap with ballroom, whereas Gene Kelly introduced elements of ballet to his tap.

Tap dance makes use of syncopation – the displacement of beats where a strong beat becomes weak in a tap, and vis-a-versa. It also usually starts on the 8th count.

Examples of tap can be seen in Happy Feet, Singin’ in the Rain, 42nd Street, Stomp, as well as more modern takes – Youtube has some fabulous performers – Christopher Rice – check this out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAU8eBek_NU

Understanding …. Theatre Craft

Theatre craft is one of the main disciplines in a performing arts company – along side ballet and tap. It generally falls in with acting and singing in Musical Theatre studies. It can be one of the most fun to study, as while there is plenty of technique, it has less so than Ballet or Tap. And comes down a lot to performance.

What is it?

It is a fun, varied, performance based dance style. It has a variety of styles under the umbrella term “Theatre Craft” including cabaret, musicals, pantomimes, and commercial. It is led by the music.

Essential Elements

There are a huge range of steps and ideas that can go into a theatre craft dance piece, but certain aspects are key, and tend to be found in most piece. These include kick variations, turn variations, use of strong arm positions, as well as rhythmical awareness and use of props and accessories.

Artistic ability here is the ability to interpret the music and tell a story on stage. It is more about the performance than necessarily the steps.

Day to day Theatre

Where can you see it or find it? Its the Broadway or the West End, down to school productions. Theatre craft is what is shown across the world, mixing acting, dance and song to tell stories.

You will be familiar with the Lion King, Singin’ in the Rain, Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story – all popular musicals. From makers and legends such as Gilbert and Sullivan, Rodgers and Hammerstein, to Andrew Lloyd Webber – stories have been told through dance for decades.

It could be a story based musical – like West Side Story (based on Romeo and Juliet), or a TV or Film – such as Moulin Rouge, Glee even, or maybe what is termed as a Juke Box Musical – where they songs of an artist are used as inspiration – The Buddy Holly Story, We Will Rock You, the Jersey Boys.

 

Tell us – what is your favourite musical?

Understanding…. Freestyle

Freestyle dance is a very popular form of dance with both structured exams and competitions forming a major part of this style.

History (Summarised from Anna Jones – Freestyle Dance)

In 1978 the era of Disco dancing was truly born in the UK. For months we eagerly anticipated the arrival of the dance craze that was sweeping America. This was all due to one film and one performer, John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever! Travolta brought a message across to millions of young people that here was a lad with a mundane nine-till-five, poorly paid job, who was able to become a success in a different way – he could dance, and dance well! His reputation at the local Discotheque was a legend and when he entered that atmosphere at night he was respected and hero-worshiped. At this time Antony Allen made several trips to the States in order to bring back much of the work emanating from the film. And as well as many of the “Disco” moves, he brought back Hustle, a “together” dance that was also made popular by the film. Dance classes specialising in the “Night Fever” routines quickly became popular in all areas of the UK.

It was at this point that a number of professionals decided to carry on where the film had left off. Using chart music at the time, they began working out their own routines, often cautious at first then increasing in confidence as the pupils continued to enjoy the work that they were creating. As time progressed more varied and interesting work was included in the routines which was graded according to the standard of the class. Ultimately, greater rhythmical interpretation was involved and the use of more body parts.

What is Freestyle Dance?

It’s an artistic dance form that co-ordinates accentuated body movements with a number of basic steps incorporating arm, head and hand positions and movements. This is developed by the teachers who need to keep abreast of modern trends and music, whilst allowing the dancer freedom to express their own individual interpretation. The development of a top class Freestyle dancer requires the understanding of several basic principals in order to create good style and technique. I.e. Good timing, as with any other form of dance is essential. Choreography needs to be tailored to suit the age, grade and capability of each dancer. Extension and projection are also important aspects of Freestyle dance. Presentation as with other forms of dance needs to be aesthetic to the eye in every possible detail. Personality is an attribute that does or does not come naturally, but this can be developed by building confidence and practising facial expression.

Freestyle Dance contains a great variety of steps and movements particularly in the choreography of the higher grade dancers. However, the three “basic ingredients” of Freestyle Dance relating to solo work are runs, spins and kicks. Almost all dancers in intermediate grades and above will perform these steps as part of their routine in one form or another. Beginners will generally use less progressive types of movements but will normally have some running steps in their routines. Kicks are often introduced at starter level and spins developed for intermediate and above. The basic steps and movements include different types of Walks and Runs, a variety of turns and spins e.g. Switch Turn, Whisk Turn, Twist Turn, Progressive and Accelerated Spins. Kicks and Flicks to include Cross-Tap-Kick, Flick Ball Change, Spring Kick and Hitch Kick. Various jumps and leaps e.g. Star Jump, Stag Leap and Scissors Jump. Plus balletic type movements e.g. Arabesque, Pirouette and Developpe.

Understanding … Jazz

Next up in our series about dance is a little bit on Jazz

History of Jazz Dance

Most of the time when people talk jazz – you imagine Liza Minnelli, Fosse, “Cabaret,” or even polished, long lines, tricks and triple pirouettes in music videos. But Jazz is something that has evolved over time – as something creative, it changes with trends and times, social change impacts on the styles too. Jazz initially came from the type of music people listened too – which lead to a specific type of movement – think African Dance. The idea that the music inspired the movement.

While jazz dance has broken off into small niches through time, there are several figures under the umbrella of jazz dance that have shaped the movement and influence of popular choreographers that you see today.

Types of ‘jazz’: traditional jazz dance, to modern and further back to the Cakewalk, Black Bottom, Charleston, Jitterbug, Boogie Woogie, swing and the related Lindy Hop. These last few now considered as “swing dance”.

Main names in Jazz

Many figures made their mark in the 1950’s and these movements are still relevant today

  • Bob Fosse

Fosse’s movement was unique and was groundbreaking. The movement was detailed, specific and very distinguishable. Best known for his Broadway shows such as Chicago, Cabaret, Damn Yankees, and The Pajama Game. The phrase “jazz hands” directly references Fosse and his detailed hand movements and placement during his choreography.

Other well known choreographers: Katherine Dunham, George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, Jack Cole, Hanya Holm, Helen Tamiris, Michael Kidd (choreographer of Guys and Dolls) and Jerome Robbins.

About a class

While this style of dance had its roots in expressing music through movement it is also a very technical style of dance, which has much to link to ballet or at least an understanding of ballet movement.

The idea being the better a jazz dancer technically understands the movements and technique, the better they will be at expressing themselves and improvising.

Jazz in the modern era

Today it is slightly different to the Fosse and Gene Kelly – but the influences are still there – think Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal and Beyonce’s Single ladies. Jazz extends into hip hop styles as well as its traditional styles too. Many key choreographers around today working with Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, on So You Think You Can Dance and others have grounding in Jazz.

Understanding … Ballet

Our little series on explaining the basics of  the main forms of dance that we teach at React Dance – today is Ballet.

Interesting Facts about Ballet

  • Ballet began about 500 years ago in Italy as a form of entertainment in the courts.
  • The first full-scale ballet was staged in Paris on 15th October, 1581.
  • When ballet first started the dancers wore masks and heavy costumes that were difficult to move in.
  • Women weren’t allowed to dance in public until 1681.
  • The word Ballet comes from the word “dance” in Latin.
  • There are four levels of dancers in a ballet company. At the bottom is the largest group, called the ‘corps de ballet’. Next are the ‘corphees’ who lead the corps de ballet and sometimes dance the smaller parts. Then there are the ‘soloists’ who dance alone. And at the top are the ‘principals’ who dance the lead roles.
  • COOL FACT: A male dancer lifts over 1-1/2 tons worth of ballerinas during a performance. That’s like lifting 1,350 big bags of sugar!
  • Pointe shoes are handmade. Their toe boxes are painted or “blocked” with glue, then baked in ovens to stiffen and strengthen them. Some professional dancers can go through 20 pairs of ballet shoes a week; in fact, some can wear out a pair of pointe shoes in one hour. On average, England’s Royal Ballet troupe goes through 15,000 pairs of pointe shoes a year!
  • Before a ballet class you rub ‘rosin’ on your shoes to stop them from slipping. This is a yellow powdered crystal that comes from pine trees and is the same substance that cellists, bassists and violinists rub on their bows to improve their instruments’ sound.
  • A prima ballerina can complete 32 fouette turns (a complicated turn where they whip their leg around), while staying in exactly the same spot on the floor. After the turns, her pointe shoe tip is hot to touch and it is so worn out that it is only then used in rehearsals.
  • IMPORTANT: You DO NOT have to be tall and slim with super long legs to be a ballerina.

Ballet links you may like

The English National Ballet is one of the world’s great ballet companies.

The Ballet Association gives active support to the Royal Ballet companies and promotes interest in all aspects of their work.

The British Ballet Organisation has devised a safe and developmental program of dance study.

The British Theatre Dance Association for teachers and examiners.

Why should you child study ballet?

  • Coordination
  • Balance
  • Focus/Concentration
  • Agility
  • Strength
  • Stamina
  • Endurance
  • Posture
  • Flexibility
  • Precision
  • Gross motor skills
  • Rhythm
  • Physical fitness
  • Learn to follow instruction
  • A sense of discipline through learning new positions and steps.

Ballet is a great way for a child to keep fit, strengthen core muscles and a lovely way for him/her to explore their imagination through the magic of dance. They gain a sense of self-confidence and pride in their bodies and what they can accomplish through practice.

The skills learnt in ballet are useful for other forms of dancing like tap or jazz if they want to try something different at a later stage.

Famous Ballet Dancers

Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) was one of the most celebrated and influential ballet dancers of her time. Her performances in La Fille Mal Gardée and The Dying Swan were critically acclaimed and inspired many future generations of dancers.

Mikhail Baryshnikov (born January 27, 1948) is a Soviet-born Russian American dancer and choreographer, one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century.

Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991) is known as the greatest English ballerina. She was born in Reigate, Surrey. Her most famous partner was Nureyev.

Darcey Andrea Bussell CBE (born April 27, 1969) is a retired English ballerina. She was Principle Dancer at the Royal Ballet School and is considered to be one of the greatest English ballerinas of all time. She attended her first ballet lessons only because her friends were going and often spent more time under the piano then actually doing the ballet class!

Watch Ballet online

A ballet dance video. “Anaheim Ballet: More Than Dance…”

Young ballet dancers audition for the London Children’s Ballet 2009 production of Snow White (Peacock Theatre, in London’s West End).

Children between 7 and 11 years old performing a little choreography for their parents – very sweet.

An insight into the English National Ballet.