Who here dances around their kitchen in the morning/noon/evening/night? Come on, let me see those hands.
This morning, after turning on my internet radio (second-favorite gift from my former partner, first being fancy espresso machine), I found myself distracted from coffee making by some great grooves emanating from said radio. I programmed in my favorite jazz stations from all over North America (and one from France), and rotate/update as the spirit moves me.
This morning, even before coffee consumption, I found myself dancing to some funky jazz. Because of the miracle/burden of the internet, I looked up the playlist and found it: Houston Person, “Walking the Dog”. I recommend taking your phone or computer to your kitchen now, hitting play, and seeing what happens. Other locations may work just as well.
There’s nothing like a little Hammond B-3 organ to get you going in the morning.
Since it’s summer and I was having a moment of delightful leisure, I let myself go with the flow (please forgive the previous phrase–I’m feeling carried away). It was so fun. I kept dancing– moving my hips, adding in arms, no real footwork, just some lazy morning grooving.
The tune is 8 minutes long, so there was time for memories to rush in. Muscle memories showed up in waves. You see, I used to be/was/am a dancer.
I don’t remember any time in my childhood when there wasn’t groovy music playing, with someone swiveling hips, snapping fingers, etc. I was born into a Motown household in the 60s. We always had a funky soundtrack for the work of the day.
High school dances (yes we had them back in the late 70s) were all about the funk. The Isley Brothers, Earth Wind and Fire, and yes, even Lionel Ritchie were the rhythms of the day.
Ballet at age 8 was my rocky start to structured dance, abandoned 3 months after (don’t remember why). It took until college, when, on a whim, I signed up for tap class and ballet class, to discover my dancer self. Ballet was not where that happened. I enjoyed it and learned a lot about my body; taking ballet can teach you almost as much as yoga about what your body can/can’t/loves to/flat-out-refuses to do.
But jazz tap– man, I found my home! It was like I remembered who I had been in a previous life. If you’re unfamiliar with the wonders of jazz or rhythm tap (unlike Broadway-style tap, which is a different thing) you can look at this very famous and showy number by the Nicholas Brothers. If you’re still interested, check out these smooth moves by Jimmy Slyde. Yes, women tap dance too. Here’s a piece by two of my teachers, Dianne Walker and the late great Pamela Raff, doing a number they taught me. Go to 1:30 where the dancing starts. And I can’t leave out tap master Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, who makes it look impossibly effortless here , in her gorgeous performance here (that opens with one of my favorite jazz standards, Tenderly).
Lest you think that rhythm tap is a genre limited to jazz lovers (not that I find this a limitation, but…), check out the Syncopated Ladies‘ number to Prince’s “When Doves Cry”.
My prime tap years were from my late 20s through my mid-30s. I studied with great teachers in Boston (I even did master classes with Savion Glover and the late great Gregory Hines). I taught classes to adults and kids, did workshops, and studied privately with the above-mentioned Pamela Raff and also Katherine Kramer. I was able to perform with live jazz combos, solo and with friends and teachers.
Some gigs were more modest than others. Two friends and I, armed with boom box , went to an assisted-living facility to do a little show. We tap danced to recorded jazz standards and I sang a little bit while my friends tapped (our “crowdpleaser” number was All of Me). Halfway through the show, an announcement came on over the PA system, saying that the bus to Stop ‘n’ Shop was leaving in five minutes. We lost a third of the audience then. Whaddya gonna do? Seniors need groceries.
There’s no one reason why tap didn’t stay with me, or I didn’t stay with tap. I was changing jobs and moving, traveling a lot, and tap requires access to teachers and studios with wood floors and communities and connections. DO NOT TRY IT AT HOME, unless you live in a single family house alone or with a soundproof basement. It is loud. Very loud.
Lately I’ve been thinking about returning to the floor. Listening to more jazz has put me in mind and mood for dancing again. My body isn’t what it was then (no need for reminders about this; I’m trying to be nicer and more accepting, but having a harder time with it these days; another story for another post).
Can I still tap? Yes. Can I still boogie? Absolutely. Maybe it’s time to start dancing again.
Hey readers– any dancers out there? What makes you get your groove on (yes, I know you’re cringing just reading this; please forgive me). I would love to hear from you.
My actual tap shoes are in my basement (time to get them out!), but I’ll leave you with a portrait of my black-and-white Dansky custom tap shoes. Artist Shari Hersch was nice enough to do this as a commission for me. It was some of the best money I ever spent.