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Improve Your Improv: Top Tips for Tap Dancers
Does the thought of being asked to improvise in a tap class make you sweat? Do you have a hard time finding the freedom in your feet?
Master tap dance teacher and performer Barbara Duffy knows the feeling. In her new book "Tap into Improv," Duffy offers tools, tips and exercises to alleviate improv anxiety.
"Improvisation must be PRACTICED!" Duffy writes. "Often tap dancers put unrealistic expectations on themselves, thinking they should be able to immediately improvise at a high level. While improvisation comes more naturally to some people, we all need practice to improve."
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from her book:
Duffy's 3 Basic Rules for Improv:
Focus: Focus on the feeling of what you are doing, rather than what you look like.
Breathe: Finding the flow of your breath is crucial to your sound quality and groove.
Make a Big Finish: Have fun and be dramatic!
Take Music Lessons
The history of jazz music and tap dance in America are woven tightly together. So it's no surprise that in order to master rhythmic improv, you gotta understand music. "Jazz music will expand your sense of rhythmic phrasing and will expose you to a vast range of emotions through its melodies," Duffy writes. She encourages learning the "musical feels": straight, swing, triplets, double-time and syncopation. Bonus: There's a reference section in the back of the book with musical selections that are ideal for improv.
Studying music can improve your improv skills. Photo by Matthew Henry/Stocksnap
Flex Your Improv Muscles
Duffy offers more than a dozen different creative exercises to help dancers hone their craft, including:
- Imitating another tap dancer to find a new approach or bring a different sensibility to your improv
- Talking out loud while improvising to allow others to see your personality
- Challenging yourself to never look down at the floor
- Playing with stopping in the middle of your improvisation to add an element of surprise
- Using a phrase of choreography and changing it rhythmically
Duffy shares a collection of YouTube video links to watch, showcasing a variety of improv styles. Check out these ones:
Michelle Dorrance at the 2014 Stockholm Tap Festival
Jimmy Slyde at the White House
Sarah Petronio at the Portland Tap Festival
Kazunori Kumagai's Trio Improvisation
A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre announced the A.B.T. Women's Movement, a new program that will support three women choreographers per season, one of whom will make work on the main company.
"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie in a press release.
Hypothetically, this is a great idea. We're all for more ballet commissions for women. But the way ABT has promoted the initiative is problematic.
Some dancers move to New York City with their sights set on a dream job: that one choreographer or company they have to dance for. But when Maggie Cloud graduated from Florida State University in 2010, she envisioned herself on a less straightforward path.
"I always had in mind that I would be dancing for different people," she says. "I knew I had some kind of range that I wanted to tap into."
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
We all know that the general population's knowledge of ballet is sometimes...a bit skewed. (See: people touching their fingertips to the top of their head, and Kendall Jenner hopping around at the barre.)
Would your average Joe know how to do ballet's most basic step: a plié? Or, more to the point, even know what it is?
SELF decided to find out.
New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.
For 17 years, James Samson has been the model Paul Taylor dancer. There is something fundamentally decent about his stage persona. He's a tall dancer—six feet—but never imposes himself. He's muscular, but gentle. And when he moves, it is his humanity that shines through, even more than his technique.
But all dancing careers come to an end, and James Samson's is no exception; now 43, he'll be retiring in August, after a final performance at the Teatro Romano in Verona, where he'll be dancing in Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera and Promethean Fire.
The wait for Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of Petipa's Harlequinade is almost over! But if you can't wait until American Ballet Theatre officially debuts the ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 6, we've got you covered. ABT brought the Harlequinade characters to life (and to the Alder Mansion in Yonkers, NY) in a short film by Ezra Hurwitz, and it's a guaranteed to make you laugh.
When an anonymous letter accused former New York City Ballet leader Peter Martins of sexual harassment last year, it felt like what had long been an open secret—the prevalence of harassment in the dance world—was finally coming to the surface. But the momentum of the #MeToo movement, at least in dance, has since died down.
Martins has retired, though an investigation did not corroborate any of the claims against him. He and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes, who suddenly resigned in December, were the only cases to make national headlines in the U.S. We've barely scratched the surface of the dance world's harassment problem.