Art, Percussion, and Dance


Music and dance go hand in hand, but sometimes the dance IS the music, or at least part of it.  The most obvious example of this is tap dance, where the dance creates the percussion.  Tap is the perfect blend of music and dance because the dance is part of the music.

 

Watch how this Latin Jazz combo works with the dancers as percussionists.

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There are, however, other examples where art and percussion and dance come together.  When I was in college I discovered for the first time an Appalachian dancing doll.  A friend and I were transfixed by the concept and bought the doll at a crafts fair.  We were art school students so we bought a blank one and painted it.  My friend moved away after graduation and we used to lovingly ship the doll back and forth like a child from a broken home.

 

In this video you can see how the doll is a musical instrument and a dancer at the same time:

 

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Don’t miss next week’s post on dancing marionettes!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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More Fusion Dance!

Jenny and Ryan

Jenny Thomas sans tap shoes dances with partner Ryan Francois

In my last post about fusion dance I wrote about hip hop and swing. A friend of mine just posted a video of a fusion between Swing and Tap, so I wanted to comment on that as well as on the Swango phenomenon that I’ll address in another post.

Lindy Hop has its roots in tap, so it’s surprising we don’t see more of this fusion, but it’s rarely done. Jenny Thomas is a professional dancer. She’s a British national tap dance champion and has performed Lindy Hop all over the world, including on Broadway, so it’s not surprising to see her take an interest in this combination. In this clip, she’s teaching a workshop in lindy/tap fusion, demonstrating the improvisational use of tap in freestyle Lindy.

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As a performance, Lindy can be choreographed but it is primarily a social dance with lead and follow. Tap is a performance dance that is not danced socially and is not a partner dance. Putting the two together can be done with a specific choreography or the dancers can improvise their lindy with tap variations.

Because Lindy is a jazz dance, there is free play built into it. The dancers use jazz variations of their own during a dance, so if they are tap dancers they can use tap variations instead. You can’t combine these two dances unless you are skilled in both of them, so it would be fun for tap dancers to use their tap knowledge to add creativity to their social lindy.

Unlike combining Tango with Swing (keep your eye out for future post on Swango) it is not necessary for both partners to know tap for this fusion to work. As with any jazz variation in Lindy Hop, each partner improvises in their own style, so it would work to have one using tap and the other just dancing. A lot of the jazz variations that Lindy Hoppers use regularly in their dancing have their origins in tap, so this is a natural progression for tap dancers who know Lindy already. I’ll bet this workshop was a huge delight for the students!

In this next clip a performance troupe is using the same concept so you can see how it could look in a performance. This is choreographed and rehearsed, not invented on the fly as in the first example. In order to do fusion, whether choreographed or improvised, you have to be skilled in both dance styles in order for it to look good or be fun to do.  Looks great, doesn’t it?  If you didn’t know it was unusual, you’d think the two dances were always combined!

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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When Aging Dancers Stop Dancing

tap dancer Fayard Nicholaus

Famous tap dancer Fayard Nicholas when I knew him

I got to thinking about how I write about inspirational aging dancers as I was reading Roberta Teller’s blog post Growing Older is Quite Different from Being Old.  It occurred ot me that I never write about the challenges of what most dancers have to give up as they age.  I love reading about dancers who are still wowing us in their senior years, but let’s face it.  The average dancer is not just as active, flexible, and full of energy at 80 as they were at 20. 

Several years ago I had the honor of having dinner with Fayard Nickolas a few years before he died.  He was in his eighties and wheelchair bound from a stroke. I never met his brother Harold who had already died by the time I met Fayard.  Obviously Fayard was not, like many tap dancers, still tapping on his deathbed.  He was, however, full of life and opinions and graceful even sitting down. 

If you don’t know who I’m talking about, check out a clip of one of their famous dance numbers on my earlier blog about the famous tap dance duo.  I didn’t ask Fayard how he was coping with the disappointment of being a dancer in a wheelchair so I don’t know if he WAS feeling disappointed.   He talked about the crazy things they used to do as if he couldn’t believe he was ever that reckless.  He seemed to think that dance occupied a certain time of life and this time of life had other things to offer. 

I know he passed a lot of his expertise on to his equally reckless protégé Chester Whitmore.  (I can say that because Chester is an old friend and everyone who knows him would agree that reckless is a tame enough adjective for him.)  There were the performing years, the mentoring years, and now the years of resting on his laurels.  When I knew him, he was engaged to a lovely much younger woman whom he later married.  He was talkative and highly opinionated.  He enjoyed sharing his opinions of the current generation of tap dancers.  He said he always closed his eyes when attending Savion Glover performances because Savion made beautiful sounds with his tap shoes but dressed like such a slob that it was insulting to the audience.   The Nickolas Brothers, as you can see in the clip, were famous for dancing in tuxedos.   When I asked him how they did that without breaking a sweat, he said thanks to the magic of Hollywood, they were able to do it in several takes.

I think it would personally be very hard on me to ever have to stop dancing and I hope to be one of the lucky ones who drop dead on the dance floor, but I might not feel that way if I spent my youth jumping into the air and landing in the splits (and immediately dong it again!)  I could very well see myself deciding I’d had enough of that and it was time to move on to the next phase of my life.

Not all dancers age gracefully.  Not all aging dancers continue to dance or accept their lot with the ease of mind that Fayard Nicholas exhibited.  More on this in future posts.  Stay tuned!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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