Monday, 31 March 2014

Put Your Tap Shoes On

I watched the Oscar winning animated film "HAPPY FEET" and thoroughly enjoyed it and the director George Miller was incited to make a sequel and "HAPPY FEET TWO" and I anticipate seeing this with great pleasure. The first was a resounding success and carried the usual Hollywood voices to ensure popularity. Plenty of very real-sounding characters and a good story, made the film a happy watch and hopefully the sequel will too.
However, it did make my mind wander to my feet, or the feet of great tap dancers such as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly and not let's forget Ginger Rogers, who danced in high heels backwards thank you, one can only be in awe. I have nearly all the Fred and Ginger films and some of Gene Kelly's too as I love tap dance. It doesn't really matter who is doing the tapping, I just love the sound and am fascinated by the movement of all dance, tap dance in particular.
There are tap dancing classes all across the British Isles and probably over the globe and age is not a limit. Grandmothers and grandfathers along with toddlers and teens all tapping along, some in silver shoes with huge bows, others in less eye-catching footwear, there are no boundaries, tap away for a couple of hours a week and the fat will roll. You could even put taps on hobnail boots and make it look good. That's what the Australian group "Tap Dogs" did and they are great fun and amazing dancers. Fortunately every now and then they arrive in London to do a show for a couple of weeks.
I must admit tap dancing is something I could never take to, although I can dance and love to dance with a professional dancer as they lift you along without effort and with great enjoyment - no wonder "Strictly Come Dancing" is so popular. I'm just not tap footed enough. That doesn't stop me enjoying it to the full. Some of the most unlikely stars came from a "Hoofer" background, they had to start somewhere I suppose, and that background was probably one that gave them much scope in their future acting careers because if you've ever tried tap dancing and haven't slipped onto your rear end at some point, you've never learnt one of life's lessons: to fall is to rise again.
Bob Hope could tap dance, as could Donald O'Connor, James Cagney, Rita Hayworth, Shirley McClaine, Sammy Davis Junior and many other stars. Today tap dancing doesn't get enough air time as I would like although "Dancing with the Stars" proved popular. The spectacular "Lord of the Dance" has re-emerged and that was very popular worldwide. They should invest in new shows where tap dancers could strut their stuff and perhaps even have contests, people love contests. I'm sure it would prove successful and probably discover more stars of the future.
Some of the American tap dancers, especially of the forties and fifties, such as the Nicholas Brothers were stupendous. A natural sense of rhythm coupled with fast feet and a sense of fun, made them memorable. This was street dancing at its best and it fortunately transferred to film so there is a history going back decades. This vernacular culture still continues thankfully, from this I await future stars.
In San Francisco a few years ago, a group of seemingly impromptu Break Dancers appeared out of nowhere and performed a "routine" that went on for about twenty minutes. The crowd grew and grew and the dancers were a wonder to see. I don't recall their name or if they had one, but they were all skillful dancers and acrobats even, all smiles and friendliness and good to watch. The crowd thought so too.
Impromptu anything can be great fun and as the "Happenings" of the past few years at large London train terminals have proven, huge crowds can gather just for fun, the more the merrier. Not fun if you're trying to get somewhere at the time of their happening, but fun anyway to brighten the gloom, which according to the proclamations of our politicians, won't get better any time soon. Perhaps we should start up a dance-a-thon in Trafalgar Square where there's space.
So dancing is fun, any age group can take it up and if they feel like Fred, Ginger or Gene, or even little Shirley Temple, it doesn't matter, all that matters is tap. Put on your dancing shoes and get with it, get moving, get wise, because by doing something healthy such as movement, and enjoying it in the process, can only be good for you. Keep your feet happy and you should be too.
Any form of dance is exciting but tap is the one where everyone can do it, well enough to keep moving at least. From my sister's silver shoes with big floppy bows, to being enchanted with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, I will always be a lifelong fan. When I get a little older I may just take it up.

By Jeanne Valentine

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