Tapping Their Way into History

We started the month with learning about the history of African dance, so let’s end the month with learning about the history of Tap dance. Tap dance has an influence of a variety of different cultures. It has a very interesting history and it might not be what you think.
Slavery came over to America during the 15th century. With it came a variety of different cultures. One thing African’s loved to do was to dance. As you learned from the blog about African Dancing, African people incorporate dance into their everyday life. When they came over to America, they were banned from dancing. This didn’t stop them though. They would dance low to the ground so they couldn’t be seen behind bushes and trees when they worked in the field. However, their owners caught onto what they were doing and punished them. They would have parties with their neighbors and force the slaves to dance. Doesn’t seem like a punishment right? Well, the men would then take their guns and shoot at their feet. The slaves would then be forced to jump around in order to make sure they didn’t get shot. This is where Tap dancing originated. The slaves realized that their feet were making sounds from jumping around trying not to get shot.
Therefore, they started to communicate with their feet. They used the different rhythms to create a morse code so that their owners couldn’t understand what was being said. Now, what most people don’t realize is that Irish people were indentured servants at this time. It is believed that the slaves and indentured servants would watch each other dance. The slaves would then take some of the same movement that the indentured servants were using in their dance styles called Jigs. Combining these movements is what created the Tap dance style we all know and love today.
It wouldn’t become popular like it is today until the 1900s, when jazz music originated. Today, there are two different types of tap. They are rhythm tap and Broadway tap. These two types can be further broken down into three forms; classical, hoofers, and cloggers.
One of the most famous tap dancers around today is Savion Glover. I have had the privilege of meeting him twice and being able to see him perform twice as well. He is considered to be the best Tap dancer that has ever lived. He has been performing on Broadway since the 80s, has been in multiple films (including the Movie Happy Feet and Happy Feet 2), he’s been on Sesame Street, SNL, and has performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I have had the honor of being able to see him perform at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts (which is where Rhythmology’s Student Showcase will be on July 16th). He is truly a down to Earth type of guy and is very approachable. If it wasn’t for slavery and the Irish influence Tap dancing might not be around today.

Savion Glover

Check out this video of Savion Glover on an episode of Seseame Street

Insp-her-ation; Misty Copeland Makes History

“You can start late. Look different. Be uncertain. And still succeed.” Misty Copeland once said; and she has definitely succeeded. Misty Copeland is an extraordinary dancer who made history by becoming the first African-American female dancer at the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). She gets her dance skills from her mother, who was a Kansas City Chiefs Cheerleader. She worked hard for her success and never let anything bring her down. Something most people need to remember when they are faced with struggles in life.
Misty began studying Ballet at the age of 13 (which is late for most ballerinas to start dancing) In 1995 she began taking Ballet classes at the local Boys & Girls Club. Her teacher there, seeing her talent, invited her to attend the San Pedro Dance Center. By the time she was 15 she had won first place in the Music Center Spotlight Award. She attended the San Francisco Ballet School as well as ABT’s summer intensives on a full scholarship. In the Summer of 2000 ABT named her the National Coca-Cola Scholar, and in September of that same year she joined their Studio Company. In April of the following year she joined ABT as a member of their corps de ballet. In August 2007 she became the first African-American female soloist, then in June 2015 she made history and became the first African-American principal dancer in ABT history.

Young Misty posing for her performance as Clara in “The Nutcraker”

She didn’t always have it easy though. She is the youngest of 4 children and also has 2 younger half siblings. Her father was not around for most of her life. When she was in middle school, her mother picked up her children and moved them into a motel, and told Misty she could no longer take Ballet lessons. When her Ballet teacher, Cynthia Bradley, heard of this she offered to have Misty move in with her and her family. Misty’s mother, agreed and let Misty move in with Cynthia and her family. After she attended the San Francisco Ballet School’s summer intensive her mother wanted her to move back in with her and stop taking dance lessons. Terrified of that thought, Misty filed an emancipation (which meant that Misty would not have a legal guardian and she would have to take care of herself). When her mother found out, she filed a restraining order against the Bradley family, but because there was no abuse, stalking, or harassment, the restraining order was dropped. Eventually, the emancipation papers were dropped as well.
As you can see Misty didn’t always have it easy. She had to work hard for what she wanted, even if it meant hurting some people she loved. She had to change her way of life. She very easily could have given up and decided to not go live with the Bradley family. She didn’t though because that would have meant ending something she was very passionate about. If you ever feel like giving up just remember Misty’s story. Think about how even when people were knocking her down she stood back up and continued to do what she loves. “Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come. Remember everything you have faced, all the battles you have won, and all the fears you have overcome.”

Misty Copeland

Check out the video to watch Misty Copeland giving Jimmy Kimmel and Guillermo a lesson in Ballet!

Are Valentine’s Day Dances a Good Idea for Children?

Love is in the air this week with Valentine’s Day coming up this Sunday. Looking back I remember being in elementary school when I was in 6th grade. That was our graduating year so the school had a Valentine’s Day dance for us. It was held in the gym and was decorated by hearts and cupids everywhere. There were tables of chips, pretzels, cookies and different types of drinks. There was a sea of red and pink from everyone wear those traditional colors. I wore a red sweater with a jean skirt and tan boots. Even the boys were apart of the festivities and wore red (even though most of their moms made them wear red). This was our first school dance and we were all so excited, at least the girls were anyway. It was held right after school, so we had just enough time to get from our classroom to the gym. There was a DJ and everything.
We walked in and the music was playing, and what ended up happening in a matter of minutes is the boys ended up on one side of the room, and the girls ended up on the other side of the room. Of course this would happen right? We were at that awkward age where we didn’t know what to do with each other. Eventually all the girls started dancing and having fun on their own. The teachers came over to us and told us to get the boys to dance. Although we were hesitant at first we eventually did. Before we knew it we were all dancing with each other. It was a sea of red and pink!

a sea of red and pink

Valentine’s Day is an interesting holiday. It makes some people feel like they have to find love and if they don’t then they are considered to be an outcast. People who are single tend to hate this holiday. So, is it a good idea to have Valentine’s Day Dances? Should those teachers have forced us to dance with each other?
I think Valentine’s Day dances are a good idea. It allows children to get that excited, giddy feeling I was able to have when I was younger. Children these days are so stressed by school work and after school activities, they deserve to be able to have some fun with classmates after school. It allows them to have social interaction with one another and hang out with people they might not usually hang out with. It also allows children to get used to the idea of love. It was a good thing our teachers pushed us to go dance with the boys. It allowed us to get used to interacting with the opposite sex. Why not dance with them? We would be doing it in the years to come and doing it with our teachers around allowed us to do it in a safe environment. Valentine’s Day Dances are a good idea. It sets children up for their future in a fun and positive way.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

The History of African Dance

The month of February is also known as Black History Month. During your school years you learn about iconic figures such as, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and many more. You learn about how these people affected American history. Yes, these events and these people are extremely important (I even choreographed a piece about Martin Luther King Jr.) However, what you don’t learn in school is the history of their culture. The history of their dance styles, the history of African Dance. I’m not exactly sure why, but I’m here to tell you about it. Ready for your history lesson? Okay, let’s begin!
African dance has been around for many, many years. It can even be considered the oldest form of dance in the world. The traditional African dances were social dances. Most social dances today are danced with a partner. However, that isn’t the case with African Dance. Even though they are danced in groups, you wouldn’t pick a partner and dance with them. Actually, men and women wouldn’t even dance together. Men would dance separately from the women, and the women would dance separately from the men. The children would also dance separately from the adults. Children would learn through their own family members instead of going to a studio to learn. Their dances would take place in everyday locations. They would dance about special occasions such as marriages and births; but also about nature such as the sun and the moon. They would even dance to help them with their everyday tasks. I dance around my room as I clean it, but these women had specific dances they would do as they did their chores.
Drums are one of the most important things about African Dance. Different types of drums were used for music as well as people singing. When the drums were heard, people were able to tell what was happening based on the beats and rhythms they would hear. There would never be drumming without their being people dancing to it. The beat of the drum reflects the mood of the dance. The drummers are considered so important to the dances that at the end of every dance there is a specific bow that is done. The dancers stick their left leg out and keep their left arm down at their side while raising their right arm in the air, then placing their right hand on their forehead, then their heart, then touching the floor, then slowly raising it up and around. This means from the heavens above, from us, from the bottom of our hearts, to the Earth which we danced on, we thank you. Dance was apart of their everyday life. It was rare when there would be a day that they didn’t dance.
Then, the slave trade occurred and many Africans were brought over to the US to become slaves. Here they were forbidden to dance. However, that did not stop them. Slaves were prohibited from lifting their feet off of the ground. Therefore, they adjusted their movement to make it so that they used their torso and head as much as possible. They also bent their knees most of the time so that they wouldn’t be seen dancing in the field while they work. In many of the African dances you see today, they keep their feet low to the ground and their head is constantly moving. Dancing was such an important part of their lives back home, they didn’t want to stop that tradition when they came over to the US.
African Dance is very different than the classical Ballet Dance. While dancing African you need to make sure your feet are always flexed, (something that took awhile for me to get used to considering I grew up doing Ballet), you must always stay in a plie, and move your body as much as possible. In African Dance you want to stay as low to the ground as possible.
As the years went one, African dance had a lot of influence in other styles as well. These include; Lindy Hop, the Jitterbug, Jazz, Hip Hop, and Crunking. If it wasn’t for the earlier styles of African then we wouldn’t be able to have wonderful dance companies like Alvin Ailey today.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performing their most famous piece “Revelations- Wade in the Water”

Check out the video to see some African Dancing!