Tap on Barcelona
3 October 2012
ISTD teachers Helen Imison and Antonio Barone describe how they were inspired by new techniques in learning
This summer I decided to broaden my dancing horizons and take a trip to Barcelona to attend their International Tap Festival. I started Tap dancing when I was 15 years old and I am always looking for new experiences to deepen my knowledge and understanding of Tap. I researched the tutors, looking at their choreography online, and decided to book a place on four courses per day at Mixed and Beginner levels, knowing that if it proved too easy, I could transfer to Intermediate or Advanced classes.
Our first day arrived, for which I had signed up for the Beginner Level Rhythm Nature Basics delivered by Thanos Daskalopoulos. We began by listening to a piece of music, feeling the rhythm and moving to the music using basic steps, accenting firstly the first and third beats, then the second and fourth beats of the bar. Then Thanos moved on to talk about Jazz Blues structure and how we can relate that structure to our choreography. The rest of the class focused on rhythmic body movement to complement our tap steps and weight change. An exercise for weight change we did involved what Thanos referred to as ‘flaps’ but in the UK we would call ‘tap steps’. He talked a lot to me about using my ankles less each day, moving my hip joints to lift my foot from the floor. At this point I knew I was probably best off in the Beginner class, the technique I was expected to know was quite different from how I would normally tap. Over the next five days, we worked with different rhythms and phrases and made a phrase pyramid from 1 - 11 beats. We stepped steps for beats 1 - 4 and then experimented with the ways in which we could make up the different phrase values. The process made complex beat phrases so clear to understand and accent.
Into my next class of the day and I chose to take Music and Improvisation with Sarah Reich. “What are we?” she began. “Tap dancers”, chorused back the eager group. “Ok, so what else are we?” A silence filled the room. “Musicians?” offered one of the Spanish contingent. That was absolutely correct! Sarah began writing musical notation on the white board in values 1/4 - 16th notes, turned to the class and asked us to clap the rhythm and then to tap the rhythm from the musical notation. Sarah then drew in red accents above the values that she wanted us to accent. Sometimes she would ask for both ‘& and a’ to be accented in a single ‘1e&a’ count. Sarah explained that from eight years old, her teacher would routinely give her class sheet music to tap from and they worked with up to 32nds from that moment on.
Musicians... sheet music... if we as Tap dancers are not only a visual art but also an audio art, these teaching methods that I had just sampled were so valuable and could really develop musicality and rhythm in students by literally teaching them Tap through music.
The final two classes of the day I took were two technique classes given by Cartier Williams and Lee Howard. These were two Beginner classes. Both Cartier and Lee asked the class how much they had done before and the class of nine revealed they had been Tap dancing for between two weeks and one year. I was the only one who had done more. I instantly thought this would be way too easy for me but as soon as we started the warm up, I could feel my Ball Beats and Basic Turns wouldn’t cut an Intermediate class! The tutors were really hard on me about being less rigid and using my hips more to move my feet. It honestly felt like I was learning a new language. The routines they choreographed for the classes, although basic in steps, were really complicated in rhythm and timing; starting on unusual counts and using cross phrasing in a class that hardly knew any Tap. I was absolutely stunned at how quickly they all picked it up. Speaking to the tapper who had only been learning for two weeks, she said she had spent most of the two weeks learning one step and changing the rhythm of it, learning another step and changing the rhythm.
I was so inspired by what I had learnt in Barcelona and stunned by the talent and approach to Tap dancing generally. I loved the overall Tap scene. We went to Tap Jams in the evenings with live bands and anyone was welcome to dance, not that I was brave enough! The rhythms they could produce on the spot as well as the fancy footwork were too much for me to match. Tap dancing is so integrated into society in Barcelona and the dancers work so closely with musicians that they can discuss musical structure and then improvise to the music, using correct phrasing. I feel a little bit like I’ve learnt a new language but having had it explained in such new and unusual ways has breathed a new lease of life into my understanding of Tap dancing.
I decided to book a flight to Barcelona, initially for a holiday, but found I had one of the greatest experiences of my life when, for a 30th birthday present, I attended the well recognised festival of Tap dance, or ‘Claqué’ as known in Spain: Tap On Barcelona. Students and teachers from different parts of the world were there, sweating and ‘shuffling’ all together. The weather was very warm and the air conditioning system was not enough to save everyone from the 38°C!
The classes, suitable for either Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced/Professional students, were led by some of the best teachers in the world: Sarah Reich, Cartier Williams and Lee Howard (USA), Guillem Alonso and Rubén Sanchéz (Spain), Thanos Daskalopoulos (Greece), Jérémie Champagne (France), just to name a few. Many also took part in the activities throughout the festival, such as the Jam Sessions, parties, competitions, conferences, shows and the farewell party.
I was thankfuI to find some of my ‘ISTD friends’ to share this amazing experience with: Alison Forrester, Helen Imison from the UK, Jennifer Cobban from Dubai, and Meritxell Paradell with her DDI/DDE students from Spain. Together we had the chance to discuss how Rhythm Tap, better known as American Tap, has been developing in the rest of the world and not just America anymore. In the current ISTD syllabi, we focus on ‘close work’ that includes the main philosophy of Rhythm Tap of rhythm, speed, clarity of beating of the different part of the shoe that ‘beats’ the floor (not just the ball and the heel) and musicality.
Many teachers during the festival were using our same basic ‘close work warm-up’ steps but played with them to add more sounds, changing rhythm and accent and developing them into more complicated and tricky moves. I was beginning to feel like I was back in school, like a student, smiling when I was learning a new step.
I believe that there is still a lot more to be understood about the true essence of Tap (and Rhythm Tap) as, in Italy in particular, Tap is not as fully known as Ballet or Modern, therefore, we need to let the ‘Tap family’ grow day after day. I think the Tap committee has been amazing and I am looking forward to what they will give in future to ISTD teachers and future generations, to gain more enlightened experiences.
I was sad when this whole experience came to an end. As with two years ago, Barcelona has given me more fantastic experiences – human and professional ones. Tap On Barcelona taught me new techniques, thanks to all the inspiring teachers and within Barcelona’s wonderful surroundings. I took back home a bag full of experiences and ideas that I will be sharing with my Tap students. After those intensive 10 days, I think I need a proper holiday to recharge my batteries before my next ‘dance’ travels!
Antonio Barone, FISTD, Italy