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Category Archives: Tap Dance
Zena Rommett–Floor–Barre Technique–For Teachers
Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
City Center, NYC, recently hosted a teacher’s training program for the Zena Rommett Floor–Barre Technique. Teachers, and those wanting to be certified, came from many places on the globe to review their methods and to learn anew. The morning I attended, master teacher Charlotte Furst from Sweden gave a very clear and calm class to attentive students.
Zena Rommett Floor–Barre Technique has been with us for almost fifty years. A former ballerina, Ms. Rommett first taught her methods at the Joffrey School of American Ballet; the technique essentially gives ballet dancers barre training on the floor, thereby eliminating the intrusion of gravity and balance in developing neurological pathways in the body.
Ballet, and dance in general, requires certain physical necessities– alignment, turnout, and lengthening, for example. Tendu’s, coupe’s, passe’s, and degage’s with pointed or flexed feet can be slowly practiced on the floor to give the dancer the desired placement.
I sat and watched class with Camille Rommett, Zena’s gracious daughter who heads up the Foundation. Camille schooled me on some of the finer points as the class progressed, and told me that Zena always gave dancers what they needed, not what she knew. They never use the term “stretch” as I inadvertently spoke, but preferred the term, lengthening, as in the spine, back of the legs, and arms.
The devotee’s since the 1960′s have continued to be enthusiastic, and the technique has been a favorite of many past and present stars: Judith Jamison, Lars Lubovitch, Tommy Tune, and Patrick Swayze, to name a few luminaries. At present, Camille said this method is being taught worldwide, and on numerous colleges campuses and national dance studios. Next month they’ll offer another teacher’s training in Florence, Italy.
Basically, while working slowly on the floor, nothing is set to chance. At the barre, things may move quickly and the student may get used to working improperly, and develop bad habits; on the floor there is a lack of tension, and without music, the dancer, along with an aware teacher, can focus of his or her needs. Incidentally, this technique has been used as a rehabilitation method for those who have injuries too. It’s easy to see how effective this method would be for someone who has had a knee or ankle injury, for example, and wants to activate and strengthen those areas.
Camille also said that Zena emphasized transitions as well. Having been a ballerina, she well understood the necessity of linking movements together with proper alignment. Ms. Furst underscored this by coaxing the students to relax during their movements, not to struggle, and to become more fluid, with a strong center and relaxed face.
For those who don’t have studios nearby that offer these classes, many DVD’s are available for the young dancer, the professional, elders, and injured. I’m a convert, and consider this technique very valuable for dancers and non-dancers alike. Why would anybody not want the effects of a longer, stronger, and balanced body?
“I have no desire to prove anything by dancing. I have never used it as an outlet or means of expressing myself. I just dance. I just put my feet in the air and move them around.”
I’ve featured a surprise below. Not your normal Fred Astaire profile.
Last night I attended The Caltech Dance Club recital. Students of one of my clients were performing in the show so I ended up with the sincerely generous gift of a complimentary ticket.
Now, I love live theatre. I am a stage performer myself and I can say, from the bottom of my heart that there is nothing like the absolutely fulfilling thrill of performing in a live show in front of an audience. Anything can happen. Spontaneity is king. Best of all, knowing that you have affected these spectators in some way by the time they leave the theatre is the ultimate payoff.
As an audience member, I get seriously keyed up. My expectation leaving my house for the evening is that I will see something wonderful. If I am lucky, something extraordinary. So I prepare.
For me the preparation of attending a theatrical performance, be it drama, dance, opera, musical theatre, philharmonic etc, is like getting ready for a really hot date or for a walk on the Red Carpet. Picking out clothing. Styling my hair and makeup. Organizing dinner reservations before or after or at least picking a place to move on to later for food, drinks and discussions. Finding directions in advance so that I can take my time and be leisurely about my arrival. I want to enjoy the setting, the outdoor/indoor environment, especially in the Spring and Summertime when the weather is lovely. Meeting other people. Rapping. Getting their points of view. Often in New York City, the older crowds have seen literally every show with the original casts and are so knowledgable, it is an experience just to hear the history, the comparisons and the commentary. And getting coffee or a little snack beforehand which is particularly enjoyable. I read the program to familiarize myself with the performers, the presentation, the notes, and the synopsis if there is one. Then I sit back quietly and let myself be taken over.
Now ok, to younger audiences these days it may seem a bit affected, the whole dressing up thing especially. After all, companies like American Ballet Theatre, The Metropolitan Opera and the like, have been working so hard to become less formal, relax the dress codes so as not to scare the masses away and make art “for everyone.”
But I have to admit, one of the single most depressing moments of my life was witnessing an opera goer enter the Met one evening in shorts and sandals. It took so much of the dramatic effect of the evening away. (Especially when ticket prices did not go down.) It suddenly felt less special. Of course, I myself used to show up in as many gowns I could possibly muster or borrow from my designer friends. It always gave me the feeling of being fabulous. I would even take the New York City Subway in them!
But getting back to the point…my making “an evening” out of going to a live performance was and is still not just about me. It’s about making an offering back to the performers themselves. Artists spend countless hours dreaming, inventing, creating, organizing, rehearsing and prepping for even as simple as a 30 minutes display for the audience. I want to let them know that I care, that I took as much time being interested and creating a drama around their event. The buzz, spin, reverie and accolades off-stage are just as important to an artist as what happens for them on-stage. A service a am most happy to provide.
So as I looked around at all of the students attending in baggy sweatpants, ripped t-shirts, sneakers and jeans, I couldn’t help but wonder what any of this really meant to them outside of seeing their friends dance for the first and possibly the last time on stage – this is a school which produces scientists after all.
What I do know is if I am correct, that people adore “spectacle” and are really dying to ”break out” themselves, I couldn’t have received a better accolade, when a young man approached myself and my client. “Are you professionals? Are you professional dancers? I could tell by the way you looked. And your posture is amazing. You stand so upright!? ” (We can save posture for another discussion about what’s degenerated in the modern age. But what a confirmation. )
Perhaps my client and I also influenced in a positive way last night as well. A rewarding reminder why being fashionable at the theatre will always be fashionable.
Simply start standing on one leg during the day. As often as you can during the day simply stand on one leg, bend the knees slightly making sure that your arches are activated, your big toe is still in contact with the ground and your knee cap is over the second toe. If this is easy, try closing your eyes. By challenging your balance frequently during the day you will increase the responsiveness of the little muscles and ligaments around your feet and ankles and this can help to stabilize them.
For more information about Lisa’s work click the link above or visit: http://perfectpointe.wordpress.com/about/
Want to read more about Core Strength? Click here: Dance: The Answer to the Core Question
In my search for the perfect videos a couple of weeks ago, for the perfect ballet Ailes de Pigeon, I came across some interesting variations of Pigeon Wings. This next section is from the StreetSwing.com Dance History Archives. It was really fun to find out who actually uses this movement and how it developed outside of ballet…
The history of the Buck and Wing (Buck Dance and Pigeon Wing) or Buck dancing is a pre-tap dance routine and was done by Minstrel and Vaudeville performers in the mid-nineteenth century portraying the African-American males, known as “Bucks.” Originally the Pigeon Wing steps (foot shaking in the air) were a big part of this early folk dance but later separated when variations began such as the shooting out of one leg making a “Wing.”
The term “buck” is traced to the West Indies where Africans used the words po’ bockorau (Buccaneer), and later the French term Buccaneer. Ship captains would have the men dance on the ships (dancing the Slaves) to try to keep the morale up as well as a form of exercise. It was one of the dances that became popular with the Irish Buccaneers who did Jigs and Clogs, reels etc. who would be known as Buck Dancers. These terms would eventually become dance steps.
– The legendary dancer “Master Juba ” did a Buck and Wing in the 1840s. It is said that the Buck and Wing ‘routine‘ was first performed on the New York stage in 1880 by James McIntyre as well as inventing the ‘Syncopated Buck and Wing.’ king Rastus Brown is considered one of the best Buck and Wing dancers in history. During the dance craze of the 1920s, buck and wing dancers would be considered square and corny when compared to the newer style of tap dancing that was slowly replacing the buck and wing style of previous years.
-The Buck and Wing was adapted to the Minstrel stage from the recreational clogs and shuffles of the African-American. The Buck and Wing is said to be a bastard dance, made up of Clogs , Jigs , Reels, Sand dance etc. which later gave birth to the Time Step and Soft Shoe. The Buck and Wing was used in Reels, Clog dance , Can-Can (Pigeon Wing,) Jigs and Tap . The modern Buck and a Wing is characterised by wing-like steps done in the air (known as “wings”) done mostly on the balls of the foot and which is considered the forerunner of rhythm tap. The Hornpipe of England was an elaborate Pantomime of English sailors, mimicking their duties while patting the feet to a tune.
Buck: (Buck dance)
- Originally just a stamping of the feet to interpret the music which later became more refined when mixed with the Jig and Clog. In Tap Dance it is known as the earliest version of the “Shuffle and Tap Steps.” The Basic Chug or Buck step is done by pushing the ball of the foot across the floor, at the same time dropping the heel, with or without weight. Buck dancing was the first known American Tap form performed to syncopated rhythms. These rhythms were performed on the “Offbeat or Downbeat” which came from Tribal rhythms in Africa. Buck dance was a type of countrified Clog or Tap dance. Usually associated with Barn Dancing or Country Dance. The Indians (Mainly Ute), also had a Buck dance, participants would dress in Deer Skins (Buck) and do a ceremonial dance called Buck Dancing.
Originally the music used was 2/4 time and was of the Syncopated March type. The Mobile Buck was an ancestor of the common Buck Dance that later evolved into the Time Step.
- Originally (1830′s) just the shaking of one leg in the air. Was also known as the “Ailes De Pigeon” in Ballet . Was commonly called to as “Pistolets ” by the French and just plain ole “Pigeon Wing” by the Folk dancers, later taken over by minstrel dancers. In the Can-Can the “Pigeon Wing” was bringing the bust into play by leaping forward, kicking high and throwing the shoulders back while “carrying on the arm” (or holding one leg up against the cheek, while hopping lightly on the other leg). Basically it’s just the lifting of the leg (demi-Plie’) and move the leg too beat the back calf of the other foot. Can be done in front of other leg or as in the variation of Michael Jackson’s modern version of his front lifting leg swing. When Minstrel dancing came en vogue, many variations came about, namely a small hop on one leg while shooting out the other leg to form a “Wing.”
Wings: The more modern Wings started to become a basic stable to tap dancing around 1900. “Wings” are basically derived from the much older minstrel variations of the Pigeon Wing but no real air step. Eventually becoming “air steps” that have the dancer springing up from one leg off the floor, and using the correct timing to do a certain amount of taps with the same foot before landing back down while the other “winging leg” usually remains motionless. There are variations such as the pump (winging leg goes up and down), double back, pendulum, Three-tap wing (one tap on the way up and two on the way down), Five-tap wings, etc.