Take Time to Tap!

Posted in On writing, Tap dancing, Writers at 8:19 am by Marion

I finally made it to tap dancing class last night after a three-week absence. It’s hard to imagine a writer being so busy it makes the head spin … so when it happens I wonder just how busy those people must be who have real jobs … people who have constant demands, bosses asking for things, having to attend meetings all day, please the manager, arrange birthdays and sick days, deal with their co-workers who may be sitting beside them, meet deadlines for complicated reports, issue important memos and emails … make sure they checked the correct box on their income tax declaration form (I never knew, is it 1, 2 or 0?)

A writer must have uncluttered time … days and frankly weeks of it … to work. We must clear the appointments from our days … rid the hours of meetings or phone calls … lunches, office visits, even friends. That’s the only way we can work. Probably no one but another writer can understand this fact. And for those who don’t it can seem odd and even unnatural.

When my schedule is busy, that may mean one appointment. That’s busy. How else can a person put together 5,000-word articles unless they have lots of time. To. Sit. And. Figure. Things. Out.

With all this thinking, the writer would rather not talk for hours and days at a time, which is difficult when you’re part of human society. Unless you’d like to develop a reputation as a CRANK. Which I don’t. Though it may be true.

So on a day when I’ve had three meetings and other deadlines … emails … phone calls … and family situations … I couldn’t imagine making it to tap dancing. All that noise and effort. What I really wanted was to cover up in a blanket and go away.

Nevertheless, something inside drove me to do a single meaningful thing … and as absurd as it may sound … that was tap dancing.

So I turned up last night and there was Anna, my teacher, and classmate Catherine, and everyone was glad to see me … fearing I’d dropped out or something … I’ve been at it for 10 months now and I’m just getting somewhere, so I’m not going anywhere now!!

It was delightful and restoring to falap shuffle ball change my way through an hour and I was happy to see that I’d not really lost any of my ability. Of course it’s a pretty low baseline … but still I don’t want to regress!

Happy to report that today, no meetings … just my beloved words words words all day long … with a few dog walks and cat feedings in there. And a tap class next week.


Infrastructure Time

Posted in Events, Tap dancing at 10:11 am by Marion

Just a few words today … everyone’s so busy it’s unlikely the world will stop if I don’t post … still this blog is my chance to reflect, if only for a few minutes, on a topic of value.

Listening to the president’s press conference last night was sobering, though I’m glad to hear that money is being released for infrastructure. It’s a good direction. We’ve spent so long investing our country’s attention, money and effort in paper pursuits — stocks, futures, vagueness — that we’ve neglected the real items of value. Our bridges, tunnels, roads. Parks and schools. Forests and recreation areas.

Around us, people are losing jobs, companies are failing and people are out of work. School budgets are being cut, universities are trimming and charging more tuition. Yet we are the greatest nation in the history of man. Surely we have the resources to turn ourselves around?

As a nation, it’s as if we’ve fallen into the same bad habits that can trap us as individuals: misguided spending, too much junk food and TV.

Speaking of which … no tap class last night, as my teacher was sick … our president’s press conference took place in the time slot for House M.D. … my tap dance class was canceled so I was looking forward to chilling with the good doctor … the episode will broadcast instead on Monday, Feb. 16 … while I’m in tap class … but that’s why we have iTunes.


Tapping out Progress (3)

Posted in Tap dancing at 8:25 am by Marion

The economy’s gone belly up … my favorite month, January, will soon be over … and there’s no end in sight to the daily blear of obligations, threats and trials.


Fear not! There is tap dancing!

Yes, if it’s Tuesday in Fiction Dailyland, there’s a good chance I’ll write a tap-dancing update.

After a two-week break for Dr. M.L. King Day, we returned last night. Our small class of two (myself and K., a former dance student and now elementary school teacher) gained another student . Like our teacher, this new student could be teaching the class, as she is a long-time dance student at our university. Who now plays Ultimate Frisbee. Who’s got a powerful shuffle-ball-change.

Now surrounded by dancers, whose feet move so rapidly you’d think they were breaking some kind of law. Of physics.

It was earlier this month, after the long holiday break, that I experienced a major breakthrough. Since starting tap lessons last summer, I’d always felt utterly inept, that I was incapable of tap dancing. Of course, now I understand that it’s a complicated, intricate skill, similar to learning a foreign language, that’s not picked up after an hour or two. Sure, you can flap and shuffle, but putting them together, changing feet, moving across the studio and extending the arms Broadway-style in a Maxie Ford

Steps that seemed impossible for me … too complicated, esoteric, inscrutable … suddenly became natural, familiar and part of my repertoire.

It’s a long time before I can dance like the others in my class, but how nice now to keep up during combinations, to buffalo across the studio floor … adding a flap and even a toe knock.

We have been having fun working our way through Ike and Tina Turner’s Rolling on a River … a few simple steps, but I manage to at least stay on the same foot as they do. Last night as our teacher ran through the pas-de-bourre steps, I noticed I wasn’t struggling … I was actually having fun.


Tapping out Progress (2)

Posted in Tap dancing, Writers at 11:21 am by Marion


It’s Tuesday, and time for a semi-weekly update after my Monday tap dancing class.

Now that I’ve had this unexpected breakthrough, I continue to make pretty amazing progress (read: I’m not physically coordinated in the dancing sense, rather stiff and wooden). Last night, after not having practiced all week, I figured I would have forgotten everything, but to my surprise, I was able to execute (rather clumsily, I might add) cross-over drawbacks … a snappy little step when done correctly … while only moderately teetering.

It was also a surprise to do double pullbacks across the studio floor … these are steps that seem to defy physics … slapping the floor with both feet while simultaneously jumping backward … somehow I’m still making a strong tap sound two out of three times … I even felt froggy enough to try a toe stand … which is just what it sounds like … a quick hop onto the toes of the feet and back to the floor.

Still more than a few times, though I was making sounds, I was falling forward, backward and sideways in a most un-Fred-Astaire-like way.

Of course I’ll never dance like Gregory Hines … but at least I’m dancin’ … sort of … there’s a lot more work to be done and I’m not sure I’ll ever manage to execute these rapid hop-shuffles.

Yet there’s a sense of quiet joy that comes from tapping your way across a studio floor that’s hard to describe … hard to attain … especially for a writer who spends most days looking inward … it’s an outward explosion of a similar kind … an avenue of expression that requires its own study and discipline.


A Tap in Time

Posted in Music, Tap dancing at 8:41 am by Marion

Today, a simple report from the dance studio.

After a three-week break, I returned to tap class last night. It’s a late class, starting at 7:45 p.m., which can feel like midnight. I’m thinking it will be a rough 45-minutes, that I will be clumsy and uncoordinated.

Somehow, during the past three weeks, something came together upstairs, quietly and without any effort from me. This new understanding was transmitted from my brain through to my legs and feet. And somehow, I was completing steps that were impossible a month ago!

I did “pull backs” across the studio … jumping moves done on both feet, backward, that should make a crisp tap. For me, performing the step turns into a struggle to avoid falling over, while sliding my feet sloppily backward.

Somehow last night the tap-slaps were there throughout the length of the 30-foot studio. (I ignored the full-length mirror which might have shown a slightly teetering woman leaping strangely across the room.)

Next we did a simple drawback step, which after months of flummoxation, has become almost second nature … so we worked on a drawback cross-step. Drawbacks also move backwards, and this variation takes one foot and crosses it over the other, while stepping backward. And brushing the toe … and tapping the heel.

We started at the barre … I fumbled … then, in a breakthrough, I did the step a few times. I moved away from the barre, and stumbled through it before getting it right a few times. Now I have something to work on for the week.

Last we turned to the “time step.” There are several time steps, which are often inserted into dance routines, like tiny compact dance firecrackers, which really turn up the complexity of a dance. These steps require you to shift weight from foot to food without taking steps … or, in some cases, you take steps without shifting your weight. It’s just as complicated as it sounds!!

Well, I seem to have one of the time steps now … my instructor repeated it rapidly several times for me, so I could hear the true rhythm of the step and now the task at hand (foot?) is to carry out the step while tapping the authentic rhythm.

Because in the end, no matter what you do with your feet, tap dancing is an art form dedicated to making delightfully entertaining, and even funny, sounds with those metal clappers. When it sounds right, you’re really tapping.

Like everything else, there’s got to me music in it.


Tapped in

Posted in Tap dancing, Writers at 9:36 am by Marion


After six months of weekly tap dancing lessons … at last I can tap moi-self across a studio!!

It seemed a weekly torture session … mirrors the length of the room … humiliating failure every lesson … brutal confrontation with my own lack of coordination and writerly stiffness … despite those impediments … including way too much self-consciousness and formality … I have managed to tap dance!!

In a most rudimentary way, I must confess.

I have managed a compound step … pretty simple mind you … flap with one foot while doing buffaloes with the other foot … when I did that across the room last night at my lesson, I felt like … well … Ginger Rogers!!

Still working on the rather clumsy execution, however. Need to add arms, develop a style instead of lumbering … what-evs.

Have I learned anything? Find a good teacher. Try to get a few private lessons if possible. My teacher has spent time with me one-on-one to talk me through changes and combinations that aren’t clear in the class environment.

Not that I understand the fundamentals … I have no boundaries … my life-long dream of tap dancing is closer than ever. (Not giving up the day job, though.)


Happy Feet, Happy Heart

Posted in Events, Tap dancing at 9:19 am by Marion

Today, some good news: After 12 weeks of lessons, patients from my instructor, Anna,, and many, many humiliations, at last I am tap dancing!!


I’ve hung around, caught glimpses of my bumbling self in that dance studio mirror … you know the place … mirrors cover the entire wall … there’s no escape!! … but I’ve managed not to give up, despite what seemed an impossible undertaking.

Through sheer force of will, I’ve finally managed to master to the simple warm-ups … shuffles, flaps, pull-backs … and even some of the combination steps … a five-six-seven-eight-shuffle ball-change-flap-heel-toe-brush-hop-stomp …

By the end of class, it’s true I’m overwhelmed and basically fall apart, no longer following the steps, but it’s actually fun!!

Is there a lesson here? I’m sure there is … even when something seems impossible, just keep at it … my efforts at tap were flailing, ridiculous and as my grandmother would say, pitiful.

I dreamed of tap dancing for years before I took my first adult lessons about 20 years ago … at one point I was in a class with children, 8, 9, 10 year-olds … I gave up because I never got anywhere … last year I bought some real Broadway tap shoes and they sat in the box for more than 14 months … there on top of my file cabinet … where I could look at them … and dream … but I was always too busy.

At last I started again earlier this summer, and at first, believed that because of my mental composition (not very coordinated? no sense of rhythm?) I would never manage to dance … but now I’m hoofing. Slowly, and bumpily, but hoofing nonetheless.

Stocks, banks, business indicators, global markets — they are claiming our attention these days, but what are these things, anyway? It’s the private, personal joys that define a life, and by keeping the faith … persisting … believing … and, in the end, just showing up, that life gives us real gifts.


Finish Lines

Posted in Life in general, On writing, Running, Tap dancing at 7:16 am by Marion

It’s 65 degrees this morning so before the temperature rises much more, I am heading out the door to run.

It’s nearly impossible to write all day if you don’t go full out at some point, either swimming, running or floundering around in tap dancing class.

Still working on two pieces that are after weeks of work, taking shape: an article about the Spanish in early 16th-century southern U.S. and a short story I’ve been calling “Poison.”

Last night I lay in bed for two hours, unable to sleep (Sunshine Madness), and in my mind, ran through the article and raced to the end of the short story.

I realized I had no way to end the short story!

So lacing up my running shoes, out the door and back, to figure out where to take the Spanish, and where to take Poison.


Un-tapped pt. 2

Posted in Life in general, On writing, Tap dancing, Writers at 9:56 am by Marion

Another tap dance class on Monday and I floundered, as usual. My teacher, who’s in her early 20s, has lots of enthusiasm, but can’t possibly understand how out of place I’m feeling.

We’ve done “combinations,” that is, steps put together in short sequences, but I can never master one before we’re doing another. Every tap class I’ve had works this way … a lot of steps sort of thrown at you and then something new. That’s foreign to how I learn: I have to focus and repeat each step many times until I master it … at least until I get the basics.

Meanwhile, she showed us a combination done to a sort of rock-abilly song and after going through the steps a few times, she played the music. I stood there as she and the other student went through it and knew it was impossible. If I’d been 9 years old I would have cried!! As it was, I felt quite embarrassed.

So, today I’m going to practice a few steps with the veneer board I have in between working on a short story. I am determined this time to learn to tap dance, no matter how much humiliation I go through!!!!