Thanks to polymath Marshall Davis, Jr, tap dance is alive and well in the 305 and beyond! He is tap dancing's "Grand Philosopher" and his "Revelations in Rhythm" is really a tour de force. Trust me, you've probably never seen anything like this. With Savion Glover, this is well worth a watch and a listen-- to learn something about life and yourself.
Every performing art has its parameters in time and space. What you do within those parameters is challenging, limited only by your imagination and the laws of physics. So, when you see dancers like Zack Richard and Maryse Lebeau exploring the 100-year-old space of the Jitterbug and Lindy by creating moves you've never seen before, well, the old tried and true takes on an air of excitement as they dance in the 2009 International Lindy Hop Championships in Washington, DC. Worth a watch.
Celebrating Bill "Bojangles"Robinson's Birthday and National Tap Dance Day with the release of the "Jitterbug!" Kindle Edition!
Surprisingly, there's a whole lotta tap dancing going on in Jitterbug! One of its pivotal scenes has the dancical's protagonist Billy Rhythm taking on Bill "Bojangles" Robinson when the Mayor challenges him to "trade fours" in the legendary Hoofer's Club, a small back room in a Harlem speakeasy. That janitor's closet-- for the most part (it was just big enough for an old battered upright piano, a bench and enough floor space for two dancers)-- has been called the "unacknowledged headquarters of American tap dancing from the 1920's through the 1940's." Tap even shows up in the climatic dance contest at the Savoy Ballroom when Billy and his girlfriend Tharbis Jefferson put it to use in the Jitterbug breakaway to beat their competition.
So it's quite fitting to release the "Jitterbug!" Kindle Edition today on both Bojangles' birthday and National Tap Dance Day. With teaching in mind, it is formatted for smartphones so students can use their phones at their desks or remotely from home through online learning. Performing assigned roles via Zoom or similar platforms is encouraged.
Annotated for historical context and period slang, the Kindle edition supports Endnotes where one click on a number next to a word in the script brings up a definition or supportive historicaL context pages from the Endnotes section at the back.
If read online, it affords the reader/actor the option of listening to the music used in the script while reading or performing by clicking the music link to the Jitterbug! website.
The Kindle edition also contains a map of Harlem circa 1931 of the actual places where the story takes place. Pictures of historical characters portrayed in the story can be found on the last page.
Finally, free Educator Manuals and Student Questionnaires (pdf files) based on National Core Arts/Common Core Standards for DANCE, THEATRE, MUSIC (Composition and Ensemble strands), LITERATURE, and HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES are available for download at the "Educator Resources" page on the Jitterbug! website. If read online, readers can click Internet links in the pdf files to multimedia targets that will enhance their learning experience.
At the jitterbug break in the climatic dance contest at the Savoy Ballroom, we encourage choreographers to reach into the future for steps never seen before on that legendary 1931 dance floor; dancing that will blow the minds of that jaded crowd and win the dance contest for our protagonists, Billy Rhythm and Tharbis Jefferson.
Having survived the elimination process that began over an hour before with the whittling away of hundreds of dancers, Billy and Tharbis reach the climactic showdown between them and legendary dancers George "Shorty" Snowden and Big Bea. Members of the equally legendary Harlem gang The Jolly Fellows, its members have inserted themselves into the surging crowd surrounding the dancers. The gang won't stop at anything to see their own win-- including slicing Billy and Tharbis with knives and razors as they dance pass them.
As the Gershwin's Liza (played by the Chick Webb Orchestra) segues into the magical and climatic ending of Duke Ellington's Harlem, why not have Tharbis, now bleeding profusely, spin out of the break-- throwing blood across the floor and the faces of the surging crowd-- stop, rise on her toes and, like an angel rising above the chaos of the dance floor, drop sand from her hands so she and Billy can dance in it; maybe in a mirrored soft shoe or tap routine; maybe something involving knee drops and slides that segue into dramatic modern dance where they roll in the sand, gather it up and let it fall over their supine, bloody bodies?
You can imagine this scene with the music below, starting at around 13:52. It opens with Ellington explaining how he wrote the symphonic piece as a tour of the great city, beginning at the southern end (110th St) and traveling up to 145th, sampling the city's life, sounds, and music.
The NYT suggests "Dancing may be the Kale of Exercise."
The article begins with examples of the health benefits of dance by mentioning 92-year-old swing dance legend Frankie Manning who taught 40-weekends a year, and 93-year-old Dick Van Dyke "vigorously tap dancing atop of a desk" in Mary Poppins Returns. It then lists one study after another recommending dance at any age level-- “Dancing increases cognitive acuity at all ages. It integrates several brain functions at once — kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional — further increasing your neural connectivity,” said Richard Powers, a social and historic dance instructor at Stanford University.
You can learn more here-- where free Jitterbug! Educator Manuals based on the National Core Arts Standards are available for Dance, Music (Ensemble and Composition strands), Theatre, Literature, and History/Social Studies.
"Overlooked No More: Earl Tucker, a Dancer Known as ‘Snakehips’
Overlooked is a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times. Well worth a read and a watch. https://nyti.ms/2tRsxQP
Help Mark Norma Miller's Place in Jazz History
"Born in Harlem on December 2nd, 1919, Norma Miller is one of the only jazz women buried at Woodlawn Cemetery’s famous Jazz
Corner in New York. Along with Frankie Manning, she is the only other original Savoy Ballroom lindy hopper laid to rest among many of the musicians she danced to and worked with. It is important to bring attention to her grave as both a female and a jazz dancer.
By raising funds for an attractive headstone, the Frankie Manning Foundation hopes to educate the world about this amazing
woman and the history she was part of. We want to honor her with a monument that will be a companion to Frankie Manning’s
headstone, nearby at Woodlawn."-- Houston Swing Dance Society
To learn more and to donate to a great cause, please click here.
FYI, our proposal to NYC re erecting a life-sized or larger bronze sculpture of Frankie dancing with his early partner Ann Johnson in the street across from where the Savoy Ballroom use to be, went nowhere but it would have cost a lot more than Norma's headstone.
You can learn more about that proposal seen above here.
Voguing at the Savoy. Pretty sure it never happened. But it does happen in Jitterbug! during the dance's break in the play and screenplay. The writer has always encouraged choreographers to "reach into the future" for dance steps that will win the climatic dance contest at the Savoy Ballroom for its hero and heroine, Billy Rhythm and Tharbis Jefferson. Anything that will blow the minds of the jaded Savoy regulars who have seen it all. That also includes dubstep, hip hop, breakdance, and more.
These dances are performed against music from the future, too. Duke Ellington's symphonic jazz piece Harlem from 1963 is used to signal something magical, heroic, and romantic is happening on the dance floor as the music segues from Chick Webb's drum and horn driven signature piece Liza (written by the Gershwins).
The image above reflects how Billy and Tharbis are being slashed with razors and knives as they dance close to the encroaching dance and music crazed crowd that includes the legendary street gang The Jolly Fellows who want Billy and Tharbis to lose so their champions George "Shorty" Snowden and Big Bea can win.
To see how powerful voguing is on it own merits and how its culture refers to their "balls" as "wars," check out the video below. Now envision using the dance in a duet with Billy and Tharbis mirroring each other while, with stone cold faces, fearlessly staring down those surrounding them who want them dead.
Multi-hyphenate with a penchant for writing.