Worlds Collide

Photo credit: Maja Baska

By Sally Whitwell

A note from the editor: I recently came across Sally’s piece on finding a new creative outlet during COVID-19, and was eager to feature it on Fever Pitch Magazine.

Sally credits her renewed energy during these difficult times, to learning to tap dance as a complete beginner. Sally has been using an online course by Bill Simpson called Just Tap, which can be accessed here

You can keep up to date with Sally’s composing and tap adventures through her Facebook page, website, and Instagram– Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

I wanted to write a few words on my new hobby, learning to tap dance, and how it has helped me to be creative again.

Every day since the 2nd of April I’ve been practising tap dancing.

Tap dancing? Yes. I’m popping on the metronome, slipping on the tap shoes, drilling all the steps.

Ball Heel.

Shuffle Ball Heel.

Paradiddle Shuffle Ball Heel.

Now, when I started out on this lark, I believed myself to be a reasonably coordinated human, enjoying many years of ballet training in my youth. The trouble is that there are places where you hold tension in ballet, particularly in your ankles to keep from injuring yourself in pointe shoes. These tensions appear to be the opposite to tap. So I’m very much a beginner again, which is hard for me because in my profession as a musician, I am so accustomed to always being the expert in the room. My faltering baby tap steps are causing me both hilarity and frustration, fortunately much more of the former than the latter!

My little digital metronome has that feature where you can set it to increase speed automatically, notch by notch, after a particular number of bars. So I don’t need to stop and change it all the time to practise getting faster, it kind of speeds me up by stealth! It’s a feature I use frequently in my piano practise. In fact, I find myself instinctively employing many of the same practise techniques here that I do in my piano playing. Negotiating tricky weight shifts between tap steps is not dissimilar to negotiating large leaps between chords on the piano. Can’t say I imagined that my practise concepts would be transferable thus, but here we are.

And it’s a very similar state of mind, dancing and playing music. My psych tells me it’s called flow state, that feeling of being completely in the present moment. She says I’m lucky to have in my life, but that I associate it too much with my profession. So she then suggested, as a foil for my current levels of anxiety about COVID-19, that it might be a good idea to try to find flow state away from my profession…

She recommended various options:

Yoga — nope, too hippie

Meditation — nope, too static

Cardio workout — feck no! Too many plastic smiles, ponytails and abominable music.

But this tap dancing thing I found… it’s the best! And it is so similar to the things I love most about performing music, particularly minimalist music.

I love the pulse of it. Pulse gives life. The mathematical precision of how the dots line up in a piece of minimalist music gives me the same feeling as this tap thing. Look, I’m not winning any awards for choreography, but the first time I worked out how to put four of these beginner tap steps together into a routine that had no breaks in the pulse… what an amazing feeling! It’s the same feeling that attracts me to the music of the minimalists, post-minimalists, and various electronic dance music genres.

It is harder to get that feeling if you’re not actively engaged. Passively listening or watching just doesn’t cut it. I’m reminded of notable times when I really felt this deeply…

On the dance floor at Mardi Gras (quite a few times!)

As a student, listening to Terry Riley’s In C for the first time ever

During a live performance of Philip Glass’s opera Einstein on the Beach

I find it deeply emotional to play this repetitive minimalist stuff; the way it locks together, being a small part of a bigger machine. It kind of reminds me how I’m just an infinitesimal speck in an infinite universe. I guess that’s why I just really don’t like Puccini operas, because the pulse disappears all the time so the singers can have a big wank on stage. I will never understand why people find that more emotional. It’s annoying, self aggrandising behaviour, forcing the amazing machine of musicians who are supporting you to wait around while you get your jollies singing that high note. Ugh. As I say to my piano students all the time, what happens when your heart stops beating? You die. It’s the same in music. Keep the pulse moving.

This whole experience is bringing me back to my creativity, after a month in lockdown caused me to think I’d never find it again. I finally feel like composing. Maybe I can initiate a project that brings together minimalism and tap? Hm, interesting.

I love it when my worlds collide!

Fever Pitch Magazine enquiries can be sent to Stella Joseph-Jarecki through stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com

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