Thursday, July 23, 2009
Theme Thursday - SHOE
I am reminded of my age when I reference Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin in a lesson. This particular conversation began when I believed a student was playing a piece titled "The Old Soft Shoe" too fast. I asked if he knew that it was a dance, what did he know of it? "Nothing, basically," he replied. He didn't know Vaudeville or silent pictures. We talked about imagining the black suit, the rhythm of the dancers, and he was mystified. In order to explain it better, I postponed the discussion and I spent that week finding a video for him to watch to hear the music and see the dancers. I explained that tap dancing was very popular in the 40's and that dance studios still teach it today.
Charles "Cholly" Atkins was an American dancer and vaudeville performer, who later became noted as the house choreographer for the various artists on the Motown label. Charles "Honmi" Coles was an American actor and tap dancer known for his high-speed rhythm tapping on the streets of Philadelphia.
In 1940, while dancing with Cab Calloway's band, Charles met Charles. As Coles & Atkins, their routine opened with a fast-paced song and tap number, followed by a precision swing dance, a soft shoe, and a tap-challenge. Their partnership lasted nineteen years.
What set this brilliant soft shoe dance apart was the seemingly perilous slowness of it. Each step was executed in graceful symmetry that was absolutely breathtaking. Never before had such precision and style been brought to this tempo of soft shoe.
This is what I showed him.
The beauty and elegance of this tap is what I wanted to emphasize, as much as the tempo of the piece. I had even asked him whether he had seen anyone dance to "Tea for Two" in any old cartoons; that is also a soft shoe dance. He looked completely bewildered. (I still think Buddy would have made a wonderful Tin Man)
I am so excited to share music with my students that should be timeless. In a way, YouTube is helping me in ways beyond measure, similarly, in my opinion, to when cartoons used orchestral music to tell their tales. I know I heard many famous opera themes or overtures the first time on Saturday morning. Many of those melodies remain in my head with Tom and Jerry or Bugs Bunny movie "clips". I will never hear the Barber of Seville quite the same way, for example. Here is my last "Shoe" entry, Charlie playing with his food. Charming as ever.