Schedule update: Jan.-June 2016

so far, so good: people keep on coming to try a step or two, and experience the JOY!

so far, so good: people keep on coming to try a step or two, and experience the JOY!

Hi Everybody!

Here’s a little schedule update, including my first two ‘home’ workshops in Liege at our Claquettes Club, a special May weekend with Guillem Alonso, and a few tap festivals where I join some ‘movers and shakers’ in the tap dance world….

Questions or suggestions? More information? joshhilberman@gmail.com

Claquettes Club Events Winter/Spring 2016

February 20-21: My first workshop in Liege!

Intermediate + level: new choreography

8 hours instruction

Price: 150 € (minimum 5 participants, maximum 20)

April 23-24: Advanced-Professional Composition weekend

First in a series of mentoring weekends for advanced dancers seeking input.

I am looking for 10 dancers interested in creating new works.

–8 hours in-studio work on improvisation and composition

–Showcase: an opportunity to present new ideas in a supportive environment, and receive critical feedback

Price: 175€ (registration limited to 10)

May 28-29 International Tap Day with Barcelona’s amazing Guillem Alonso!

Two-day workshop with classes for all levels.

Schedule and information coming soon at
www.claquettesclub.be

Upcoming Festivals and Workshops

Jan. 2-5 TAPTASTIC! Wilhelmshaven, Germany

Europe’s first festival of the new year brings me together with a bunch of fantastic dancers– I love being the ‘old-timer’ in and among superlative dancers from the US, the UK, Spain, and Switzerland!

All information on the website: http://www.taptastic.de

January 16 Masterclasses in Antwerp, Belgium

Fun-filled day of classes for kids and all levels of adults, organized by Suzanna Pezo

email suzanna@divi-divi.net for schedule and pricing

May 10-16 Limoges Tap Festival

This bi-annual festival brings together exceptional faculty from the US, France, and Germany in a spirited celebration of tap dance in performance and in classes….

Come join the fun and work on your French!

For information check facebook or http://www.prisedestep.com/festivals/festival-2016/

August 1-7 Beantown Tap Festival

Save the dates for a fun summer tap dance week, organized by old friend and dance partner Julia Boynton, located in historic Somerville, MA!

Information coming: http://www.beantowntapfest.com/

Goin’ Viral with Michelle Dorrance

Anina Krüger, MIchelle Dorrance, Klaus Bleis, Rose Giovanetti, Kurt Albert, Jarkko Riihimäki, Stéphanie Detry, and me....

Anina Krüger, MIchelle Dorrance, Klaus Bleis, Rose Giovanetti, Kurt Albert, Jarkko Riihimäki, Stéphanie Detry, and me….

Since she was a 15 year-old prodigy making my choreography look much better than it actually was, Michelle Dorrance has been one of my favorite dancers on the planet. 20 years later, the imaginative, hilarious, technically limitless, award-winning dancer and artistic director of the highly-heralded company Dorrance Dance, is still just as fresh, funny, and brilliant as ever. After 5 days together inside her working brain, I conclude that Michelle is like a drug: you get a little bit of her, and you just end up craving more.

On Sunday afternoon, however, my collaborator is nowhere to be seen, having spent the last night of our project together in Berlin alternating biological explosions with sleeping in the bathtub. Wasn’t it enough that she hobbled off the airplane with a broken foot? It is 3:34 on a Sunday afternoon–one hour into what should be Michelle’s beginner class, 5 hours into my bizarre work day–and I am teaching a soft shoe while trying to figure out who can finish my class as there is not doubt that MY stomach is about to erupt again.

As a man dying of thirst in the desert will conjure an oasis, she appears like a mirage: Michelle staggers into the dimly-lit room at the very moment I know my teaching day must end. I thank the students for their patience, tell them Michelle will finish the class with the soft-shoe break they have requested (she, staring blankly, asking ‘What break? The Gregory break?’ I am already walking out of the studio saying, ‘Any break. Figure it out. You’re qualified’). On the 5-minute walk back to the apartment I scour the landscape for good places to puke publicly; thankfully the eruption comes only after I am up the stairs, through the door, into the bathroom.

We have gathered in Berlin at Anina Krüger’s Blue Tap Studio for a first-time collaborative four day workshop, and the 4th incarnation of my All Tap Dancers Band. An amazing, skilled, lively, curious two dozen dancers from Germany, Romania, Canada, Sweden, Holland–and notably a raucous and patriotic Norwegian contingent–have signed on for the grand experiment.

What a lot of fun with this international group of tap dancing freaks!

What a lot of fun with this international group of tap dancing freaks!

Producer, dancer, friend and bass player Anina Krüger hosts the event at her inimitable studio Blue Tap; I cannot thank her enough for the opportunity, the support, the months of work and planning that lead up to the weekend. She supports tap dance in so many ways—especially by having one of the best floors and coolest working spaces anywhere, and as we approach 20 years of working together, I appreciate her–and her fantastic crew of dedicated volunteers–more and more.

Best friend and long-time collaborator Rose Giovanetti (taps/ukulele/vocals) comes from Boston; my German brothers Kurt Albert (taps/percussion) and Klaus Bleis (taps/drums) arrive with cars full of equipment; a special mention must be given Klaus, who has organized the music for the band and who drives all over Berlin upon arrival, gathering sound equipment and making a late-night trip to the airport to pick up the hobbling Dorrance.

My wife Stéphanie takes a few days off from her day job (playing piano in arenas packed with thousands of people) to play ukulele, including a beautiful solo; melody and improvisation on the violin; sing and arrange vocal harmony; tap dance; and oh, yes, play piano for me on Tea for Two. (Steph’s dizzying array of musical talents can sometimes induce a reaction much like the stomach flu.)

Dorks with skills...

Dorks with skills…

A year ago, when Michelle and I first hatched the plan to co-teach a workshop, we didn’t imagine injuries or viruses. We were looking for an excuse to spend some time together in the studio. We have known each other some 30 years, since Michelle was just the little girl whose mother taught me ballet and cast me in my first modern dance performance, back in Chapel Hill, NC. At the Ballet School, tap classes were taught by the guru Gene Medler; the rest, as far as Michelle’s career goes, is history.

At some point in my annual journeys back home to the NC Rhythm Tap Festival, I began bringing the teen-aged Michelle onstage for a duet. Hastily planned between classes and shows, usually in a parking lot, we would come up with a tune and a little arrangement, go on stage and play together. We staged a high-heel challenge, we sat on the edge of the stage and played a love song: we jammed, we danced, we laughed. In Dusseldorf in 2005 we worked out a ukulele/harmonica duo, and accompanied each other on a blues while the other tapped. Marginal music, exceptional tap dancing: a model for the All Tap Dancers Band.

The broken foot kind of spoils our plan to simply trot out Michelle–a singular artist in the history of the form–every few numbers in front of the band and wait for raucous applause. Even more painfully, she sits though hours of dance rehearsals of the aged hoofers: we her colleagues average now exactly 50 years old, and running through the dances takes longer and longer, with poorer results. Truly gracious, she sets about learning ukulele parts, working up vocals on Tonight You Belong to Me, resting her foot and wryly observing middle-age in process. She grunts some disapproval at a sloppy transition on my Capella Josh.

Dorrance and I agree that dancers learning tap dance today suffer from a real lack of diversity in training. So much work of the under-40 crowd remains derivative, and imitative; and while there are a great many dancers who can slide, hop up and make 14 sounds, and break the floor with powerful maneuvers, there are a relative few dancers with any stylistic range, and even fewer who understand the fundamentals of swing in music or technique. Day one, lesson one, I lead the dancers for 30 minutes of real soft-shoe, to orient our work immediately away from the overwhelming modern phenomenon of thoughtless floor-whacking.

In our tag-team workshop the dancers learn Paul Draper’s rigorous ‘Tea for Two’, a technically demanding soft-shoe with a one-tap-at-a-time aesthetic that no longer exists; some killer up-tempo swing material featuring ‘relaxed’ and ‘articulated’ technique as brilliantly explained by Michelle; and an excerpt of her choreography to Radiohead’s Everything In Its Right Place, a freaky tune in 10. I find her explanations of technique illuminating, and she learns most of Tea for Two as a chair dance. On the last day of the workshop, as Tea for Two, uptempo swing, and Radiohead 10/4 funk run through the feet and minds of the dancers, I think: that is as diverse a tap experience as you could ever ask for.

Dancers jump through hoops while I preach calm and Michelle actually sits still....

Dancers jump through hoops while I preach calm and Michelle actually sits still….

When the broken-footed Dorrance unleashes her swing material at tempo, the dizzying speed has us all shaking our heads. Is that where the nausea began? More than a few people consider break their own feet if the results could only be like that. It takes me back to my early days, when the young and still charming Savion Glover, aged 15 and broken-footed, was performing in my Cambridge series with his mother chiming in every so often, ‘Light tapping, sweetie. Light tapping.”

The All Tap Dancers Band will never win any prizes, but it sure is fun. We are joined for the 2015 Viral edition by an exceptional pianist, a Finn living in Berlin, Jarkko Riihimäki, who qualifies for the gig by performing a shuffle step that he learns about 20 minutes before showtime. So, we all tap dance, we all play music, and this edition features a lot of my own choreography: waltz to Tenderly, Cappella Josh, the quirky Limbo Jazz, and Walking My Baby Back Home.

We open the second set playing Watermelon Man for a quartet of improvising tap dancers. Jonas Nermyr, co-producer of the wild Stockholm Tap Festival; Janne Eraker, recently awarded a three-year artist’s grant from the Norwegian government; Avalon Rathgeb, the notable Brit who can seem to be in every European city at once; and home-girl Tina, capably representing Blue Tap. While the quartet works the floor, the All Tap Band destroys the tune: the rhythm section misses a few bars but plows ahead as the 4 ukuleles strumming madly get lost, have a discussion, drop out, and get ourselves back together. A band of tap dancers playing behind a group of tap dancers, one highlight only rivaled by the New Orleans-style simultaneous kazoo solos that punctuate Anina’s solo.

Rose spends a lot of time in the bathroom: before she gets violently ill, and before she spends the last day in Berlin tending to the weakened Dorrance, she spends three days in the shower room in Blue Tap, i-phone pressed to ear, memorizing/droning her harmony part on Tonight You Belong… Something about the sound of a woman seemingly trapped in a tile resonance chamber, coupled with intermittent and desperate three-part harmony rehearsals, makes the song our anthem, with endless variations: ‘I puked (I puked) and I flushed it a-all down, watched it swirl around, fell onto the ground….’

Michelle and I, in the Berlin apartment after the final viral day, can’t stop laughing. We sit in our reduced state eating crackers, sipping coke, and catching up on everything. It’s our longest uninterrupted conversation; neither of us has any place to go, any energy to do anything, any need but recovery. I tell her that at times in the stomach virus teaching session I found myself rubbing my body and head in odd unconscious ways; she confesses that during her last class she ended slumped in a frog-like lean against the mirror, encouraging people to answer their own damned questions.

Not fun, but totally funny

Not fun, but totally funny

Maladies notwithstanding, our first-time collaboration was a success, and a whole lot of fun: the students graciously accept the ’emergency’ situation of the last day’s teaching, and miraculously Michelle and I cover all the scheduled hours. We are already planning the next project, and hoping to make a dance together. Meanwhile we have a story of survival and triumph on the road that will never be forgotten. My next fix of Michelle Dorrance cannot come soon enough.

je suis tarte au riz

Deep-dish rice pudding? But way so much better...

Deep-dish rice pudding? But way so much better…

Verviers (Ver-vee-ay), a town 20 minutes from where I live, is best known as the home of tarte au riz, (tart-o-ree) a traditional Belgian cake that combines rice pudding, a dash of cinnamon, and a delicious crust. You can get a tarte au riz in most every bakery; but locals will tell you there is something special about the proper tart, from Verviers. It’s a little bit moister, a little bit better: the real thing.

While I was teaching tap dance here in Liege on Thursday night, the police were working hard all over Belgium, and in Verviers apparently interrupted a major terrorist operation ready to explode at any minute. The cops killed two suspects, wounded and arrested a third, and by the time I was done with my tap classes I had three messages waiting for me, wanting to make sure that me and my family were OK.

Which came first?

Which came first?

I love hearing from my friends, for whatever the reason, but since the odds are way greater that I will perish in my car than at the hands of a terrorist, I wonder why no one calls or writes when I get home from my trips to tap class, or the grocery store, or most recently a school performance last Tuesday. Both Stephanie and I were sick, the show came early on a morning following two nights of horrible insomnia, and neither she nor I had any business driving. But drive we did, sleepy in the morning and sleepy in the mid-afternoon when we made it home. There were no messages congratulating us on being alive when we dragged ourselves back in the door.  (Thanks, Dad, for the reminder about auto-safety…)

After the horrible assassinations at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, the search for the killers recalled the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. The day that greater Boston was ordered to ‘stay inside’ (thank goodness I have forgotten the official name for this) was terrifying, or at least extremely unsettling. I had a screaming fight on the phone with my best friend, who was determined to go about her business as usual. I called her every bad name in the book, convinced of my righteousness and my acting as a ‘good citizen’.

When it turned out that one gunman was dead and the other had spent his day hiding inside a boat, I felt stupid: we had all stopped everything so that millions of dollars in military and police equipment and personnel could be engaged. Even worse, the bomber got caught because we were all allowed to go outdoors again, and the guy whose boat he was in, saw the trail of blood, and called the cops.

A dreamy tart, indeed

A dreamy tart, indeed

So as the story in Paris was unfolding last week, I went off to Friday’s French class, and found myself having a little flashback to the Marathon bombing. Shockingly, my French teacher did not give a rat’s ass about two terrorists holed up in a printery in Paris. She dismissed the whole thing. ‘What?’ she asked with a little extra innocence, ‘some people with some ideology blew up some other people because of their ideology? And why am I supposed to care about that? ‘

I was horrified, righteously convinced that she was missing a big moment in history. But then the guys committed ‘suicide by cop’ and their accomplice got killed after taking his set of hostages, and the world began to mourn, grieve, and identify with Charlie Hebdo. Stories, testimonies, radio, TV, press galore, a world united by the unquestionable right of a free society to blaspheme.

First Bite

First Bite

Belgium, it turns out, has Europe’s highest proportion of radicalized citizenry; that is, Belgian citizens who have committed to wage jihad. The threat of imminent terrorist attacks is real. European countries have already begun to pass laws that recall the USA Patriot Act, which in the quest to ensure freedom completely trampled over the average citizen’s civil liberties. A free press is unquestionably vital to democracy.

But so far no one has come up with an organized plan to send 10 year-old girls into their tap classes in order to blow up atheist hoofers of Jewish origin.  I might live in the hotbed of radicalized Islam—the terrorists and I get great social services—but I am still a lot more likely to die en route to teach a time step, or to pick up a tarte au riz, than because I live 20 minutes from Verviers.

creamy goodness

creamy goodness

Disturbingly, I find myself on the wrong side of the free speech argument.

I believe deeply that people should be able to say, think, write, draw, and dance however they please. But I also know that inflammatory rhetoric and nasty words have consequences. Someone could have spared me a lot of pain and professional repercussions if they had just taped my mouth shut during my 20’s and taken away all my writing utensils. Should the consequence of free speech be death? Never.

But, just because you CAN say something, does that in any way mean that you SHOULD? I do not think that publishing images of Muhammad is a particularly meaningful way to spend one’s time. And, in the context of a war on terror and a jihadist movement, now featuring executions, beheadings, and death threats, what is the value of inflaming terrorists, or just insulting the great majority of plain-old Muslims who really don’t appreciate the imagery either?

Has our need to defend free speech come to mean, ‘Entitled wealthy people with advanced degrees have a responsibility to piss on people we don’t agree with?’ Where on earth is the humanity in that?

Not the first or the last, but the best bite, for overall form, taste, and relationship to coffee temperature.

Not the first or the last, but the best bite, for overall form, taste, and relationship to coffee temperature.

Anyway, just a week removed from the bloodshed, I was more excited than usual for tap classes. In the context of real tragedy, little things like a weekly tap class can really lift, focus, remind, and restart the soul. This week, a year into my career reset in Liege, 50 tap dancers came through the doors for classes. I found myself approaching my French teacher’s point of view more quickly than I could have imagined: what on earth am I supposed to do living in fear and worrying about my trip to the health food store? I’m swimming in a sea of bad time steps here, people.

While you may have never heard of Verviers until this week, I know it for two reasons: I taught a masterclass there last year on a floor so simultaneously hard and silent that it may rank as the single worst floor I have every tried to tap dance on; and if you want the best version of a tarte au riz, the closer you get to the town, the better they get.

And because I guess every American has internalized the phrase, ‘you are what you eat’: je suis tarte au riz!

sadness

sadness

******************************************************************************

Two articles really caught my eye this week, very thoughtful responses to the terror raids and the public response, and the links are included here. Especially illuminating is the first piece, from Australia, which makes the point I felt but could not articulate: the playing field–as far as social context and free speech– is not a level one by any means.

‘…the pens of newspaper editors were strong not by virtue of their wit or reason, but insofar as they were servants of the powerful and their guns.’
Corey Oakley, redflag.org.au

http://redflag.org.au/node/4373

The second piece cites a writer in the New York Times, Saldin Ahmed, whose op-ed came up with this gem:

‘In an unequal world, satire that mocks everyone equally ends up serving the powerful.”
Saldin Ahmed, New York Times

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/01/13/i-will-grieve-i-will-laugh-i-am-not-charlie