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Tapping into inspiration

March 28, 2011

This week I start taking tap classes as part of my scholarship program.  As part of my efforts to get inspired I turned to one of my dance muses, Fred Astaire.  I’ve been a fan of his for many, many years and I’m sure I own most of the dance films he was ever in as well as a prize possession – an autographed copy of his autobiography.  Just watching clips of his dance numbers brings tingles to my spine.  I could easily wax on about how wonderful and amazing a dancer Astaire was, but that has been done many times.  So instead I’ll focus on why I find his dancing so inspiring.

Astaire liked stepping outside of the box, as it were.  Most hoofers, as they were known, could belt out a good tap dance to the music of the day.  I’m sure that’s true of most tap dancers today too – but this guy did anything and everything with tap.  He mixed it with ballroom dancing! – a feat I have never seen replicated in my decade-plus of ballroom dancing, attending dance shows and watching musicals. Even 75 years later, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are still iconic as a couple for their dancing style.  He also loved to use props and special effects – dancing with duplicate images of himself, with a coat rack, on walls, on roller skates.  [This article has a good list and embedded videos if you aren’t familiar with his work – http://www.filmmisery.com/?p=2270] He could pull it off in a tuxedo and casual clothes.  He could even make drunken dancing look graceful.

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of watching many spectacular dancers and dance numbers, but few truly push the boundaries the way Astaire did.  When I think of how I want my own dancing to be, I feel less content to just be a [insert the blank] dancer – whether that is ballroom, folk, contemporary, tango, flamenco or any other style I have studied over the years.   Now that I’m learning ballet, tap, hip hop and jazz, I find that is even truer than before.  I start with one dance and begin to think, how could I make this really innovative and change the game?   Or, how do I take the choreography I’m learning and make it my own by tapping into all the other styles I know?

I think every dancer should have one or two muses (if not many more), to help them be inspired to take their dancing to new levels.  Sometimes watching the masters at work helps us to push through and stay focused to really improve our skills as dancers.  Sometimes it gives us new ideas and fodder for creativity.  Sometimes it is just the spine-tingling, ear-splitting grin, and endorphin rush we get when being a spectator that reminds us why we dance and the effect we want to give to our audiences.  So where do you find inspiration?

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