Brighton Fringe 2017
An opportunity to dance with Movin’ Melvin Brown. Melvin Brown takes participants through a low-impact, high-energy workout, teaching you to Tap to music and workout at the same time. Melvin says: “if you can walk, you can Tap!”
Just to meet Melvin Brown from Austin, Texas, is enough of a privilege to warrant this workshop worthy of being recommended.
This tapdancer come singer come showman with his infectious laugh and his warm inviting presence gives a reassuring introduction to the mystery that was (for my preteen daughter and I, at least) tap dancing.
Some participants clearly had done a bit of tap before. Some, like my daughter and I were complete novices. It didn’t seem to matter. We were shown a series of basic steps, from walking, through to turns, to kick steps, lift steps, and a whole host others that to be honest I can’t remember the names of.
After a demonstration or two of his prowess, something not to be sniffed at for a man that only started the art of tap dancing at the age of 45, Melvin began his class by having us all stand, and ready to get our ankles to turn rubber, relax and patter against the floor. Most of us had ordinary shoes on. It didn’t seem to matter as he started us off on the vagaries of a near clogging style tap, a shuffling tap with quite loose taps on his shoes that more rattle than cleanly snap when coming down to hit the floor.
He kept us working full hard through a full one hour 20 minutes, and indeed for the last 20 minutes my poor pleading knee begged for a rest, and I sat out and watched the others sweating away, taking it all the way to the very last step / tap / rattle.
I love to dance, and I looked forward to learning some steps. I’ve never been a steps person, and have tended towards free flow and free form. But I do like to learn specific moves, and to learn new ways of moving my body. I’m also pleased to say that I have been doing some fitness work lately and was ready to work out a new part of my body. That new part of my body was definitely the lower legs, and calves, and ankles. My knees, therefore, toward the end were indeed saying “thank you very much, that’s enough for me for now.”
Melvin, I should add, stated at the beginning that tap dancing is one of the most aerobic styles of dance and exercise one could experience. He wasn’t kidding, and I felt I had had a fantastic workout. Hence soon, within the small metallic oven that was the converted container Warren Studio Three (the downpour of the preceding week having been replaced by a beating sun) a fantastic aroma of sweaty bodies began to permeate the space.
At last, the sound bleed for a Warren venue was travelling from inside to outside, the funky music combined with the thud of shoes, emanating and drumming across the now quieter Saturday morning “festival within a festival.”
I had suspected that this veteran of stage and song was a well seasoned character, and indeed when I asked him at the end, Melvin, who looks today no more than say 47, told us he is indeed 71! Amazing!
This didn’t stop him from making most of the rest of us look like ragged, tired old codgers.
My daughter enjoyed it, and although she found it hard to work out how to do each step, some of which included complicated foot work, she tried and tried and had fun trying, and didn’t mind getting it wrong. There was plenty of space to make mistakes, no judgement, though, it has to be said, very little feedback actually about how each of us might find a new way to do each step.
It was indeed exhausting, and one of two people left early, but the majority braved it to the end, enjoying the final chance to parade their new skills down a central aisle of admiring and clapping and jiggling co-participants.
My reservations were that Movin’ Melvin gave us a what felt like lot of new steps one after the other, but could have done a little more to have made sure that each of us, or at least the majority of us, had got the previous one before moving onto the next. In other words I would have preferred fewer new steps, and more time getting each more “in”, before moving to the next.
This also could have included a little more one-to-one feedback and although this might risk showing someone up as having not quite got it, I personally would have welcomed some personal pointers.
Instead moving Melvin worked the whole class, not quite seeming to notice where the whole class was.
Likewise… A golden rule of teaching, for me, is to find out where the class is before you start. It’s true he did ask everyone to raise their hands if they’d tapped before, but that seemed the height of his noticing “where we were at”. We all struggled on, each of us alone with our struggles, some seeming happier than others. This, I know, can be par for the course with dance or exercise lessons. It doesn’t work for me, esp. when I’m stuck, or not quite getting it. I want a bit more one-to-one.
But as I said, just to meet this wonderfully fit 71 year-old veteran performer who’s worked with (or at least done tributes to) the likes of Otis Reading (I guess, from the title of his other Fringe show where, I notice, he gives himself first billing before the aforementioned Otis) is enough of a privilege. Check him out!