Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Shim Sham Shimmy

Last night, as Song and I waited in the hallway outside Studio B for our tap class to begin, we were watching the beginner class practicing a routine that they've been learning for the past few weeks. At the time, I thought that the steps seemed vaguely familiar, but I didn't think much about it. Then, Keira (our instructor) started calling out some of the new moves that had been added this week, including the "Tackie Annie" and the "Half Break." That's when my ears perked up. I'd heard those terms before, but not in any tap classes, and I knew them well. In fact, I'd used them as recently as Saturday when a few friends and I went swing dancing. They were a part of the Shim Sham, a line dance that I learned about 5 years ago.

I first learned the Shim Sham in College Station, when I was learning to swing dance (thanks to the Texas Aggie Swing Cats). It wasn't until I started dancing in other cities and states that I realized that this wasn't a local dance, but rather, a very well known line dance in the swing dancing community. In fact, it was the most well known (because yes, there are many swing line dances, including the Jitterbug Stroll and Smiley's Charleston, which may be my favorite). Over the years, I learned that Frankie Manning, one of the founding fathers of Lindy Hop and American Swing Dance, was credited with developing the Shim Sham when he was dancing in Harlem in the 1930s (at Lindyfest in Houston a few years ago, I actually had the pleasure of doing the Shim Sham while Frankie Manning himself called out the moves at the ripe old age of 94).
Frankie Manning in Hellzapoppin', which is considered
one of the quintessential swing dance performances of all time.

Considering how swing-centric this dance is, imagine my surprise when I realized that Keira was teaching everyone a tap version of it! Imagine my further surprise when she told me that it wasn't originally a swing dance at all, but a well known tap routine that's been modified over the years to fit a number of different genres (or I guess mostly just swing dance, whatever)! As this information was pretty jarring for me, I decided to do some research.

Apparently (according to an un-cited article on wikipedia and backed up by a conversation I had in passing with my instructor... so pretty legitimate sources all around... don't judge me), the Shim Sham was first choreographed by Leonard Reed in 1927 as a tap routine. What started as a comedic act entitled "Goofus" that Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant performed when touring through the South, suddenly turned into a beloved tradition once the duo moved to the Shim Sham Club in New York. At the end of each performance, everyone would go up on stage, dancers, singers, and musicians alike, to perform the Shim Sham Shimmy together (thus renamed on account of the chorus girls' penchant for shimmying). The tap dancers would be more technical in their performance, while singers and musicians could shuffle along at their best depending on how adept they were at dancing.

How cool would it be to
see him tap dancing?
 From there, it was adapted by a number of people (including Leonard Reed himself, when he performed it with the World Heavyweight Boxing champ Joe Louis in 1948 - they called that version the Joe Louis Shuffle Shim Sham), which explains why there is currently no uniform choreography for it (everyone has the same basic gist, but with individualized flair). Frankie Manning was the one who modified it for swing dancing purposes, turning it into a line dance. He also added 2 phrases of choreography (which equates to eight 8-counts of music) including a "Boogie Back/Boogie Forward" phrase and a "Boogie Back/Shorty George" phrase (named for George "Shorty" Snowden, who was another founding father of Lindy Hop, as well as the one who gave Lindy Hop its name).

Isn't learning fun?!

Though it was a little challenging trying to re-wire my brain to learn a more technically complicated version of a dance I've done hundreds of times, I really enjoyed tap class last night. The dance as a whole was more difficult (especially when we tried speeding it up), but learning some of the steps as they were originally choreographed (or as close to it as we can get now) helped make some things in the swing version click better for me. If nothing else, it's great getting to experience first hand how different dance movements influenced each other.

As a bonus, here is a video I found on the interwebs of the Shim Sham. This video was made for Frankie Fest (also called Frankie 95), which was a celebration of Frankie Manning's 95th birthday. Unfortunately, Frankie was unable to attend the celebration, as he passed away a month before it was to take place. Not only does this video act as a beautiful tribute to a man who spent his life doing what he loved, but it also showcases how different cultures and groups have been able to take the Shim Sham and adapt it over the years.

Have you ever Shim Shammed? Should I have been so surprised that tap dance and swing dance use similar moves and dances even though they were both part of the jazz movement? Does anyone want to watch Hellzapoppin' with me later?

Monday, January 23, 2012

"I never thought I would hear those words come out of your mouth!"

What had I said to cause my mom to make such an exclamation? No, it wasn't anything offensive. No, I hadn't been cursing. I had merely stated "well, I'm off for a run, be back soon!"

We were staying with my grandma for the weekend, and I had decided to take advantage of the midafternoon lull by going out to continue my training. While Mom knows that I've been running lately, she has spent the last 22 years (which would have been 23 had I learned to talk earlier) enduring my near-constant complaints about how awful running is and how  much I detest it. Needless to say, even though we are both cognitively aware that I've been running, I think we're both still a little surprised that I'm doing so voluntarily.

With an upcoming onslaught of 5Ks (Maddy and I for some reason thought it would be a good idea to register for four different 5Ks in the next couple months), we figured it was about time to get back into our training, and have been pretty consistently following our Couch-to-5K program since restarting it a couple months ago. Granted, we tend to take slightly longer breaks between running intervals than directed, but I think that when running in the cold, our lungs need that extra minute to thaw a bit.

Firefly Run 2011; Kim, Hannah, Maddy, and me
 You might be wondering, "Jenny, why are you doing so many 5Ks?" Well, the answer is simple; I have no earthly idea. Actually, I'm doing them because they all seem fun. Each upcoming race has its own unique theme that we just couldn't pass up.

  • The Hot Chocolate Run, supporting the Ronald McDonald House Charities - One word: Chocolate. A lot more words: Ghirardelli is hosting the after party and will be serving hot chocolate and chocolate fondue. I was hooked from the moment Amanda mentioned it after our kickball game last week! (Side note: we totally made it to round 2 of the kickball playoffs... more info to come)
  • The Color Run, supporting the American Heart Association - Jeff brought this to our attention, and I feel like any event that involves people getting hit with wave after wave of color powder is alright by me! Apparently, during the Color Run, you get hit with a new color at every kilometer, only to emerge looking like you've been tie-dyed. Our team name is Color Me Happy; I'm pretty pumped.
    That skirt will be
    perfect for
    St. Patty's Day!
  • St. Patty's Day 5k, supporting our food bank - Maddy, being of extremely Irish descent couldn't say no to the opportunity to kick off the St. Patrick's Day Festivities in town with the annual 5K. The race basically starts the entire party, and afterwards, runners can then enjoy the live music, some free beverages, and watch the parade. I think it's going to be awesome, and at the very least will give me the opportunity to wear the skirt I made for Halloween again (I went as Marvin the Martian).
  • And finally, the Firefly Run, supporting the Children's Medical Center - This was the first 5K (and despite my illusions of running grandeur, the only 5K) I've ever done. Although the event is taking place long before firefly season this year, it's still held at dusk. We're dusting off our light up tutus now (metaphorically), and getting ready to glow the distance (note: "Glow the distance" is not currently the motto for the Firefly run, but I'm thinking about writing a letter to let the organizers know how clever I am)!

Are there any races you plan on participating in? Do you think I can beat my time from my last 5k (which, at 50:52, probably could have been crab-walked faster)? Is anyone else questioning my sanity right now?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Garlic Green Beans with Mushrooms

As someone with the same food preferences as the average 8 year old, I find it very exciting when I finally come across vegetables that don't disgust me. In general, when trying to get in my 3-4 servings of greenery a week (I know, it's supposed to be daily, but I'm just one woman!), I usually stick to carrot sticks, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, or anything else you would find in a child's Barbie lunchbox (yes, because that is where I do my grocery shopping... in school lunchrooms). In fact, with the exception of potatoes and corn (and only corn that is still on the cob and has had nothing weird done to it), there are very few vegetables that I will willingly eat cooked. Raw spinach salad is tolerable, I suppose (but not handsome enough to tempt me), but the smell of cooked spinach is enough to make me gag! I have a similar reaction to cooked broccoli and asparagus (I used to have to leave the room when Kirsten would make dinner in our college apartment because she really liked cooked peas and the smell was overwhelming).

There are, however, a couple dishes of cooked veggies that I've enjoyed over the years. In an effort to create a healthy, affordable lifestyle for myself, I've decided to start trying to prepare some of these vegetable dishes at home. I thought I'd be able to get by by just eating the raw vegetables that I've come to love, but it has become apparent that eating the same unseasoned veggies every day gets old really fast. To this end, I recently made my third attempt at Garlic Green Beans and Mushrooms.

Garlic Green Beans and Mushrooms

A few servings of Green Beans
2-3 cloves of Garlic
Handful or so of Mushrooms (or, if you would prefer, squash)
1 1/2 Teaspoons salt
1/4 Teaspoon Pepper
1 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1) In a skillet or sauce pan, bring 1" of water to boil.
2) Add 1 teaspoon salt and green beans.
3) Boil green beans for 8-10 minutes.
4) Drain green beans and dry pan.
5) With pan back on stove, add olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, mushrooms, and garlic.
6) Sautee mushrooms and garlic until cooked.
7) Add green beans back into pan with another 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir everything together until warm.
8) Serve.

Note: the ingredients and instructions aren't very exact because there is a lot of room for error

My mom started making these green beans a few years ago, and it wasn't long after that I finally tried them and conceded that they were, in fact, delicious. I didn't even mind the mushrooms (or sometimes squash) in the dish, even though I generally dislike them (coating something with garlic can do wonders). I'd tried making these green beans twice before with terrible results (in spite of the extremely large margin for error). Each time, I forgot almost all of the seasonings and used too much oil, thus burning the green beans pretty badly (not to mention that the splattering oil also burned me). This time, when asking my mom for the recipe over the phone yet again, I decided to actually listen and write things down so as to not mess it up. And guess what? I didn't mess it up! I boiled the beans, added the seasonings, sauteed the mushrooms, and mixed it all together just like she said, and it turned out really well!

This opens up so many possibilities!

How do you feel about cooked vegetables? Are there any that make you gag at either the taste or smell of them? Do you really want to learn how to make the chicken shown in the picture? If so, directions can be found here!!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Intermediate/Advanced Beginner Adult Tap Class?

That doesn't seem like a confusing name at all! In fact, I would prefer if we could make it even more all encompassing by adding "Introduction to..." to the title. Regardless, today I found that this class has been added to the weekly schedule for my dance studio!

While I do think that simply calling it "Intermediate" would have served its purposes well, I can only imagine from the title (as well as many discussions in previous classes) that this class is to serve as a stepping stone between the Basics Beginner series (which I completed last month) and the Intermediate/Advanced class (which I attended only one of and realized just how much work I needed). We had discussed the possibility of offering this course with our instructor a few times during our beginner series, seeing as we had all progressed well past your basic shuffle, but not even come close to doing a pull back with any ease, but I was worried that for whatever reason, we wouldn't be able to pull off getting a course like this. I did not like the prospect of me continuing to make a fool of myself in the Intermediate/Advanced class (I was so overwhelmed by everything that I didn't know and/or couldn't keep up with the one time I went that I probably spent more than half of the class standing in the corner biting my nails as I tried to make sense of their footwork), but didn't want to have to give up tap dancing because of it. Then comes the Intermediate/Advanced Beginners Adult Tap class to the rescue!

The new class starts tomorrow evening with a different instructor than the one I've had for the past few months. While I'm bummed that I won't be learning from Carol anymore, as she was super fun and extremely talented, I've heard a lot of good things about our new instructor. At the very least, she'll have her own style that should help make us more diversified dancers.

Wish me luck!