“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Martin Luther King Jr
Good morning peeps , meditation done.
Quote for the Day:
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Martin Luther King Jr
Anyone who knew me as a child and teenager growing up in Hassocks in Sussex knows I was obsessed with sport, but when I went to Roehampton University after a summer of working as a dancer in a nightclub in Spain I turned my back on sport and began studying dance and psychology, but after two weeks despite loving psychology, I decided to switch to drama as I felt I needed to live life a bit more before studying psychology as a degree subject.
In dance we studied the history of dance, which I found fascinating learning about such amazing characters as Diaghilev, Nijinsky and Isadora Duncan etc., their lives sounded amazing so exhilarating, exotic and exciting. We did practical lessons of dance, but it was all contemporary dance and I found it really boring. In the first term I played football, but the standard was poor and I was getting kicked to pieces and not enjoying it, so one Wednesday afternoon I chose to go to Ray Maclaine’s Jazz dance class instead of play football and that was it I was hooked. Ray used to teach a few classes on a Wednesday afternoon at the University and then would go and teach at Pineapple Dance Studios in Convent Garden. One day he asked if I would like to come and take class at Pineapple, I jumped at the chance.
Pineapple was amazing a vibrant mix of loud music, even louder characters, lots of sweat and an abundance of leg warmers. I absolutely loved it and wanted to be part of that family and Pineapple soon became my home. Ray told me I needed to get dancers tights and acquire a dancer’s belt, which is a cross between a jock strap and a G-string. So into the Pineapple shop I went to purchase my first pair of tights, dance belt, jazz shoes and of course the obligatory leg warmers and pineapple T-shirt. I hurried down to the changing room I and excitedly got into my new dancer’s outfit, but something was wrong the dancers belt was agony it was crushing my balls and the thin piece of material going between my legs and up my bum was cutting me in half and making my eyes water, I decided that there was no way dancers could possibly work in this much excruciating pain so I took it off and assumed you must wear your dance belt on the outside of your tights. Suitably adjusted I bounded upstairs thinking I looked resplendent in my new Pineapple dance outfit. When I started warming up I could hear my teacher Ray laughing, he called out to me in his sing songy Trinidadian accent,
“Bwoy wha r ya wearing wha ya doing? Ya ment ta wear it inside ya tights mwan.”
I looked round and caught a sight of my rear view in the studio mirrors, I looked like a Baboon.
“But it hurts it is so uncomfortable” was my meek reply as the class all laughed.
After a few weeks I got used to the discomfort and eventually felt brave enough to wear my dance belt without pants under my tights and even began to feel proud of my ballet dancer’s bulge. I was really improving and used to dance seven hours of Jazz classes straight through on Wednesday’s. Whilst waiting for Ray’s class to start I would go upstairs to the 1st floor and look into Studio 7 and 8 and watch in awe at the mesmerising mass of movement and sound generated in the room by the intimidating figure and loud booming baritone voice of Charles “I love a Babycham” Augins. I watched for months hoping that one day I would be good enough to set foot inside his studio.
After my first year of Uni ended, I was living back home in Hassocks for the summer break. I got the train up to London and went to Pineapple Dance Studios, it was a big day and little did I know it was going to change my life.
I was going to do Charles Augins Jazz Dance Class. Charles Augins had come over from America to be the star in the smash hit Broadway musical, ‘Bubbling Brown Sugar’, that had transferred to the west end, He had trained at the Duke Ellington School of Performing Arts in Washington DC and his fellow classmates included Debbie Allen of ‘Fame’ and Michael Peters, the choreographer of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ routine, he then was selected to go and study ballet in Russia. At the time I stood outside the door of his class nervously waiting to step inside, he was appearing on TV on the Russell Hearty show as Mr A, a fitness advisor offering daily tips like doing calf raises as you did the washing up. He was a 6”3 tall, bald, black American with a booming baritone voice in a word he was ‘Intimidating’ with a capital ‘I’!
Charles Augins Jazz Dance Class at Pineapple was a closed class, which basically meant you were not allowed to do it. Every few months he would do an open class week, when any one could try and do his class, after the week ended, he would let you know if you could continue to do the class when it became closed again. He ran two classes the 3pm – 4:30pm Advanced/Professional Class and the 4:30pm – 6pm Beginners/Intermediate Class, I was trying for the 4:30 Beginners/Intermediate Class.
Charle’s classes were packed with beautiful looking people with amazing fit looking bodies. The guys were predominantly black, very muscular and danced with no tops on, the girls were almost all white, very slim and their outfits left little to the imagination. The music blared out loud from the stereo and was accompanied by NoNou on bongos and his brothers and friends on other percussion instruments. The steps were fast and intricate and in the percussive style of the ‘Thriller’ video. The atmosphere inside the studio was, hot, sweaty and very sexy and I couldn’t wait to be a part of it, I had been waiting for months, looking through the window, dreaming of dancing those steps and now was my chance to shine.
Into the studio, I stepped wearing my favourite maroon and white ‘Shalimar’ T shirt and white tracksuit bottoms (which were actually cricket batting trousers) and maroon leg warmers. My hair was shaven at the sides and in clumpy bleached and red dread locks on top.
You would definitely have noticed me as I walked into Charles Augins Jazz Dance Class for the first time at Pineapple, on top of the look I had huge thighs, built up by years of football and two years of squats and muscle training for strength, speed and power development on a sports course at Chichester College to increase my standing jump and sprinting speed. I remember handing my money to Charles and him saying something to the effect of,
“Bwoy with thighs like that you don’t even have to be able to move”
Again the whole class laughed which was a similar start to my first lesson with Ray Maclaine at Pineapple. That day Charles’ class started the same way it started everyday to the strains of ‘Searching’ by Luther Vandross doing plies, two demi, two grande and releve and hold in 1st position, 2nd position, 4th position and 5th position. Then tundus, digajae’s, building up to grande battements, virtually the same sequence as you would do in a standard ballet class at the barre.
Then we did Isolations, hips, rib cage, shoulders, stretches including pulling your leg back, rolling into splits, swing through to splits on the other leg, then swing through back to splits on the original side, roll back leg down, then repeat on the other side, we did this split sequence twice on each leg. A really tough stomach sequence involving coming up three times with both legs on the ground, then raising one leg, then raising both legs and holding for ages, if anyone put their feet down before Charles’ said so, then the whole class would have to do the stomach exercises again. There was no way you were putting your feet down, no matter how much your legs were quivering, how much your abs were burning and how much your eyes were stinging from the sweat running into them, there was absolutely no way you were giving in.
After the stomachs Charles would tell you to mop up the floor, with hand towels and get rid of any excess clothing i.e. track bottoms, baggy T-shirts anything that was preventing him from seeing your body. From a technical point of view you need to be able to see if people’s knees are fully extended, to create the lines so important to dance, to see if the stomach was pulled in to keep ones balance and centre and to make sure ones back is not arched. From a weight point of view, which is again very important in dance, Charles used to say if you could see your fat in the mirror in the class it would make you do something about it.
His methods were pretty brutal and old school but were definitely effective. If you didn’t have your stomach pulled in and your chest raised he would hit you and sometimes he might have a stick in his hand, this used to be very common amongst ballet teachers, a cane is used to tap out rhythm, tap behind the knee to make you fully extend it or hit you if you are doing something wrong. These methods didn’t half make you concentrate, switch on mentally and focus on improving quickly. Charles could just glance in your direction and your stomach would pull in and your chest lift by inches instantly. Sometimes I would switch off and think Charles was in another area of the studio and then whack, the noise, the sting and the imprint left on my chest, stomach or back would soon make me refocus, the pain and imprint would serve as a reminder not to forget.
People are always commenting on my posture and the postures of dancers in general, these are the methods carried out day after day, year after year that have ingrained that posture into dancer’s bodies and minds. I first went into Charles class over thirty years ago and haven’t done his class in over twenty years, but I could still do the entire class from memory and remember the songs such as ‘Maniac’ by the Pointer Sisters, as if I had taken the class yesterday.
After we had mopped up the sweat on the floor, it was time for my favourite bit of the class, across the floor on a diagonal two by two. This was where you could show off your technical ability, the practice and repetition would be rewarded with excellence, you could see how much you were Improving everyday and it felt good when you were on top of your game and everyone was watching you.
We would begin with travelling in 2nd position with your arms out straight and knees bent to 90 degrees, stomach in, chest up and head held up high as if looking into the gods from stage. You were aiming for flat turn out and a deep plié, from here you would add a jump in the air in the same position on the 3rd beat trying to gain maximum height in the jump and hang in the air, this quality brought to prominence by the likes of Nureyev and Baryshnikov, was something I found the years of football, sprinting and developing my standing jump meant that I had great elevation and could achieve this hang in the air and I would love to hold that 2nd position in the air for as long as I possibly could. Then you would jump clap your hands above your head and beat your legs (Crossing one leg in front of the other which makes the calves beat together, then change, the more beats achieved in the time you have in the music the better as in entrechat’s in ballet) again I loved jumping as high as I could and beating my legs as many times as possible in the space in the music and all the time making it look nonchalantly easy, this is the beauty of dance, and the thrill I would get from the constant challenge of striving to be the best, in class, in school, in the company, in the country, in the world. Then you would do turns, spins, and pirouettes, how many can you do in the time the music gives you.
I mention the time the music allows you to perform a movement, the beauty of dancing to live music, was brought to prominence by the accompaniment of NouNo and his percussion, he would watch and hold the beat after the 3 allowing the dancer to put in more turns or jumping higher before returning to the original tempo, accentuating the dynamic movement with a flourishing accent. Then we would do kicks or grande battement, keeping your back straight, your stomach in, your chest up, your arms out straight, nothing moving, everything as still as possible, kicking up your legs, in front of you, over your head, trying to make your thigh, hit your forehead, or your ear if you are kicking to the side. Watch my good friend Louis Spence of Pineapple and the way he whacks his legs up around his ears, think how many times, hours, years he has practiced to be able to do that with a big grin on his face and Jazz hands, at the ripe old age of 47. Dancing is extremely hard work, but it gives you such a thrill, a buzz, you feel alive.
Next wound be the prances, where you would move like a horse doing dressage. Then after three you would add a jump trying to keep your legs and body as straight as possible as you would jump as high as possible in the time the music gave you. This would keep you in good stead for the next exercise which involved jumping with a turn or tour en lair. I loved tour en lair and could do double tour en lair on both sides and one of my tricks was to be able to do tour en lair and land in splits and switch to splits on the other leg and slide back up to my feet, this trick usually got me the job I was auditioning for, because I never saw anyone else in my era that could do it.
I learnt this trick off the Nicholas Brothers who do a fabulous number in the 1940’’s black and white classic musical ‘Stormy Weather’ which features Cab Calloway, Lena Horne Bill ‘Bojangle’s’ Robinson and a host of other Black stars, it is an amazing film and an important part of Black musical history and the tap dancing and artistry on show puts Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly to shame, but Fred and Gene knew this and did acclaim these artists who because of the colour of their skin did not receive the widespread acknowledgement their talent deserved.
After the floor work was completed then you would learn the routine, this is the final and most important part of the class, this is where you learn to actually dance. The rest of the class teaches you to increase your strength, fitness, flexibility and technique, which in turn improve your ability to dance. The routine is your opportunity to show you can actually dance. Charles used to say to me that I had that rare ability that even when I was doing something wrong it looked like I was doing it right. In dance you can develop this ability, we call it ‘wrong un strong’, you have to do your moves with such conviction that even when you are wrong and everybody else is doing it right, you are doing your moves so confidently the audience think everybody else is doing the routine wrong and you are doing it right. The audience do not know what the routine is or the order of the steps, only the choreographer knows this and the dancers on stage, so if you go wrong as a performer you should never show it, in your face, body or actions, you must carry on as if nothing happened and if you do it well the audience will never know and if you do it really well the other dancers and choreographer won’t know.
There were a few things I was proud of through out my career, I never missed a performance, through illness or injury and I never fell over on stage. I made many mistakes, but I am pretty sure the audience never noticed.
When teaching a routine Charles would count in the normal time age fashion of dance from 1 to 8. Musicians count predominantly in 4’s or bars, whilst dancers count in 8’s. 1 count of 8 for a dancer is two bars for musicians i.e. two sets of four. Many Choreographer’s add the and count as in 1 and 2 and 3 and putting steps on the and as well as the number. Charles added “and a’s” and “and a a’s“ plus percussive sounds and noises such as “bam”, “bap” and something he called the “vop” which would always be a strong accent accompanied by a dynamic move and hold, he would constantly use the analogy of every dance step being a picture or photo and this helps you make every move exact.
This style of percussive counting, beats and words can be seen in ‘The making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video’ when choreographer Michael Peters is rehearsing with Michael and the dancers, as `I mentioned earlier Charles and Michael studied at the same school. When Charles would get up out of his chair to show us how to do it properly, it involved an elaborate sequence of putting his cigarette down, moving his tall glass of vodka and grapefruit (as I said he was ‘old school’), pulling his shirt down and standing up to his full height, he was very tall, slim, but had developed a belly from the vodka. When he danced he really elongated his limbs and held each step or pose for as long as possible before moving to the next move, hitting every accent and no matter how quick the tempo of the music he always seemed to have time and never seemed to be rushed, this is something all the great movers have whether it is dance or sport.
They often say it about footballers “he has time on the ball, whilst all other’s around him are rushing” think Zinedine Zidane and Paul Scholes. In boxing Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard had that ability to see punches coming and move out the way by just watching a punch miss their faces by inches as they swayed away. In cricket Viv Richards never wore a helmet despite facing the fastest bowlers in the history of the game, he always seemed to have so much time and stamped his authority on the bowlers whist nonchalantly chewing on his gum and leaning on his bat as if he didn’t have a care in the world. All these great sportsmen have a picture in their head of what they are going to do before they actually do it. It is the same in dance, you have to know your next move before it comes; otherwise you will be behind the music.
Charles would split the class for the routine section into boys and girls, this is normal in dancing as often the girls and boys will have different moves or do the same moves in a different direction. The boys and girls would be split into the 1st or 2nd group. The 1st group of girls would always go first, I am not sure if this was because of the old adage of ‘ladies first’ or because girls usually pick up routines quicker than boys mainly because they have been dancing longer than boys. If you were in the 1st group and you did not know the routine or danced the routine badly you would suffer the shame of being loudly demoted by Charles to a lower group. At the same time if Charles promoted you this was a great feeling. I started in the 3rd group of boys and really struggled to pick up the steps quickly enough to be able to perform properly when it was my groups turn. At the end of the week I was sure Charles was going to say I wasn’t good enough to continue in his closed class, but he said,
“Bwoy you can stay, I don’t know what it is, but even when you are wrong, it looks right, and it’s not just because you got a cute face and big thighs, but you have to come every day.”
I was ecstatic but gutted at the same time, I was living near Brighton in Hassocks which is 44 miles from London, which was an hour on the train and then you had the tube fare to Covent Garden and then the cost of class and I was a student. I told Charles that I could only come three times a week, because of living in Brighton. He told me this was ok because of the distance I had to travel he would make an exception, but I would have to do extra practice and learn the routine off someone else from the class on the days I missed. After the first week, I decided this wasn’t an option, I had to do class everyday, I had a cleaning job at Oxfam at the weekend and I began to get bits of modelling work and even did my first pop video for Barry Gibb of the Bee Gee’s.
Then Charles told me I needed to do Ballet, so I took Maggie Paterson’s Elementary class at 3pm to 4pm and then would practice Charles routine and stretch before taking his 4:30 class, I did this for the whole of the summer vacation, I soon made my way up from the 3rd group to the 1st group. Charles told me if I wanted to be a professional dancer and by now I did, then I needed to go to dance school. It was at this time that I saw Dance Theatre of Harlem perform for the first time. This was another life changing moment for me. I saw Dance Theatre of Harlem perform Stravinsky’s Firebird at the London Coliseum, the girls were beautiful and looked like models and the guys looked and danced like men. I decided there and then that I wanted to be a ballet dancer and I wanted to join Dance Theatre of Harlem.
I took Charles advice and auditioned for the Urdang Academy of Ballet and Performing Arts, which was based in Covent Garden and was about fifty meters from Pineapple. Even though I had only being doing ballet for four weeks, somehow I managed to get accepted. I was left some money by an Auntie and this coupled with the generosity of my grandma solved the initial problem of my school fees. I left University, but to get a grant for a performance school from West Sussex County Council, I had to audition in front of a central board of assessors. West Sussex County Council only gave out two grants a year, even though there were hundreds of applicants. The board of assessors sat behind a table and like the classic scene from the film ‘Flashdance’ I had to perform a solo to three stuffy looking people sat behind a desk, to earn my grant. I performed my solo and duly received my grant the other grant winner was a girl that was at the Royal Ballet School, I counted my blessings and began life as a ballet student.
And now thirty years later I am about to go to Morocco and teach yoga on a retreat in just under three weeks and one of my guests will be Maggie Paterson who taught me my first ever ballet class at Pineapple, who still teachers there today having just celebrated thirty five years of teaching at Pineapple on Valentine’s Day.
Little did I know about the incredible journey I would embark on literally dancing my way around the world that began taking that first step into Charles Augins dance class in Pineapple and then placing my hand for the first time on the barre in Maggie Patterson’s ballet class.
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
– Martin Luther King Jr
Why not take your first step and come on my yoga retreat in Morocco from Saturday March 18th to 25th and join me at the Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort the new five-star luxury destination in El Jadida Morocco
The location is amazing.
It is a truly unique coastal destination resort, less than an hour drive south of Casablanca and set in a region abounding in contrasts that has preserved all its authenticity.
Rooms and suites overlook the lagoon, the golf course, the swimming pool and the patio, plunging down to the sea from the terraces and offering a 180-degree view over the Atlantic Ocean.
The view will take your breath away.
So if you would like to learn more about yoga and lose your fear of failure, come and join me for some fun in the sun at a beautiful, exotic location in Morocco, then Click Here
This really is the trip and chance of a lifetime.
But hurry there is less than three weeks left.
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Have a wonderful Wednesday peeps
May all your dreams come true.
Breathe, Believe and Achieve
Be Happy, Healthy and Wise
Keep on Winning, Smiling and Living the Dream
Keep on Winning Smiling and Living the Dream