I am sure like me, there have been times when you have wondered what difference might have been made to your life, if your younger self had been gifted with the experience and knowledge you have accumulated over the years.
I invited several friends from the writing community to share their thoughts on this subject which I am sure you will enjoy as much as I did.
Today jazz singer and composer, and permanent contributor to Smorgasbord, William Price King, explores dancing and its benefits, in particular tap dancing which he wishes his younger self would have taken more advantage of.
I wish I knew then what I know now by William Price King
As a performing artist I have always admired dancers. Their professionalism is unparalleled, and they are forever striving for excellence. In New York I had the pleasure of working with a few choreographers who encouraged me to take dance classes in my search for excellence on the stage. So, I signed up for classes at the Alvin Ailey Dance School
Apparently, I got off to a late start. Back in the 70’s, singers and actors were expected to “move well on stage”, they didn’t necessarily have to move like dancers, but it would have been to their advantage if they had some semblance of dance technique, especially in musical theater. So, after quite a few classes and lots of hard work, I accepted the reality that dancing was not for me, it was not in my DNA.
As a child I was marveled by the dancing skills of the Nicholas Brothers, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and Fred Astaire, all of whom were elegant iconic tap dancers. While living in New York, I saw every Broadway show that featured tap dancing. If I had had the talent to dance I think I would have chosen tap. Tap is a style of dance which requires precise and rapid footwork, and special dance shoes with metal plates screwed into the shoe. When you tap dance, the metal clangs on the floor and makes a sound that’s equivalent to a drum, which creates a beat.
I wish I knew then what I know now about the benefits you get from tap dancing: that tap strengthens your balance and posture, and has long-term advantages for your health; that tap also increases the flexibility in your hips, knees, and ankles. Had I known that way back then, and had been able to do it, I would probably have had less back pain, and the risks of age-related falls, which are more prevalent now at my age, might have been reduced. Had I taken tap classes, the exercises would have loosened my ankles to help prevent ankle sprains and sharpened my coordination. If I didn’t need that sort of help then, I certainly need it now, with all of the mountain climbing I try to do.
When I was in my late 20’s I did a bit of weight lifting at the gym to stay in shape and keep my weight down for the stage. Little did I know then that tap dancing was considered a weight-bearing sport, with the body weight being the load. Had I known that, and had I given myself the opportunity, that would have been a fun alternative to the ennui of lifting weights.
I never thought of tap as being aerobic, and had no idea that the movements from tap dancing could elevate the heart rate. I was also unaware that tap was considered a good cardiovascular exercise and that it was effective in lowering blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels. But at that time my focus was on performing. I was not at all preoccupied by health issues.
I remember hearing tap dancers say in interviews that the rhythmic aspects of tap were excellent for the brain, and could increase your cognitive abilities. But I never thought that concerned me. If I had trained as a tap dancer I could have developed communication between my brain, legs, and feet. Learning and memorizing dance patterns would have probably been a better mental workout for me than just memorizing lyrics, which were easy to do with the help of the melody. But I didn’t think of that then.
I also heard that dancing produces positive psychological effects and relieves some of the physiological symptoms of depression, as well as the negative impacts of stress. I guess one could assume that dancing is a natural anti-depressant. Why not? With tap, instead of punching that proverbial punching bag when you’re upset about something, you could strike the floor instead with your feet, create a few steps, and let your creativity alleviate that stress. That would have been a fun way for me to release tension. I wish I knew that then.
But I guess I really can’t complain. I was gifted with the art of singing and was able to make a career out of it without having to dance. I enjoyed being on the stage, and passing the art of singing on to others. If I had to do it all over again I would not hesitate. I would just try to find a little space for tap, just for the fun of it, to stay in shape. However, I’m trying to make up for it now by taking Gyrotonics and Pilates classes, which, at my age is not so bad.
The origins of tap dance can be traced back to the days of slave trade in America when slaves were forbidden by the masters to communicate through their traditional drums because they were afraid that the communicative power of drums could be used for rebellion. Consequently, they transferred their rhythmic messages to their feet. In the mid-19th century, their footwork merged with the jigs and clog dances of Irish and English immigrants, and tap dance was born. It became popular in 1921 in New York City, with “Shuffle Along”, an all-black jazz tap musical starring Josephine Baker, and had its heyday in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. Thanks to Avery O Williams
©William Price King 2022
My thanks to William for sharing this wonderful look back at tap dancing and also exploring all the amazing benefits of this form of entertainment and exercise. I know he would love to hear from you..
William Price King is an American jazz singer, crooner, and composer.
His interest in music began at an early age when he studied piano and clarinet in high school. At Morehouse College in Atlanta where he grew up, he sang in the Glee Club and studied classical music. After graduation he went off to the Yale School of Music where he earned a Masters degree. From there he journeyed to New York where he created a jazz trio ‘Au Naturel’ which performed in some of the hottest venues in Manhattan including gigs on Broadway and the famous ‘Rainbow Room.’ These gigs opened doors for performances in Montreal and a European tour.
While touring Europe he met a lovely French lady, Jeanne Maïstre, who, a year later became his wife. King left the group ‘Au Naturel’ and settled in the south of France where he started a new life on the French Riviera, opening his own music school – the “Price King Ecole Internationale de Chant.” He has had the pleasure over the years of seeing many of his students excel as singers on a professional level, and some going on to become national celebrities. He continues to coach young singers today, in his spare time.
Thanks very much for joining us today and it would be great if you could share William’s response to the prompt… thanks Sally.