What Is A Time Step Without A Shuffle Anyway?


I love dancing. I have loved dancing since I was a tiny little girl. I love watching it, I love doing it, I love everything about it. I used to take all kinds of dance classes, ballet, tap, modern, jazz, national but my favourite dance style by far is tap. Tap dancing makes my heart happy and I love few things more than putting my tap shoes on and doing a cheeky little cramp (crab) roll.


I have been tapping since the age of 6 so we are talking 36 years or so of shuffle ball changes and tap springs coming out of my little trotters. I have had many a teacher over the years, but no tap teacher was as amazing as the fab Jill Lawes.


I found Jill when I was looking for an adult class and thought I would try the Linda Butler School of Dance which was one of the only old school dance schools around here that I had not already attended. That makes me sound like I got expelled from the others or something. I didn’t, I’m not that cool.


When I met Jill, I immediately loved her as I’m sure everyone who met her did. She was one of those people who was beautiful on the inside and the outside, she had good in her bones. She didn’t just smile, she literally beamed. That sounds a bit over the top but it’s true. She was like sunshine and bubbles and sparkles personified.


I hadn’t tapped for a few years previous to the classes starting so I was super nervous but Jill was so kind as were the other girls in the class… I say girls, we ranged in age from 20s to 60s but we were all girls at heart. Tap is like riding a bike, once you know how to do it you never forget. Having said, if someone gave me a bike to ride now after however many years it has been since I last rode a bike, it would end really badly for everyone involved so maybe that is a poor analogy. Anyway, once you have the tap in you, it is forever so within minutes I was back in my tap shoe laden saddle and I've never looked back.


Our tap class was a real mixture of women that you would never find all in the same place otherwise. All manner of ages, sizes, shapes, and backgrounds but with one common love… tap dancing and it was Jill that helped to bring us all together. It was just brilliant.

Over the years us girls in the class went through all kinds of ups and downs; pregnancy (including morning sickness dashes to the toilet during class), babies, changes in hair colour, new tap shoes (not for me, I’m still wearing the ones I had when I was 15), illness, separations, job losses, new jobs, grandchildren, more kitten litters than you can imagine, Dance Days (the best days of the year), bereavements and worst of all Jill’s illness and her passing away long before her time. Jill smiled through it all and kept us smiling through it all. I remember being told as a child in dancing exams and shows to just keep smiling even if I messed up a dance or forgot the steps. If you keep smiling people are less likely to notice your feet going wrong. I think that’s what Jill did, the dancer in her just kept smiling through everything. I am not actually particularly good at taking that advice. If I go wrong somewhere, I am more likely to be dramatic and go “URGHHHH MESSED IT RIGHT UP!” making sure I draw maximum attention to it.


Through that class I made some fab (as Jill would say) friends, in particular The Good End and The Naughty End. The Naughty End comprised of The Gumbrell Sisters, Amazing Alice and sometimes Jill’s Daughter (who also has a beautiful smiley face like her mum and 18 million children unlike her mum who just had the standard 2). The Good End was ELR (off of the year below at Kendrick), me and Rassell Dazzle… Just to be clear we were called good because we were well behaved, it wasn’t related to talent levels (on my part anyway). We always stood in the same spot for class and I think, even though it’s been a few years since our last class, we would still stand in the same spots. I need to have Rassell on my left and ELR on my right or it won’t work. I wonder whether my day to day life would go better with Rassell on my left and ELR on my right at all times? Maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong. I feel it would, although we might look like some kind of weird girl band. Anyway, I digress...


Now for the technical bit you have all been waiting for… What is a time step, what is a shuffle and what is a time step without a shuffle exactly?

A time step is basically a series of steps usually starting on the count of 8 and with the basic rhythm 8&12&3&… As I’m typing this I’m wondering whether it makes sense written down to lesser non tap dancing mortals? It’s a thing, like tap, that you need to hear really. The steps of a single time step are: shuffle hop, step, tap step, step. The Time Step is so named because it was traditionally used by tappers to set the tempo of their routine in the Vaudeville days. Dancers travelled around theatres performing with different orchestras so would need a time step to help the orchestra play to the right tempo for their routine. Steps can be added to this basic combo to make a double, triple, double triple, stamp pick up, wing, roll and many other types of time step. Every tapper (probably) loves time steps because once you’ve got it you can just do them over and over, they look impressive as a series of steps and they are so versatile.


In each tap class we would do time steps, in fact a tap class isn’t a tap class without time steps. Jill would either give us a series of different types to do as a little routine which we would do with increasing pace. One day, completely out of the blue Jill behaved like an absolute maniac and did something that has clearly scarred me for life… She told us to do our little time step routine WITHOUT THE SHUFFLES. It’s the dance equivalent of a bed without a mattress, me without DMs, tea without milk, Ant without Dec, it’s just plain wrong. It’s taking something I love and making it uncomfortable. After that day, when she felt like really challenging us she would make us do time steps without the shuffles, when she wasn’t moving tacits of course. For a wonderful woman she had an evil streak when it came to time steps!


So, when I was thinking about what to call my self-indulgent thingamibobber, I was talking to my brother who came up with some frankly rubbish suggestions (Giblets and Coffee anyone?). I said I might talk about running (dammit, thought I’d get all the way through without mentioning running) and I might use Miss Gumbrell’s ‘Tap Springs Are An Option’. Then it suddenly came to me… Doing this is doing something I love doing (writing) combined with sheer terror of publishing it online for the world to see and judge. Time Steps Without Shuffles are similar. I love time steps but take the shuffles out and they become terrifying and hard. I can do them, but it feels weird. A bit like this.


I often think of Jill and I think the world is a much duller, less sunny place without her. We were all incredibly lucky to have her in our lives and miss her terribly but her passing away did give us the opportunity to tap dance to Barry Manilow in a church at a funeral! Not something I ever thought I would do. I think she would have been really supportive of me doing this self-indulgent thingamibobber (need to think of a snappier name) and she would have absolutely thought the name I chose is FAB, just like she was.

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