Come Tap With Me
Instructional video tapes from the great Gene Nelson! One night I had a chance to meet Rusty Frank, author of the book, TAP! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories 1900-1955. I told her that my favorite dancing movie star is Gene Nelson. Rusty reaches for the phone, calls Gene Nelson and introduces me. In seconds I found myself talking with my all-time favorite dancer. A few weeks later I sent Gene a video tape form Japan of a local musical production, focused on Fred Astaire. For Gene, this was quite an unusual show to see, an all Japanese production about a famous American dancer. He enjoyed it very much, I think, and later on Gene Nelson sent me a set of his own instructional video series as a thank you gift.
There are two cassettes. The first one has two sections: Tap 1, "On Your Toes" (37min.) is an introduction to tap dancing for beginners. Gene begins with simple steps, including syncopation rhythm, flap, which Gene calls brush step, shim sham, shuffle, buffalo waltz, clog and the old soft shoe routine. Tap 2, "Moving Right Along" (35min.) starts with double shuffle, hop shuffle, time step, time step break, double time step, triple time step, shim sham break, soft shoe hard shoe, flat foot time step, the break, flat foot triple, cramp roll, 4 count cramp roll, 5 count cramp roll, alternating 5 count cramp roll, 6 count cramp roll, cramp roll time step, paradiddle (usually called "paddle and roll"), pullbacks and finally brush back heel step. Then he puts all these steps together to make a little routine for the tune, Cute.
The second tape is really a treat for any Gene Nelson fan. He teaches us two complete routines. Tap 3, "Rhythm Ride" (50mins) is a complete soft shoe routine. More complicated than a typical soft shoe, it includes a lot of great steps, Gene Nelson style; good turns, slides and leans. It is a wonderful routine to learn. In Tap 4, "Let It All Hang Out" (57mins) Gene choreographs a nice swing number using the tune "Just You Just Me". This routine is also filled with good steps in the Gene Nelson style.
Both tapes open with clips showing Gene's appearances on the television program "Shower of Stars" in 1954.. He dances with a little girl and sings a song "All You Gotta Do Is Try". It's a treat! During the instructional parts, students are in the studio with Gene, but act very naturally. Sometimes they ask Gene questions and he breaks down the steps for them or some students ask him to change the line. It is unusual to show this kind of moment in an instructional video. It's almost like you are in a real class and not shooting for a video. Gene's explanations are very clear but he never treats the students or the viewers like they are dumb, as if often the case in instructional videos. Other characteristics of the video are also quite good. The camera's angle is changed often to help keep the viewers interested and when new steps are introduced, the camera shows Gene's feet from both front and back so you can pick up the steps easily. Now, each time camera is moved, the sound quality changes too, but if you can get passed this little oddity, then nothing is wrong with these wonderful videos.
There are at least two kinds of tap, one which concentrates on rhythm without much body movement, and another with more body movement and less tap technique, more like Broadway theatre tap. Gene Nelson comes down in the middle. His choreography has a lot of body movement. Gene almost never stays in one position. But his steps are very rhythmical and interesting, never dull like theatre tap so often is. This is just a wonderful set of video tapes where you can learn great style from a tap dancer of golden age!
Photos displayed here from the video series Come Tap with Me are presented with the kind permission of the photographer, Douglas M. Nelson, Gene's son. Please visit his website at dmnphoto.com
— Shinichi Matsumoto