From cautious shuffle to full Rain dance

VIDEO Do you know your ball tap from your shuffle? Or your brush from your heel drop? Currently preparing for their latest show Singin' in the Rain, the dancers of the Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society are already up to speed.

DO you know your ball tap from your shuffle? Or your brush from your heel drop?

Currently preparing for their latest show Singin' in the Rain, the dancers of the Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society are already up to speed. JAMES MARSTON went along to a rehearsal to find out more.

“AND shuffle and hop and drop and shuffle.”

It might not mean much to you and me but to the dancers of the Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society it's a set of instructions from the language of tap.

Under the eye of choreographer David Hockley the group's 16 or so dancers are being put through their paces.

Rehearsal started dead on 7.30pm and there's no time for hanging around.

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David said: “We open on April 16 and everything has got to be ready by then. There's a lot of dancing in this show.”

David hasn't really got time to talk.

For the first 20 minutes of the rehearsal the dancers are recapping what they learned the night before for a number called Broadway Rhythm.

At 7.50pm they switch to the second part of the song and David begins to arrange the group in a triangle formation in the middle of the “stage” - in fact a rehearsal room at the Ipswich Labour Club in Silent street.

As he choreographs the new section, the 41-year-old is trying to picture how it will look when transported on to the real stage at Ipswich's Regent theatre.

He said: “You just can't make it up as you go along. These are very fast dances and they last quite some time and if I wasn't prepared it wouldn't be fair on those on stage on the night, nowadays the audiences expect really high quality performances and that's what we are going to give them.”

Working from his pad of A4 notes, David has listened to the music, worked out the steps, made sure it fits together and thought about everyone's movements across the floor throughout the number.

He added: “It's all plotted out and each rehearsal I try to recap what we have done and set new stuff.”

As he demonstrates what he wants the group are quick to react.

To the layman it looks impossibly difficult but as with everything practice makes perfect.

David said: “I'm looking to build a team that provides a polished performance. I want the dancers to enjoy themselves as well as if they are enjoying it the audience will too.”

A few moments later and the latest section is put to music - it seems the group have picked up the steps effortlessly.

David, a former backing dancer for the likes of Danni Minogue and La Toya Jackson, has been a choreographer on the Ipswich and Felixstowe amateur theatre circuit for nearly 20 years.

He said: “Some of the dancers have a professional background, others have picked it up through previous shows. They are quite a talented group though and they make something that is quite tricky look quite easy.”

By 9pm it's time for a break and a drink.

David uses the time to answer questions, recap steps with smaller groups and prepare for the second half of the rehearsal.

He said: “I get a huge amount of pleasure from seeing the audience and cast enjoying what I have choreographed. It's amazing to see it when it all goes right on the stage on opening night.

“It's a real buzz for me. It should be fun and when it is I am satisfied with what I have done.”

The challenge with tap, however, is getting everybody in unison.

David, who works as a businessman by day, added: “Getting the rhythm right is crucial. The steps have to fit the music and the dancers have to be in time with the music and each other.

“Dancing with tap shoes is like dancing with a percussion instrument on your feet. They are really quite loud and not only can you see when the dancers are out of time you can hear it as well. It has to be precise.”

It's just a short break and after 15 minutes the dancers are back on the floor.

David utters the immortal theatre lines “from the top” and the dancers take up their starting positions.

The music starts and the dance gets going. Above the noise of shoes and the piano, David is shouting instructions, to help the dancers remember what is coming next as well as giving tips on positioning and posture.

Three, maybe four times they dance the whole routine, no wonder they are out of breath.

For the last 15 minutes David goes over some previous numbers he has already set to keep the dances fresh in the mind.

He said: “Practice really does make perfect and doing the dances over and over mean they are not forgotten. The body builds up a muscle memory about what is coming next so that by the end of the rehearsal period they will not need to think so hard about the steps. It will hopefully be second nature by then.”

Out with the props - in this show they are using some very large ostrich feather fans - and the dancers are running around the floor once again.

By 10pm everyone has been concentrating for nearly two and a half hours as well as putting their bodies through a physically demanding form of exercise.

The rehearsal draws to a close, it's over, until next week.

Do you love to dance? Are you a fan of IODS? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

The author and photographer are both members of the Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society.

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Name: Martyn Herbert

Age: 33

Of: Pinecroft Road, Ipswich

Occupation: Theatre worker

“I trained as a performer from the age of six and I had a professional dancing career for about ten years. I haven't danced for a while and I thought this show would be a good way to get back into it.

“Dancing is something I have always enjoyed. I like the buzz on stage and the pleasure of entertaining people.”

Name: Laura Dickons

Age: 25

Of: Bell Lane, Kesgrave

Occupation: Dance teacher

“I was a dancer professionally before I started teaching. I've been lucky enough to turn my hobby into my career. I wanted to get into something locally and I like the exercise as well. Tap isn't my strongest dance but I did have some training in it which helps. It is a bit more interesting for the audience as you are making a noise with your feet.”

Name: Tracy Mudd

Age: 32

Of: Congreve Road, Ipswich

Occupation: Insurance broker

“I enjoy singing and I like the show and the dancing keeps me fit. I'm not a trained dancer so it can be a difficult to keep up and it might take me a bit longer but I know that by the time the show opens I'll get it right. I have to work that bit harder but I like the challenge.

“I get more nervous about dancing than singing, especially when my mum is in the audience.”

Name: Karen Wilding

Age: 37

Of: Bailey Avenue, Ipswich

Occupation: Administrator and mum of two

“I love singing and dancing. The last time the society did Singin' In the Rain I had just had my first child and couldn't do the show so I wanted to do it this time.

“Dancing keeps you fit and it's also a nice way to meet people and be social. There are a lot of steps in a short space of time. We will practice until we get it right.”

Name: Katy Pointer

Age: 31

Of: York Road, Felixstowe

Occupation: Marketing co-ordinator

“I love the rhythm and dancing makes you feel good. It's a great way of keeping fit. I started having lessons when I was about six but I am not professionally trained.

“The hardest part will be getting the tapping and the steps in time. I'm always nervous before the curtain goes up. I get an adrenalin rush, but it's good.”

Name: Cindy Garwood

Age: 25

Of: Dryden Road, Ipswich

Occupation: Saleswoman

“I love dancing and I like the buzz it gives me and being on stage. I've been dancing since I was three and I've always loved it. It's fast and intricate and it's quite challenging. We have to get it right at the same time.

“The cramp rolls are the hardest where you go from toe to toe to heel to heel all in one beat. You really have to concentrate but it means you are thinking about something else at the end of the day and it's keeping you fit.”

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Packed with light and laughter, great effects and unforgettable numbers including “Good Morning”, “Make 'em Laugh”, “Broadway Melody” and the immortal “Singing in the Rain”, this enduring and endearing musical will appeal to the whole family.

The show runs from April 16 to April 19 at Ipswich's Regent Theatre. Tickets are £14 and are available from the box office on 01473 433100.

The budget for the 1952 film starring Gene Kelly was $2,540,800