Sunday, May 29, 2016

Cubanising Baladas

Following up from the latest bolero sessions at Solares, one of the participants, an avid YouTuber, wanting to get his ear in, directed me to the below:



asking if they were boleros. I responded saying they were 'baladas' ('ballads'), not boleros, because they lacked African-derived rhythmic phrasing. The question he asked, and the examples he gave, told me an immense amount about how Europeans might listen to Afro-Caribbean music. It got me thinking as to how I could develop the rhythmic perception of someone versed in the European aesthetic to one who was just as sensitive to the African aesthetic.

Then it struck me to use these songs themselves. I could offer for them to learn how to play the bolero tumbao on congas, and the martillo rhythm on bongó, and then play them alongside these tracks, thus 'Cubanising' them from baladas into boleros!

It would develop the perception of African rhythm as anticipating that of European AND it would open the door to the subtle nuances of rhythmic phrasing, which is a sensitivity transferable to dancing!

I'm sensing the start of another research project.

Loo Yen Yeo

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Return to the Bolero and on to the Promised Land

Last Tuesday, solares made a return to the bolero after a hiatus of two years. The workshop was small: comprised equally of those whom had done it before, and those for whom it would be their first experience of it, so the time was right.

The impetus behind this was the torneo content of the previous few weeks. It had reached that stage where 'drivers' needed to improve their:
  • visualisation of line of dance
  • implementation of line of dance
  • silence in the frame (reducing the transmission of movement vibration to the torneo partner)
  • sensitivity to the torneo partner's vertical axis of rotation
Torneo partners needed to develop their:
  • foot-bearing - the pivoting contact point on the floor
  • core strength
  • sensitivity to the driving partner's lead, to distinguish between orbital and axial lead information
Both sides needed the rhythmic dance space to gain a gentler touch to their musicality. All these, I began to see progress in. However the most wonderful thing, for me as educator, was the validation of the exercise begun two years ago. It took the experienced dancers just one song to get back in the flow of things, a telling sign that naturalisation had been achieved. Moreover they all danced displaying a strong connection with the music, something they happily (and with some surprise) admitted to.

This opens the way to the promised land of articulation and synthesis - firstly in the use of space, and afterwards in the interpretation of rhythm. I'm also intrigued as to what extent the experienced dancers might catalyse the development those new to the genre.

Loo Yen Yeo

Saturday, May 14, 2016

SalsaDiary's Revival

I'd wondered whether this day would arrive. Would I ever feel it necessary to post in salsadiary? To articulate thoughts on dance? Or had things moved on, and there no longer be any need to do so?

The intervening two years have been eventful; all the more reason to make the time to reflect - call it a part of Continuous Professional Development (CPD). And now that there's time to draw breath, the chance to write in this way is gladly taken, even as I sit here in the marvellous Diamond amongst university students preparing for their final exams. There's plenty to say. In the intervening space where this blog has been silent, there's been:
  • The birth of Parranda
    A latin dance club night with friends Esref and Steve
  • A return to regular dance instruction
    Transferable skills-based workshops on Caribbean dance
  • Loads of concerts and venues visited
    Supporting live music and fellow promoters (to be reviewed)
  • Fulfillment of a writing commission
    An entry for the international volume of the Encyclopaedia of Popular Music of the World (EPMOW)
  • Leading-edge dance research
    Following on from my presentation at the CID-UNESCO 32nd World Congress on Dance Research, answering the question "Can the gender and cultural bias inherent in salsa's social dance instruction be eliminated, and its effects counterbalanced?"
  • Plenty of dance literature
    Encountered during the course of the EPMOW commission (to be reviewed)
  • Tons of music
    Acquired to support my return behind the decks for Parranda (to be reviewed)
Some of these will be back-filled to the relevant date, and will have a more retrospective feel to their composition. This is to be expected. The rest will flow a natural course. Here goes...

Loo

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Genres, International - The End of the Beginning.

Two years ago, I accepted a commission to write an entry for the international volume of Bloomsbury Academic's Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World (EPMOW). I finally submitted the first draft earlier today.

Two years might seem a long time, and most instances it is. But what experience I have, in coming into contact with the process of producing a print encyclopaedia, it isn't that long at all. It's a task of Herculean levels: commissioning, chasing, reading, reviewing, re-drafting, and most of all it can't be sent for publication until everything, and I mean everything, is in.

This is my second commission for the publication. Curiously my first commission was for this, the international volume. But having completed it, I was asked if I'd be happy to move it to the 'EPMOW Genres: Caribbean and Latin America' volume. Flattered to be recognised as a cultural insider, I said "yes". This left an unfulfilled entry in the 'International' volume, which once again I accepted.

What I failed to appreciate was how much more of a challenge it would prove to be.
  1. The international entry had to offer a complementary voice
    There were already two entries on salsa: one in the North American volume by Chris Washburne, and the other, mine, in the Caribbean and South American one.
  2. Most research was Latino-centric
    The vast proportion of publications in the field were by researchers in North America, some of whom were of Latin American extraction, which were re-workings of their postgraduate theses.
  3. International salsa is less explored
    The practice of salsa in the international field differs significantly to that in Latin American, and is an area of research which is currently under-developed.
My original approach proved too Latino-centric, based on tools in ethnomusicology and sociology developed for analysis in those communities. They failed adequately to explain what I and my peer researchers have observed in the international scene. I ditched five attempts at structure, each taking weeks of effort, until finally arriving at one which tells the story of how salsa is changing as it spreads across the international field. Two of the stand-out references, which I will review later, were highly informative: one on dance subcultures; and the other describing the much-contested development of the salsa dance milieu out of son, mambo and Latin hustle. Both of these I will review later.

I don't know how this will be received. The approach I took is novel (it had to be) based on the difference in context, and lack of suitable analytical tools. What is certain, is that there'll be lots of to-ing and fro-ing until publication.

Right now, I'm just enjoying the peace.

Loo

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Introducing the Torneo

At the beginning of tonight's Solares I was torn between two lesson plans. The first was a logical one: a final combination variation which would have tied up the whole capsule vocabulary in a nice neat bow. The second was an emotional one: an element from son cubano, executed in contemporary salsa, which would stretch and inspire.

I went with my heart.

The 'torneo' or potter's wheel is one of the most challenging pieces of choreography in the son pantheon. It sounds simple: one partner is poised on one foot at the centre of the wheel, while the other partner dances the circumference of the circle turning the pivoting partner. What it requires of the torneo partner is great balance, good core strength, minimal bearing contact with the floor; and the circling partner must have a constant torso speed while keeping to the dance rhythm below the waist, and a clean, perfectly described line of dance, clear of movement noise.

It proved to be the right choice; they went at it hammer and tongs all hour. The immediate skills they realised they needed to develop further were:
  • improving the quality of balance as the torneo partner
  • how to lead and follow the torneo by constraining the vertical axis of the torneo partner
  • silencing vibrations travelling through the circler's points of contact, so as not throw the torneo partner off balance
  • how to follow-up the torneo with a phase change should their partner exit on the 'incorrect' foot
  • continuously visualising the line of dance, ahead execution, as the circling partner
I consider all these skills essential, and the torneo is one of the best contexts for them because it renders any deficiencies transparent. To reprise Bloom's psycho-motor domain, the torneo class of manoeuvres requires the development of skilful precision; is the next level up from manipulation achieved through the capsule vocabulary.

Loo

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Cultural Knowledge

Last Saturday was our Sheffield Parranda Espectacular event in Sheffield. Apart from the hospitality, operational and performance aspects make up the running of a great night, I try to squeeze in a few moments to sound out Solares/The Rueda Academy (STRA) attendees. The way they express themselves, their interpretations of their own learning is richly informative, helping me understand how better to tailor their learning experience.

One of them made an astute observation. When Solares first started, he was under the impression that it was a novel kind of workshop; that there were subcomponents or aspects being trialled which would inform my dance research. And yet after two years of workshops, all the material we'd covered was contained in my rather snazzy salsa website. This snippet, which should be read in a positive tone, was couched within a larger conversation of satisfaction with Solares' direction and modes of delivery. I had the chance to explain later that while "yes" the material was similar, it was the environment and means of delivery that was novel.

When I first elucidated the content elements and hierarchy some fifteen plus years ago, the young women and men whom I trained turned out to be exceptional educators and dancers displaying physical and conceptual skills at the peak of Bloom's taxonomy. Where they were (comparatively) less strong was their fluency with the musical, rhythmic, and cultural domains in Caribbean dance.

In retrospect, it was my naivete in searching for an ideal objective means of dance instruction that was to blame. I had neither the maturity nor the experience associated with the cultural knowledge of salsa to appreciate its value, its necessity as a subjective part. This except from "Spinning Mambo Into Salsa" (2015: 114) by Juliet McMains captures the difference between then and now.
"For Cuban Pete, mambo was not something that could be learned in a dance school. It was cultural knowledge he inherited from his family, dancing in the kitchen with his mother.
"This tension between Latin dance as cultural knowledge that can only be learned through time spent in a particular community versus Latin dance as a technique that can be bought and sold in formal dance classes intensified as the salsa dance industry emerged in the 1990s."
While I am not able to provide the literal environment of growing up and dancing in a kitchen with a Latin American mother like Cuban Pete's, I am interested in whether a surrogate environment may be created where subjective Latin American cultural knowledge may be acquired.

This is the basis of Solares' novelty.

Loo Yeo

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Capsule Vocabulary

Last evening was our first Solares for 2016 and we started with the building of a 'capsule vocabulary'. I developed the idea out of Susie Faux and Donna Karan's concept of the capsule wardrobe.

For external consumption I define dance's capsule vocabulary as:
"A collection of the fewest, simplest, most representative movements and moves which convey the essence of a genre's embodiment."
For internal consumption, I would define the solares dance capsule vocabulary as:
"A collection of the fewest, simplest, most representative movements and moves which convey the essence of multiple related genre embodiments."
The capsule vocabulary is intended to provide a portable context for the development of skills; my answer to encouraging psycho-motor manipulation (see earlier post). The word 'portable' is in there because it has to be a vocabulary which encompasses the majority of genres in the Caribbean and Latin America, including: the son rhythm group, merengue, and bachata.

I reckon that it will take about three months to learn the capsule, barring interesting detours. Many elements of it could be found also in British salsa as it was danced pre-introduction of the cross-body style, in what Rondón (2008) refers to as 'salsa of the South'. Consequently the framework of the dance is based on the Caribbean sway, and not the international salsa/mambo step.

Loo

Rondón, César Miguel (2008). The Book Of Salsa: A Chronicle Of Urban Music From The Caribbean To New York City [El Libro De La Salsa, English Translation]. USA: University Of North Carolina Press