Sunday, September 30, 2007

My Momentary Lapse Of Reason

What was I thinking? Somebody cuff me over the head with a heavy object.

After returning from San Diego, I realised that I'd been eating that little too well during my travels - business entertaining and all that. Coupled with the remarkably sedentary life of a musician, the pounds seem to have found a swarming point on my frame.

"Okay", I said to myself, "exercise is the key". So I cast about thinking about the best avenue to explore. Running again was too boring a prospect, with the included hazard of dodging student-hurled chow on the pavements; and I haven't returned to swimming since being a substrate to an overly-friendly Trichoderma. So the obvious thing was to go out dancing more.

"Winner", I thought. Burn off some of those dastardly calories and inflict myself on more people at the same time. The only proviso being that it can't be on a band practice night...

Only then did I realise how limited my options were: most salsa spots are during the weekday, as the bars make more money with mainstream nights over the weekend. Jive was the same. The prospect of a return to ballroom dancing was starting to loom large. Also, there is the increased prospect of business dinner-dances, so it's clearly in my best interests to knock a few rust-spots off.

So I gritted my teeth and returned to the club I'd left as a student more than a decade ago, knowing that I'd be incognito, and hoping that the things that I'd despised about it (I don't use strong emotional words like those very often, so please bear with me) had changed for the better. My timing was perfect as it coincided with the beginning of the new academic year, and the "Give-it-a-go" introductory lessons were on. I turned up on the Friday evening without a change of dance shoes...

There was the usual gender imbalance that most dancing clubs in the UK have to negotiate. But at least the competitive team members were there to act as demonstrators, and the instructor tried to deliver an airy and light atmosphere.

I'm really sorry to say that those are the only positive points I could find. (My thoughts on the level of physical education skills in that arena are well documented, so I shan't retread old ground.)

The same reasons why I'd left and started up the Salsa & Merengue Society - those same issues, which when addressed properly made S&Msoc the most successful of its kind, were still there in the now-rebranded Dancesport club more than 10 years on. Even as a then member of the Dancesport competitive team, I felt strongly about the oligarchic nature of the club, that team members failed to engage more extensively with the standard 'pundits' if you like, in order to foster a higher quality of dance.

Societies are funded in great part, in proportion to their membership numbers - Dancesport can recruit more than 250 members annually, of which at most 24 will compete in the A,B and C teams. In my time, a disproportionate level of resource I felt was being devoted to subsidising the team and not enough on developmental opportunities for the non-team students. This perception was made more vulnerable to conflict of interest as the governing committee comprised team members or their friends.

That night, team members spent most of their time exhibiting themselves, and talking to each other and to their Latin instructors - who arrived late. To be fair, apparently there had been a mechanical failure with the bus that the latter had been on; they had been taking lessons in London - but it begs the question, "Why didn't they allow for that?" They would have, if it was a competition they were going to - you can bet your bottom dollar.

Maybe the occassion of introducing a group of interested people to your supposed passion and livelihood wasn't considered important enough. And not a single team member was actually in the learning body to offer any remedial advice. Not one. I (surreptitiously) helped more than all of them put together.

This club laments the dearth of male dancers, and their ability to hold onto them. Very clearly, the instructor was more conversant with teaching females than males (consistently giving erroneous direction changes to the leads is unforgiveable), and the latter were sorely neglected from an organisational perspective. Apart from the oligarchy, the lack of reason linking cause to effect is, as I said before, despicable.

All those involved purpot to love dance. But there is an obvious disparity between word and deed. What I saw was a love of individual self, not a commitment to helping another person experience one's passion.

And to score one more point:
At its height, the Salsa & Merengue Society recruited more than 800 members in a year, of which 120 were active every week (that's half the Dancesport's total membership); AND the S&Msoc waived its right to membership subsidy while still running a calendarful of well attended events.

I will go back once more, to see if the Latin teachers are any better. I hope for the sake of the run-of-the-mill members that they are.

Loo Yeo

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Salsa Situation Report: 20th September 2007

I've recently returned from another sojourn in the Far East, where I only managed to get in one merengue and one quasi-jive over the three week period. I did three songs as a teaching demonstration (of different salsa and son styles) prior to that, and one evening of salsa on my return to Sheffield. To say that my life has been a little thin on the dancing side is like calling Chingis Khan a little bit naughty.

What's worse, I've been struck down with a cold that's left me croaking like an anguished bull-frog; unable to sing at the band practices. Left with no time to settle, I have to fly again - this time, westwards. Life does sometimes get in the way.

On the positive side, my recording commitments on the tumbadoras have come to a close. That is unless we feel a need for solos on the requinto. That's freed me up to get back to the bass, tres, chekere and vocals. And this blog.

The piano montuno tutorial in the ear-training section is still on the horizon, but a distant one having been displaced by other needs. Cuatro de Diciembre has caught the interest of a number of local musicians, some of whom are in the process of being integrated into the band. To ease the way, I've begun translating the lyrics of the suite into English to give them a head-start in understanding the themes of each song. I had intended on doing this anyway, for inside the CD booklet and to help the graphic designer find the right feel for the cover art.

Another relief has been that we were able to record Harris whilst I was away. That was always going to be the cruical deadline, and the reason why we pushed so hard with the timbale recording and editing. It proved to be the right move, as we were able to capture two takes of his genius on bongo and at least one of djembe for each song. Now I haven't had a chance to listen through it all, and there's still a lot of editing to do, but there's no doubt that there's a lot of good raw meterial there. He was reluctant to do it at first, using his experience recording at Yellow Arch as a gauge, but in the end he admitted that the relaxed atmosphere and having the time to listen and re-record made for a couple of very enjoyable sessions. I'm glad.

In a way, it's vindication of my belief in each song in the face of a lack of credulity in some of my fellow musicians. Especially for 'Llamada de Ogun', which was so different from the standard format that it was slow to reveal its potential. Harris spotted how percussively flexible it was straight away and interpreted it in a way that brought out its fullness of character - like all good musicians should do.

We now have our eye on the gig in mid-October. The hard part is keeping the recordings on-track while it looms before us. As much as I relish presenting the objects of our inspiration and labour for the enjoyment of others, I can't completely dispel the feeling that I'd just as much rather bring the recording project to a close.

For me, having mounting commitments to my company Verdant, that can't happen soon enough.