Wednesday, January 14, 2009

12th Night Extravaganza 2009. Saturday & Sunday (Part 3)

My eyes drifted open to the world knowing that Saturday was going to be a day of little respite.

My feet, happily worn from last night's revelry, were probably going to be disconsolate by lunch and downright rebellious by dinner. And yet there had to be enough in the tank for a truly heroic run at the evening party, plus a little left in reserve to be amongst the last to leave with Tony and Mary. An itch of anticipation seeped in with my duvet's warmth tinged, dare I say it, with a hint of dread. Age is a cruel mistress.

But I've also found that she can be distracted with a nice cup of tea and a hot shower. With Age rubbernecking, I packed up and stepped out into the morning frost, returning my keycard to the porters at the lodge, joshing with them about the quality of institution food, and wending my way to an uncertain cooked breakfast. I discovered it to be strangely reassuring that bacon, sausage, beans and egg are universally constant across all university canteens be it Bath, Reading, Sheffield, Stirling and in this case, York. Nostalgia aside, breakfast times at congresses are valuable opportunities to meet fellow delegates; where I try to get in early and take it at as leisurely a pace as possible. Alejandro, Bill and Jimmy of Palenke were just finishing up and braving the cold to sight-see York. I settled down with a group of, as it turns out, very itinerant salseros based on the other side of the Pennines who were busily mapping out their day through the workshop programme.

Bridge over duck-rink: all roads lead to salsa
(as they all should do)

Returning to the Roger Kirk Centre, the nerve plexus of 12th Night, Mary took up my offer of help by tasking me with remedial teaching at the more fundamental workshops. The first workshop I chose was, with his permission, Bill Newby's tango argentino class where the gender imbalance seemed greatest. It was gently and patiently delivered in Bill's typically warm manner. And despite the difference between his salon and my orgullo style (which I masked), and his immaculate polish versus my red-raw rustiness, my partners clearly appreciated learning with an experienced hand.

But instead of indulging in a blow-by-blow account of each class, this year's 12th Night could be better summed up in one general observation and a number of personal highlights.

A General Observation

Social dance instruction in the UK remains largely driven by force of personality; and is a reflection of the need of its primary consumers, the middle classes with the expendable income, to be entertained. From a pedagogic perspective, few instructors demonstrate that they have identified and understood what they consider to be the pinnacles of their art, let alone mapped a clear development route to those summits for their students. The narrow educative knowledge-base results in two things that are readily apparent in congresses here and abroad:
  1. confusion as to the different approaches that distinguish a class from a tutorial and a workshop; and
  2. an impaired ability for instructors to act in concert through the meshing of their progressions - the learning contexts they establish are inflexibly individualised (to their personalities) instead of sharing a lingua franca of physical skills training.
[I note that there has been some movement by the United Kingdom Alliance (UKA) to certify salsa dance instructors. But having studied their syllabus (upon which their instructor examinations are based) at length, I see much description of vocabulary but little that is modern in the teaching of physical skills.]

Choice is the primary benefit at a congress, not threaded learning; and there was a smörgåsbord of it in York. As a generous estimate, thirty percent of sessions in 12th Night were roughly in workshop format; the remainder were vocabulary-based club classes. I see the latter as either: the instructor sticking to what (s)he knows how to do; or, just as likely, giving the attendees what they expect.

Having taught in the same shoes, I find that most attendees themselves are unable to distinguish between 'workshop' and 'class', treating both as the latter; and that I have to bill a workshop as a 'masterclass' in order to create the correct mindset.

Some Personal Highlights
  • Lunchtime with Adriana where amongst the things we talked about was: how she still remembers our first dance together ten-plus years ago in Sheffield, and having her compliment my bachata as "dangerous";
  • Steve Carter & Encuentro Latino's take on musical interpretation, and their really handy mnemonic for cáscara i.e. "I don't like carrots, I like potatoes";
  • Lisandro's happy memories of Palenke's stint in Jakarta (near my neck of the woods), and his penchant for the food;
  • A talk post-dinner with timbalero Jimmy Le Messurier and trombonist Paul Taylor about their recordings and the music industry;
  • Bill and Jaime's emotionally charged tango argentino demonstration;
  • Dancing boogaloo Colombian-style with Adriana;
  • Salsa, chachachá, bachata, and decidedly post-watershed merengue & reggaeton with some normally-very-nice people ("clean" is for whimps!);
  • Getting to know Tony and Mary better and meeting their house-guests Tony and Sarah. Two lasting memories: Mary and Sarah breathless from laughter from my rosé champagne-fuelled antics, and the two Tonys behaving badly in the kitchen until dangerously close to the daylight hours;
  • The decadence of dancing on a lazy Sunday afternoon; and
  • Two fabulous tango-tinged bachatas with Maria.

The Ultimate Decadence awaits the truly hard-of-core:
dancing on a lazy Sunday afternoon

It was over a lazy mid-morning breakfast, as we were both desperately caffeinating, when fellow (ex)Steel City dweller Caroline offered me a lift. I jumped at the chance to indulge in her company and to eschew the anonymous silence of the train. We left 12th Night in the mid-afternoon dusk, on the squally journey South.

A leisurely dinner together at one favourite Bengali restaurant was my way of repaying the compliment. It was the best manner in which to round off a perfect weekend of reconnection.

Yeo Loo Yen

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    I wasn't surprised in reading your description of the classes, because it matches with what I've seen too: turn patterns, not technique. However, your exact way of phrasing it by talking about physical skills acquisition, probably because I hadn't been thinking much about it from that exact angle before.

    Anything worth reading that you can recommend if I want to learn more about the process of physical skills acquisition and ways to help it forward?