Friday, March 27, 2009

Tail-Swinging Syncopation

We interrupt Loo's train of posts for this important message...

I've been spying a number of posts recently on various fora regarding syncopation. "What's synchopation?" is the 800-pound Gorilla of commonly-asked-questions during my workshops, be they dancers or drummers. It's a question of 'nightmare' potential; capable of bogging a session down more quickly than a trench of congealing custard can a long-haired cat.

The ideal answer has to be quick, cover most of the bases, imaginative, and humourous - so that I can get back on track. It wasn't easy until I came across this post on Garrit Fleischmann's excellent Cyber-Tango and I've been using it for more than ten years:


Date: Thu, 14 May 1998 10:20:20 -0700
From: Bruss Bowman
Subject: Rhythm, syncopation and some humor:

Rhythm, syncopation and some humor:

Syncopation as it relates to music can be defined as a variation of rhythm by placing emphasis or accent on a rest or silent beat

As it relates to dance this would mean 'stepping' on a rest or silent beat.

There are two dynamics that can be syncopated:
  1. The music
  2. The dance
This leads to 4 possible combinations.

In the order of difficulty to execute in a dance:
  • A regular musical rhythm that is not syncopated by either of the dancers (aka walking on the beat)
  • A regular musical rhythm that is syncopated by one or more of the dancers
  • Musical rhythm syncopation that is not itself syncopated by one or more of the dancers ( ie dancers are following the musical syncopation )
  • Musical rhythm syncopation with that is syncopated by one or more of the dancers ( ie dancers are syncopating the musical syncopation. )
Musical examples:

Example of regular musical rhythms: DiSarli's "El Pollito"

Example of musically syncopated rhythms: Pugliese's "Gallo Ciego"

There is a reason that most good teachers will choose DiSarli as the music of choice for classes and that they don't choose Pugliese. DiSarli is definitely easier to dance to ( Syncopated or not ). Although dancing to Pugliese offers a much richer experience but it requires a higher degree of musical sensitivity not to mention a lot of intensity.

Dancing Examples:

Example of a non-syncopacted(sic) dancer:
My vote would go to GodZilla. Being a genetic mutant he is physiologically incapable of syncopation. When he invades Tokyo you hear

Thump, Thump, Thump, Thump


Thump, Thumpity Thumpity, Thump.

Also due to his small brain size he is notorious for stepping back in the line of dance usually stomping some poor unsuspecting couple. And I won't even mention that tail thing.

Example of a syncopated dancer:
Omar Vega ( I'm serious now! ) For those who haven't seen Omar dance his style is HIGHLY syncopated and beautiful to watch. He is currently on a teaching tour in the U.S. and if you have a chance to see him I would definitely recommend it.

We can take these dancing examples and come up with a dance floor rating system. Let's call it the "ZILLA-METER"

As you enter a Milonga take an inventory of the leaders present and categorize them as either being more like Godzilla or more like Omar Vega. Then take the resulting numbers and divide the number of Zillas by the number of Vegas. This will give you the "ZILLA-METER" rating.

Use the following chart to rate your dance floor

Zilla Rating Description
0 - 0.1 This is the dance floor of your dreams. Let me know if you find a floor like this !!!
0.1-0.3 Excellent floor. Although you do have a small chance of getting stepped on.
0.4-0.6 Moderately dangerous floor. Too many Zillas for general comfort.
0.7-1 Floor's pretty dangerous. Not safe for small children.
> 1 Thump, Thump, Thump.........Ahhhhhhhhhhh
Best Regards,

Reproduced with permission.
All Rights Acknowledged.

Bruss is a genius.

©Copyright 2009 Gen Kanai. All Rights Acknowledged.

Since then, I've been using Godzilla as an example of a non-syncopating beast: Thump, Thump, Thump, Thump (with the occasional roar). If he/she were syncopating, we would sometimes hear "Thump, Thumpity Thumpity, Thump" as we were running away.

My impressions of Godzilla doing the soft-shoe shuffle on his/her way through downtown Tokyo have yet to make it to YouTube.



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