Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hierarchy of Advancement Workshop Sixteen

Introduction
Having achieved the First Stage of Independence, we enter phase two of the rumba guaguancó development plan where the emphasis is on the quality of execution: increasing detail will be followed by cycles of repetition to achieve naturalisation, and then further to achieve hyper-learning. Hyper-learning is the basis of improvisation, a key skill spanning phases two and three.

The theme of this rumba guaguancó workshop is:
  1. to develop a solid understanding and feel for its basic structure;
  2. to be able to open spaces in the structure; and
  3. to learn how elements may be inserted in these spaces.

Section I - Basic structure of rumba guaguancó

Concept: Joint rhythm on the horizontal plane
The hip movement for women and the knee movement for men is actually executed to a new rhythm timeline, and it contributes to the composite time-code. In both instances the joints move to a "cha-cha-cha" rhythm with the first 'cha' co-incident with the foot-fall on the pulse (to a count of 1-and-2, 3-and-4). Women's accents are 'chá-cha-chá', whereas men's are the inverse 'cha-chá-cha'.

Practice: Male knee action for guaguancó
Solo, without music, then stepping pulse to rumba clave only track. Forward walks. The feet are placed on two parallel tracks, the gauge between the tracks is one important variable. The knee orientation for the 'cha-chá-cha' is 'straight-out-in' (relative to the centreline).

Practice: Dancing to rumba clave
Solo, to rumba clave only track. Performing in order of priority: stepping on pulse; clave vocalisation "pa, pa, pa-ún; pa, pa"; torso engine; chachachá hip/knee rhythm, clapping pulse (centre-left-centre-right-).

Practice: Dancing to rumba clave, full music context
Solo, to En El Malecón De La Habana tracks. As practice above but to timba music, same order of priority.

Discussion: Nature of the engine and gender movement differences
Women's chachacha hip action dissipates the lower stroke of the engine cycle, therefore the torso pulse can only be implied when it is deployed. Men's knee action does not interfere with the torso pulse. Hence women must be discerning as to the choice of application between the engine stroke or the chachacha hip action.

Practice: Female upper limb action in guaguancó
Solo. As per the above two practices, except the hand claps are substituted with holding two ends of a shawl or kerchief, or two folds of a skirt. Hands move centre-left-centre-right- on pulse beats.

Section II - Opening up rhythmic spaces in rumba guaguancó

Concept: 'Stopping' and 'starting' points
Ceasing the step rhythm i.e. stopping; and resuming the step rhythm i.e. starting, does two things: it
  1. creates rhythmic tension; and
  2. emphasises preceding and following movement through juxtaposition.
At this stage of development, the engine cycle is maintained even when the step rhythm stops.

There are several potential stop-start points relative to the clave vocalisation. Given that previous learning was with instructors of European bias, we will begin by using two points which European find easier to comprehend:

  • on the pulse beat after 'pa-ún' i.e. on European beat one; and
  • on the pulse beat before 'pa-ún' i.e. before African beat one.

Practice: Stressing the first pulse beat of the European rhythmic cycle
Solo, to En El Malecón De La Habana tracks. Stepping on pulse; clave vocalisation "pa, pa, pa-ún; pa, pa"; torso engine; chachachá hip/knee rhythm, clapping pulse (centre-left-centre-right-). Emphasis is placed by a stronger step on the pulse beat immediately after 'pa-ún', and a louder clap (centre-left-centre-right-).

Practice: Stressing the last pulse beat of the European rhythmic cycle
Solo, to En El Malecón De La Habana tracks. Stepping on pulse; clave vocalisation "pa, pa, pa-um; pa, pa"; torso engine; chachachá hip/knee rhythm, clapping pulse (centre-left-centre-right-). Emphasis is placed by a stronger step on the pulse beat immediately before 'pa-ún', and a louder clap (centre-left-centre-right-).

Concept: Four combinations are possible
With these two points on the European timeline, four shapes of rhythmic space can be opened. These combinations are, in order of increasing difficulty for 'Europeans':
  1. Stopping on the pulse beat after 'pa-ún', Resuming on the pulse beat after 'pa-ún'
  2. Stopping on the pulse beat before 'pa-ún', Resuming on  the pulse beat before 'pa-ún'
  3. Stopping on the pulse beat before 'pa-ún', Resuming on the pulse beat after 'pa-ún'
  4. Stopping on the pulse beat after 'pa-ún', Resuming on the pulse beat before 'pa-ún'

Practice: Stopping-Resuming to rumba clave, solo
Solo, to rumba clave only track. Stepping on pulse; clave vocalisation "pa, pa, pa-ún; pa, pa"; torso engine; chachachá hip/knee rhythm (optional). Stopping and resuming using Combination 1 above, one cycle pause, maintaining engine cycle. The pause should then be lengthened from one to two, three and four cycles.

Practice: Stopping-Resuming to rumba clave, partnered
Partnered, to rumba clave only track. As above. Partners are given the discretion to pause:
  • asynchronously
  • synchronously
  • synchronously, as with a verbal/non-verbal cue from the leader (each partner taking turns being leader).

Practice: Stopping-Resuming to rumba clave, partnered, full context
Partnered, to En El Malecón De La Habana tracks. As above.

Practice: Learning the remaining combinations
Repeat practices sequence of the rumba clave, solo / rumba clave, partnered / rumba clave, partnered full context (above) for start-resume combinations 2, 3 and 4.

Section III - Inserting elements in rumba guaguancó

Concept: Filling the rhythmic space
Combinations are improvised to fill the rhythmic space opened up in Section II. But as we've learned in Section I, improvisation arises from hyper-learning. The strategy is therefore to emphasise practice-to-mastery of two elements so that a simple combination can be executed.

Element: Shimmy
The basic shimmy action is generated identically in both sexes; from the core muscles around the spine centred between the points of the shoulder-blades. The action is genderised:
  • females - hands constrained by shielding the groin, 'shoulder-points' forward allowing the upper arm to partially shield the side of the breast. This results in a 'coquettish' upper-body action.
  • males - hands upper and either side of the groin, elbows out, decreased distance between the upper shoulder-blades. This results in a 'bravado' upper-body action.

Practice: Shimmy, solo
Solo, rumba clave only tracks. Fast and slow shimmy, over one and then two clave phrases.

Practice: Shimmy, solo, to music
Solo, Ay Díos, Ampárame tracks. Fast and slow shimmy, over one and then two clave phrases.

Practice: Shimmy, partnered, full context
Partnered, Ay Díos, Ampárame tracks. Full basic guaguancó then stop, pause (with engine), fast and/or slow shimmy (over one and then two clave phrases, no engine), pause (with engine), resume guaguancó basic.

Element: Slow turn
The simple version of a slow turn is achieved by:
  1. the placement of one foot behind (and to one side of) the other, resulting in a crossing of the legs; and
  2. the legs uncrossed though rotation of the pelvis, pivoting through the control points on the front of both feet.

Practice: Slow turn, solo
Solo, rumba clave only tracks. Slow turn over one and then two clave phrases.

Practice: Slow turn, solo, to music
Solo, Ay Díos, Ampárame tracks. Slow turn over one and then two clave phrases.

Practice: Slow turn, partnered, full context
Partnered, Ay Díos, Ampárame tracks. Full basic guaguancó then stop, pause (with engine), slow turn (over one and then two clave phrases, with engine), pause (with engine), resume guaguancó basic.

Case study: a basic combination, inserted into guaguancó rhythmic space
Partnered, rumba clave only track.
  1. guaguancó basic
  2. stop the basic (your choice of stop point), vacunao (lead)
  3. defense (follower)
  4. pause
  5. shimmy
  6. slow turn
  7. pause
  8. resume guaguancó basic
Note: the shimmy and slow turn may also be executed simultaneously

Practice: basic combination, inserted into guaguancó rhythmic space
Partnered, full music context of students' choice.

Additional materials
Ay Díos, Ampárame by Los Van Van
En El Malecón De La Habana by Los Van Van
Como Se Formó Una Rumba (DVD) film by Iván Acosta

Loo Yeo

Saturday, September 15, 2012

14th September 2012 SalsaWorks @The Engine Shed, Wetherby

Closure is about beginnings.

Twelve months ago when the Pipers and I left the Engine Shed at the end of the night after Palenke's gig, there was no inkling of the turmoil which would buffet the venue, SalsaWorks and the lives of those involved. The Shed's unfortunate closure removed a salsa landmark from England's North, leaving a vacuum which many have since tried to fill. With true doggedness the SalsaWorks team continued to put on the same schedule of attractions - performers, teachers, and disc jockeys - re-homed at York's Holgate Club. But the Engine Shed's uniqueness, the atmosphere, the friendliness, the feel, the spirit, remained elusively... unique.

Then when Tony told me over the phone that the Shed was to open its doors, still as a dance venue, once again; and that SalsaWorks was back in Wetherby, I felt it was time for closure. That I had to be there for the re-opening, to put to bed the awful sadness of having been there when the sight and sound of the doors drawing shut could have been for the last time.

In the early afternoon, Tony picked me up from York station and delivered me to Piperland where, over cups of tea, our chins wagged and we put our kitchen skills to use on the night's buffet. Dusk was ushering in the night when I was chaperoned speedily south along winding country roads. The Engine Shed's front doors were shut exactly as I remembered them, but this time, signs of life on the other side cracked them open and I stepped through to a flood memories painted from her best of times.

The forms of Lorraine and Les of Mancuban were in the far corner, pacing out the content of the night's coming lesson. Alfie, I surprised with a generous hug and a bottle of champagne to commemorate what I hoped would be the closure of an uncertain year - I didn't make an effort to conceal my disappointment that Christine could not be there.

As salsa played, the main salon began to fill. A quarter of an hour later than billed, the pre-club lessons fired up: Lorraine and Les leading the main group downstairs, with Alfie upstairs introducing newcomers to possibly the most profound change in to their lifestyles. The main session's pacing was deliberate (I would have taught a classroom session at a quicker pace, but a club session in the same manner) with frequent partner changes, breaking the ice for everyone to meet each other.

Tony and I skulked about in the shadows rigging the video equipment, receiving the performers to their dressing area, and taking photos.

SalsaWorks bill this as a salsa night and are true to their word - only two bachatas, two bachata-tangos, and one kizomba dotted the un-apologetically salsa playlist - with Lorraine, Les, Alfredo and Tony alternating thirty-minute sets. Space on the dance-floor was tight but not un-navigably so; more than two hundred dancers had travelled from as far as Hull, Newcastle, Preston, and Sheffield to participate in the re-awakening.

The dance show provided a contrasting punctuation mark. Tony's never been one to shy away from controversy and has sometimes made room in the programming schedule for something a little different. True to Engine Shed form, this re-opening night was no exception, and he billed it as:
ANZHEXEN Dark Fusion Dance Troupe (Leeds)
This group of very scarey ladies is led by Beverley Spracklen. They deliver an extraordinary fusion of North African tribal styles in a deeply Gothic mood. Beverley said, ‘Our performance is designed to be unsettling!’ I said, 'Unsettle them as much as you like, Beverley!'
I found it conceptually interesting, but for me, the African tribal message struggled to emerge from the performers' strongly Gothic demeanour. Choreographically, a stronger movement style and increased floor coverage would have provided the dynamism to complement the high-contrast look.

Until it happened for real, the success of Engine Shed's re-opening was a great unknown. A number of events had sprung up in the calendar same slot - a year is a long time in salsa promotion. But whereas a number of events I've been to recently are traded as pure commodities - a 'promoter' hires a room, a DJ, and announces it on Facebook - SalsaWorks is old school. They talk to you, make you feel welcome, dance with you, listen to your thoughts, provide means of forging that most primal of social bonds through the breaking of bread together.

For the revelling faithful, it was as if the Engine Shed had never been away. "It feels as though it's just missed a week" was a familiar sentiment, so easily did the vibe come back. I felt it too, dancing the rounds, reconnecting with old faces, and beguiling the new. It's still one of the few places where I have no reservations about approaching someone for a dance.

The doors shut once again. But this time there was, is, a prospect of a second, third and fourth time.

Closure, as I said, is about beginnings.

Loo Yeo

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hierarchy of Advancement Workshop Fourteen

Introduction: parting the curtain to recognise salsa's heart
Learned dancers in the European context are taught to synchronise their movements to one timeline, usually a count. Sometimes an event: the conga open tones are included in the count timeline, but since instructors adapt their count rhythm to synchronise and phrase identically to the dance rhythm being taught, a compound time-code is not established.

Hence their dancers do not usually learn to synthesise a compound time-code of two or more timelines.

Afro-Cuban music employs polyrhythms, many of which differ in their phrasing. It is in that relationship between one rhythmic timeline and another - synchronised yet differing in phrase and phase - where some of the music's richness lies.

The 'rhythmic plateau' is the phenomenon where advanced dancers are restricted to the phrasing of a single timeline. A pedagogic strategy to 'amend' or overcome this rhythmic plateau requires:
  • awareness of another rhythmic timeline and its properties - it must be synchronous yet different in phase;
  • the development of ability to synchronise the dance rhythm to this other rhythmic timeline - thereby establishing a compound time-code;
  • perception and eventually interpretation of the phasing/phrasing events that arise from this time-code.
     
Concept: Clave is at the very heart of Cuban music
All musicians who play Cuban and Cuban-derived music do so to a master timeline, clave, be it overt or implied, son or rumba or 6/8. It is the one constant in this music; and mastery of the synthesis of the elemental compound time-code, comprising clave and dance rhythm, lies at the very core of Cuban dance.

Briefing: Contratiempo predates a tiempo
Son and its earliest form changüi, as precursors to salsa, is danced contratiempo; the compelling argument being the synchrony of the son basic dance rhythm with the martillo rhythm interpreted on the bongó (which is the son's rhythmic time-keeper). Since son arose in Cuba's Oriente in the 1880s, and salsa in New York City in the 1960s, contratiempo predates a tiempo (on the premise that salsa then was danced a tiempo) by some eighty years.

Concept: Rhythmic underpinning
Whether salsa dancers dance "On1", "Break on 2", or "On 2", the naming convention alone indicates an European, not an African, judgement of salsa rhythm's start position. Rhythmic underpinning involves:
  • stimulating an awareness of any cultural bias, usually pro-European;
  • increasing sensitivity to African-descended components - ways of listening and phrasing;
  • interpreting both influences as a hybridised sliding scale as a direct reflection of salsa's music; and
  • establishing the perception of contratiempo rhythmic phrasing as the core mode, from which other variants are modifications - a genetic perspective.
     
The Cuban Conservatory Method
Contratiempo son basic to son clave. This method is appropriate to this style of workshop as it is event-based, using a listen-and-feel mode using non-verbal sounds.

Exercise: Recognising contratiempo dance rhythm's starting beat relative to son clave
Solo. Using the vocalisation: "pa-pa-'ee', pah-pah-pa" (2-3 clave orientation). Then vocalising the 'ee' whilst clapping son clave.

Exercise: Vocalising the contratiempo dance rhythm's starting beat
Solo. Vocalising 'ee' on the starting beat, to isochronous son clave tracks at various tempi.

Exercise: Initiating the contratiempo start with a sideward weight transfer
Solo, then partnered. Synchronising a sideward weight transfer with the vocalisation of 'ee' to isochronous son clave tracks at various tempi. Note the kinesthesia of the side-step: the changes in muscle tone around the hip before, during, and after the vocalisation.

Exercise: The complete son basic, contratiempo to son clave
Solo, then partnered. Using isochronous son clave tracks of increasing tempo. Note that the son basic is more lateral than longitudinal in movement. The relationship of clave and to dance rhythm is one that can be felt as that of tension-and-release.

Concept: Son clave changes its character according to tempo
Actually it's the synthesised time-code which changes its character and maintaining its stability at the extremes of tempo is what is most challenging: at lower tempi, the clave feeling becomes diffuse and less rhythmic tension is generated; at higher tempi as the beats draw closer together, the distance between the actual and expected beats lessen, again lessening rhythmic tension. It is also easier to slip into a tiempo dance rhythm at higher tempi.

Additional materials
Isochronous son clave only tracks

Loo Yen Yeo

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hierarchy of Advancement Workshop Thirteen


Section I - Rumba Guaguancó

Exercise: Guaguancó basic walk, accenting with a 'drop'
Revision of this practice from Workshop Ten and Eleven. Additional refinements: the reaction force of the 'drop' on the floor is used to reinforce the up-stroke of the engine; the stroke size of the engine is varied according to prevailing conditions e.g. partnership strength and musical characteristics.

Exercise: Guaguancó static basic, vocalising the basic drum rhythm
Solo. This exercise articulates the relationship between the dance rhythm and guaguancó's a capella music. It also establishes a two-component time-code. The Havana variant is used and vocalised as 'gung-ging-ging-gung'.

Exercise: Guaguancó basic walk, vocalising the basic drum rhythm
Solo. Basic walk with 'drop' accent. The walks are initially side to side, then forward and backward, then with changes in orientation.

Exercise: Guaguancó basic walk, vocalising the basic drum rhythm
Partnered. Basic walk in pursuit-and-capture mode.Without and then with music.

Exercise: Rumba torso engine development
Solo. Static practice, feet shoulder-width apart. Shifting weight every torso cycle: centre-right-centre-left-(repeat). Ensure that shoulders remain level, and that weight is fully transferred to each leg when cycling to the right and the left. Add vocalisation of drum rhythm.

Section II - Contratiempo

Concept: Synthesising a time-code to musical forms
Rhythmic timelines exist in all forms of popular music. In Cuban-derived music, a dancer:
  1. recognises at least one existing auditory timeline;
  2. creates a dance rhythm timeline
  3. synchronises the dance rhythm timeline to the auditory timeline; and 
  4. synthesises a time-code of two (or more) timelines.
He or she might optionally add physical interpretations of other timelines e.g. torso synchronised to the pulse. Time-code stability is enhanced with successful incorporation of each rhythmic timeline. 
 
Briefing: Importance of the tumbao moderno's slap stroke
The slap stroke is a dry sharp sound which though distinct, can be masked by other sharp sounds like the wood-block or bell. In the basic tumbao moderno, it is located on the second African downbeat or first European backbeat (European beat 2). Locating the position of the slap stroke is important because one step of the dance rhythm is synchronised to it.

Practice: Drumming the African downbeats/European backbeats
Solo. Playing the double-open tones and slap strokes. Without music, and then to music.

Exercise: Vocalising the African downbeats/European backbeats
Solo. Playing the double-open tones and slap strokes, then vocalise "gung-gung" and "pak" synchronously, respectively. Without music, and then to music.

Practice: Converting a count to non-verbal cues of action
Solo. Contratiempo example, to music.
  1. Initiate a four-beat count: "one–two–three–four–"
  2. substitute 'pak' and 'gung-gung' accents: "one–pak–three–gung-gung–"
  3. substitute a ghost syllable 'um': "um–pak–um–gung-gung–"
  4. synchronise dance rhythm to the vocal accents, where the first beat/step of the dance rhythm coincides with 'pak', and the third beat/step of the dance rhythm coincides with the first 'gung'
  5. subvocalise the cues.
Exercise: Comparing the synchronisation of movement to verbal and non-verbal cues
Solo, to music. Assessing the qualitative nature of verbal and event-led (non-verbal) cues to movement.

Exercise: "Is the difference between the use of verbal and non-verbal cues externally discernible?"
Partnered, to music. As the exercise immediately above. Can your dance partner tell the difference?

looyenyeo

Friday, July 13, 2012

Hierarchy of Advancement Workshop Twelve

Section I - Movement Dynamics

Concept: The dynamics of movement
A movement can be broken down into three simple phases: commencement, continuation, and completion. The dynamics of movement are governed by the intensity, the transitions and most importantly the relative duration of each phase. For example, emphasis on movement completion results in a rapid, contrasty, staccato action, whereas emphasis on commencement and continuation results in a smoother action.

Exercise: Lower body action, emphasis on completion
Solo. Smooth control of motion is paramount, irrespective of speed.
  1. Commencement (rapid): descent of the heel, extension of the knee
  2. Continuation (rapid): transfer of weight, deflection of hip
  3. Completion (slow): final settling of the hip, preparation for next commencement
Understanding and appreciating the kinesthesia of high-contrast motion.
Learning point: quickly pushing nails into the floor then standing on the nail head.

Exercise: Lower body action, emphasis on completion, to music
Solo, to music. What kinds of musical styles is this kind of highly dynamic motion best suited to?

Exercise: Lower body action, emphasis on commencement and continuation
Solo. Smooth control of motion throughout.
  1. Commencement (slow): descent of the heel, extension of the knee
  2. Continuation (slow): transfer of weight, deflection of hip
  3. Completion (short): final settling of the hip, preparation for next commencement
Understanding/appreciating the kinesthesia of low-contrast motion. Notice how the phases push the timing to later on the beat.
Learning point: easing the nails powerfully into the floor with a brief tap on the nail head just before the next commencement.

Exercise: Lower body action, emphasis on commencement and continuation, to music
Solo, to music. What kinds of musical styles is this kind of smooth motion best suited to?

Exercise: Lower body action, changing dynamism, to music
Solo, to music. Practice changing dynamics of movement within a song. Some songs are arranged in a manner which suggest that the dynamics of movement should be altered.

Exercise: Lower body action, changing dynamism, to music
Partnered. As per the above practice. What does it feel like when your dance partner changes his or her movement dynamics?

Exercise: Lower body action, exploring phase ratios
Solo. Plan and execute the lower body movement with different ratios of the three phases. What are the results? What does it feel like? When would it be used?

Concept: A universal approach to movement dynamics
Although movement dynamism was explored using the lower body action as a case study, the same principles can be applied to other movements in dance, for example, rotational body speed, foot speed, and arm speed. The process universally applicable to movement. It requires:
  1. the disassembly of a motion into its sequence of component parts;
  2. the segregation the sequential components into the three phases;
  3. a decision regarding the relative duration of each phase; and
  4. execution and evaluation.
Section II - Movement Targeting

Concept: Conscious planning of motion
Movement is understood to be planned subconsciously in the premotor cortex. However, there is nothing to hinder a person from planning motion consciously; expert dancers often do so and naturalise the mapping of the start-points, trajectories, speeds, routes and the end-points of movements. This results in clean, deliberate, well-timed motions - making transparent the dancer's execution of expression.

Exercise: Visualising the end-point, arms
Solo. Visualise the spatial position of a gate, imagine the feeling of the wrist being at that gate, imagine hearing the sound of the beat when the wrist arrives at the gate. Execute the motion to tempo.

Briefing: Check-points for legs
Ball-spots are target-areas on the floor into which the medial-front quadrant of the foot is placed. Heel-spots are the target-areas where the heel would land to 'crush the grape' or on the 'head of the nail'. Ankle-gates are the lower-body's analogue of the upper body's wrist gates.

Exercise: Visualising the end-point, legs
Solo. Visualise the spatial position of a ball-spot, imagine the feeling of pressure on the sole of the foot being at that spot, imagine hearing the sound of the beat when the foot arrives at the spot. Execute the motion to tempo.


Section III - Skills in Context

Concept: Increasing power in salsa
A partnership couple can be viewed as a closed energy system. The kinetic energy content of the system can be increased through:
  • additional body isolation movements, usually interpreting rhythms over that of the dance rhythm;
  • a change to the dance rhythm to include additional steps; and
  • the inclusion of accents to increase dynamics (however beyond a certain point the accents decrease dynamics)
Exercise: Power variation to salsa rhythm
Solo, then partnered. Inclusion of a ball-heel across the null beat of the standard a tiempo dance rhythm, synchronised with the double-open tones of the tumbao moderno. This contributes up to a 67% increase in lower body energy.

Practice: Power variation in context
Partnered, to music. Swapping between the standard dance rhythm and power variation, feeling the difference in energy.

Exercise: Deploying accents in the salsa dance rhythm
Partnered, to music. Emphasising pulse beats, back-beats, ponché only and whole beats of clave.

Section IV - Case study of rueda elements

A simple analysis of arm positions, partnership angles, distancing, body alignments and overlooked angles in rueda (starting with the diagonals to the line of dance).

Loo Yeo

Monday, July 02, 2012

32nd World Congress on Dance Research, Conseil International de la Danse, UNESCO

Background
The Conseil International de la Danse is the only international organisation recognised to represent all forms of dance. Called the "United Nations of Dance" it was founded within UNESCO offices, hence its acronym CID-UNESCO; and its members, institutions and individuals, represent those who have had the most significant, long-term, world-wide impact in their fields.

The people who made it possible - UFI and CID UNESCO
32nd World Congress on Dance Research, San Marino
This would be my first time at a world congress (representation by more than forty nationalities is the requisite for being called a world congress) despite being a member for nearly a decade. The timing was perfect - I'd just finished a piece of significant dance research and had a window of opportunity to travel. The prospect of returning to Italy and presenting in the Republic of San Marino proved an irresistible lure.

The Location
I arrived for registration at the sugar-white monolithic building of the Kursaal; which accommodates San Marino's state conference facilities sandwiched between Interpol's offices on one side and Radio San Marino on the other. As my security pass was being issued, I caught up on the revised schedule (I'd been travelling around Emilia Romagna with sporadic internet access) and got serious indication as to the prestige with which CID membership is regarded; the government of San Marino had not only made the Kursaal conference site available to us, and resourced it with full technical support and real-time interpreters into Italian and English, but had also reserved its historic 18th century Teatro Titano exclusively for our use over the duration.

The People
The first ones I encountered were the faces to the names with whom I'd been corresponding with for years and weeks: the organisers from CID-UNESCO and the Unione Folklorica Italiana (UFI). Then the attendees: dance practitioners - choreographers, educators, performers; and dance academics - researchers, disseminators, historians, biographers in equal measure. Their subject-matter expertise spanned from the folkloric to the modern, the sacred to the secular, the classical to the popular.

The Format
Three parallel programmes were held during the daytime.
  • Dance workshops by the practitioners addressing choreography, teaching methods, dance techniques, and introduction to genre. These lasted thirty minutes.
  • Dance video displays by academics and practitioners covering technical, biographical and cultural subject matter. These lasted thirty minutes.
  • Dance presentations by academics on the latest research, new interpretations of existing phenomena, and previously unseen archival gems. These lasted fifteen minutes followed by a five-minute question-and-answer session.
The inclusive nature of CID tries to accommodate as many applications for programmes slots as possible but this has a down-side; there were a a number of 'no shows' due to travel funding arrangements falling through at the eleventh hour, or inability to obtain immigration visas. This led to a fluid situation where the organisers were put under considerable pressure just to keep scheduling up-to-date. The night-time hours belonged to performances at the fabulous Teatro Titano.

The Experience
The scheduling was kind to me. Either that, of I was rewarded for being organised by being scheduled to present in the first session of the first day; other people know who you are and what you do right from the start. Also, it allowed me to relax for the rest of the congress. The presentation itself was thoroughly prepared, and contrasted greatly with the majority which followed because of its pure science approach to the research, as compared to a social science one; and the large data sets involved.

The majority of the congress attendees were dance practitioners; 'do-ers' who preferred to spend their time in the more practical workshops. That's not to say that there was such a distinct segregation, a handful of us spanned both practitioner and academic arenas. I personally elected to spend the first two days supporting the lesser-attended lecture presentations, attending the workshops during the 'no shows'. The most notable workshops for me were: Karen Smith's "Give my regards to Broadway: choreography for musical theater"; Marco Santinelli's "Lyrical Contemporary Jazz"; and all of the ones on Turkish folkloric dance.

Tamalyn Dallal in Teatro Titano, San Marino
32nd World Congress on Dance Research, CID UNESCO
The theatre performances were a privilege to experience, with top billing going to all of those from the two Japanese sections who'd travelled a long way to put on a superlative expression of art. Their power and precision would have been culturally expected, but it was their expressiveness which was astounding. Also spectacular were: Tamalyn Dallal's entrancing "Middle Eastern dance performance"; Daniela Morais of Luís Damas Dance Company's fluid "Invocation"; and Nalini Toshniwal's near-spiritual "Kathak: Indian classical Dance".

And the after parties... boy, were there after-parties as only a group of pure dance professionals can have them.

But then, that's where the real value of going to a congress like this is, in the connecting of people - lunchtimes spent talking about the healing aspects of dance with dance therapist Özlem Lale Kaleli and Islamic African rhythms with Tamalyn; bad behaviour with contemporary dancer Ana-Maria Bogdanović and contact-improvisation specialist Bruno Couderc; strolling the walls with Luís Damas.

But quite ironically, it was my handling of the unexpected which left a greater mark.

The Impromptu Lesson
I'd earmarked two workshops in the morning session of the second day 'must gos'; they were on 'Cuban Salsa' by Cubans Pedro Ricardo Henry and Felix Ricardo Lopez Valdés. I turned up to the dance hall to find a rather forlorn bunch of (non-salsa) dance teachers. On asking, and after a search around the Kursaal, it turns out the Cubans were no-shows. I was crestfallen. It was the looks of disappointment and resignation that did it.

I told Marilena (Caponis, one of the organising members) that if they really wanted a salsa lesson, then I'd be happy to conduct one off-the-cuff. What's the point in being a salsa teacher if you don't teach salsa when you could? Their eyes brightened.

Now I was under pressure. The music which I'd hoped to use (it was part of my previous day's presentation) was on the slide-show laptop which was in use. I explained the situation, asked for their indulgence and said, "we'll have to do this the old-fashioned way".

I knelt down on the floor in the middle of the circle and drummed the tumbao moderno on my thighs; getting them to feel the groove, and asking them the vocalise 'gung-gung' with the double open tones.

Then I brought in the concept of call-and-response, and introduced the three beat salsa dance rhythm as a response to the 'gung gung'. At this point, with everyone present being dance educators, I explained the difference between acquired (walk-based) and learned (using structured basics) Cuban dance.

By asking my colleagues to help me by continuing the event- action (vocal cue-dance rhythm) practice, I was freed to vocalised montunos over their rhythms to provide a broader musical context. They began to get into the swing of things, especially Ingo (Guenther, master of baroque dance) who was happily 'gung-gung'ing away. They were partnered up into dance couples to increase interaction and reinforce each other rhythmically.

I swapped their partnerships often, mixing up the content with salsa walks and basics.

Then they started asking about quality of movement; so I explained the key features of East Cuban and West Cuban movement to música bailable (this was billed to be Cuban salsa after all), demonstrated it, executed it, taught it; and they all learned it, replicated it and then interpreted it - an reminder that this class comprised an altogether different standard of attendees.

Then came the obvious question, "When and why would you use which quality?"

I thought to myself, "erm... now how do I explain that?!" Then it came to me.

With my colleagues dancing salsa using Oriente (East Cuban) movement, and vocalising gung-gungs, I sang sones phrased to son clave with traditional intonations and attack. We then did the same using Occidente (West Cuban) movement, as I sang rumba-derived timba songs to rumba clave. There was even time to do a cross-comparison, which they all experienced as very valuable.

Eighteen minutes was all that I had had: from the delayed start, to the next scheduled workshop. And I made it with time enough for remedial work and to engage with some penetrating questions.

Jumping in to provide the lesson allowed me to connect with my fellow CID colleagues in a personal manner, making me a more 'known' and hence 'comforting' quantity. I left the hall having a different stature to that of when I entered. I was no longer simply an academic subject-matter expert; I was now also regarded as a dance practitioner with performance-level abilities as an all-round musician and singer; and an educator who could answer the "whys" and teach the "hows".

The Enduring Memories
The 32nd World Congress on Dance Research was declared a success despite the low attendance (earthquakes in the region a weeks prior put paid to that), and I agree. To be privileged enough to have effectively private viewings of world-class performances in a beautiful theatre, to be able to exchange ideas with people at the very top of their game, to laugh with new friends, and to dance a dreamy bolero under a vault of stars in a Sanmarinese piazza. What else could one want?

Loo Yeo


To visit Loo's Facebook photo albums on the '32nd World Congress on Dance Research, Conseil International de la Danse, UNESCO' and San Marino 2012, click on the links below.

Part One: 
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151094558390555.502507.668465554&type=3&l=594f82a341

Part Two:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151159507785555.509703.668465554&type=3&l=85010e4583

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hierarchy of Advancement Weekend Workshops Ten & Eleven

Note: In the following schedule, I will use term 'African' to  describe those who are cultural insiders to African or African-derived practices, and 'European' to describe cultural insiders to West European practices. This division, extreme and artificial, is purely for explanatory purposes.

Introductory briefing
In 2003, Brochard and his co-investigators reported a seminal piece of research; finding that their subjects perceived a monotonous metronomic sound as a 'tic-toc-tic-toc' and not a 'tic-tic-tic-tic'. In other words, the human brain added subjective accents to every other beat; and that the first beat was accented. Therefore odd-numbered beats were perceived as stronger than even-numbered beats.

This little-known work in the dance world is crucial to understanding an element of salsa's cultural diversity, and forms part of the basis of the "Why Men Shouldn't Count" dance research paper I will present to Conseil International de la Danse UNESCO. This weekend workshop provides the ideal opportunity to explore the phenomenon of subjective accenting, the European cultural bias of transnationalised salsa, and the redress of bias.

Concept: The beginning of the African rhythm cycle
Africans perceive the beginning of salsa's rhythm cycle as occurring one beat earlier, which coincides with the tumbao moderno's double open tones (as interpreted on the congas); what Africans hear as beat one, Europeans hear as beat eight! Therefore, from the findings of Brochard et al. (2003) where Africans would subjectively accent beats 1,3,5,7; to European ears these accents would fall on beats 2,4,6,8.

Evidence of this can be garnered from Afro-Cuban rhythms, which accent:
  1. the African downbeats (odd-numbered beats), perceived by Europeans as being on the backbeats (even-numbered beats); and
  2. the start of the African rhythmic cycle called the ponché [punch] explicitly or implicitly.
 For example,
  • conga - the tumbao moderno's double open tones (the first accenting ponché) and slap stroke;
  • bongó - the martillo's open tones on the hembra (accenting ponché) and macho;
  • timbales - open (accenting ponché) and closed tones on the hembra;
  • clave - the last beat of the 3-side (accenting ponché) and the first beat of the 2-side; and
  • bass - the tumbao's 'anticipated' beat (accenting ponché).
Supporting material on the above is available:
http://www.salsa-merengue.co.uk/VidTutor/salsatwo/tutprogsal2.html
http://www.salsa-merengue.co.uk/forplayers/onstage.html

Section I - Son

Exercise: Listening for the African start of the conga's tumbao moderno
Solo. Locating and indicating the rhythmic location of the correct set of open tones which denote the start of the African cycle. Using the 'gung-gung' vocalisation.

Exercise: A side-step on the ponché
Solo, then partnered. This is an event-action practice of synchronising the taking of a side-step with the onset of the ponché open tones.

Concept: Contratiempo and Dance On2
It's very important to recognise that both of these terms are culturally European-biased as they reference features of rhythm relative to the start-point of the European cycle, with contratiempo literally meaning 'counter-time' backbeat emphasis. Although both contratiempo and Dance On2 have the same dance rhythm, stepping on (European) beats 2,3,4 and 6,7,8; they differ in accents and phrasing:
  • Dance On2 - accents on beats 2 and 6; phrased 2-3-4, 6-7-8
  • Contratiempo - accents on beats 4 and 8; phrased 8-(1)-2-3, 4-(5)-6-7
Exercise: Son basic, contratiempo
Solo, then partnered. To tumbao moderno on congas, and martillo on bongó. Understand which parts of the step rhythm synchronise with the instruments' accents. Note the feel of contratiempo phrasing.

Exercise: Son basic, Dance On2
Solo, then partnered. To tumbao moderno on congas, and martillo on bongó. Understand which parts of the step rhythm synchronise with the instruments' accents. Note that the phrasing is shorter with less flow.

Exercise: Change phrasing between contratiempo and Dance On2
Partnered. Preferred social dance movement vocabulary. Developing the African perception of rhythm.

Section II - Rumba guaguancó

Concept: Rationale behind rumba guaguancó's dance rhythm
Basic guaguancó's regular dance rhythm is a structural counterpoint to the drum rhythm, which when combined, create genre's rhythmic tension. The dance rhythm's simplicity is to allow for easy transition into and out of the improvisatory mode and other more advanced dance rhythms.

Exercise: Guaguancó basic walk
Solo. The first walks are sideways to the left and the right, comprising side steps with chasing-close steps: side-close-side-close.

Exercise: Guaguancó basic walk, complete rhythm
Solo. Interleaving each step in the basic walk with an accent: side-tap-close-tap-side-tap-close-tap

Exercise: Guaguancó basic walk, complete rhythm, to music
Partnered. Facing each other, mirror imaged. Full guaguancó basic dance rhythm i.e. side-tap-close-tap-side-tap-close-tap, to music.

Exercise: Guaguancó basic walk, substituting the tap with a 'drop'
Partnered, to music. The 'drop' is achieved by flexion of the knee of the supporting leg, such that the sole of the foot of the non-weight-bearing leg contacts the floor entirely simultaneously. The drop is timed by/further accented with the downward phase of the torso engine cycle.

Exercise: Isolating and understanding torso engine synchrony with the lower-limb rhythm
Solo. Static practice. Fire up the torso engine, accentuate the up-stroke and down-stroke further with (discreet) amounts of knee extension and flexion respectively. Then transfer weight from one leg to the other with each engine cycle. Add the 'drop' accent.

Additional materials
Salsa Gitana by Orquesta Gitano
La Llave de Mi Corazón by Juan Luís Guerra
My Latin Soul by Bobby Matos
Güajira Natural by Polo Montañez

Loo Yeo

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Why Men Shouldn't Count

That's the title of the dance research paper I'd submitted for presentation at UNESCO CID's 32nd World Congress on Dance Research. And it's been accepted. That's why I've been as quiet as a mouse recently, and I will be for another month - the congress in San Marino and apart from preparing the presentation, I'll be taking the opportunity to talk dance with my colleagues in the International Dance Council, travel the Emilia Romagna region and an cap it all off with a return to beautiful Rome.

I'll cover the congress experience in a post or two, with photos, when I get back. In the meanwhile, here's the summary of the paper to whet your appetite!

San Marino, Baby! Loo Yeo, Conseil International de la Danse UNESCO
[quote]

Why Men Shouldn’t Count: Designing and assessing an event-led multimodal approach for the learning of salsa

By Loo Yen Yeo, Salsa & Merengue Society UK.

Summary
The conventional verbal approach to the teaching of salsa dancing was investigated and results indicated a bias in favour of females. A nonverbal event-led approach was developed and assessed for success rate and sex bias. Both pedagogic systems were compared and their neurological bases were discussed. Results imply an increased transfer in the burden of learning from student to instructor using the event approach. Extrapolation from neurophysiological studies leads to the hypothesis that sustained deployment of the conventional approach yields a cultural bias favouring salsa’s European component over its African influences. Exciting avenues for future research arising from salsa’s continued transnationalisation are indicated.

Keywords: dance – neurology – pedagogy – salsa – sex bias – cultural bias

[unquote]

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hierarchy of Advancement Workshop Nine

Introduction
A heavy dancer. A light dancer. A deep action. A light action. A heavy groove. A light groove. What do these mean? Which properties are good and desirable? Which ones not so? How did these metaphors come about?

Concept: Apparent weight (Dance)
(Not to be confused with apparent weight in physics)
  • Manoeuverability - This is the second-party i.e. dance partner's perception of: how capable a dancer is of movement; how much lead force is required for, or provided by, movement and the cessation of movement.
  • Rhythmicity - This is the second-party i.e. dance partner's perception of: how capable a dancer is of interpreting rhythm with his or her body.
 Section I - Manoeuverability

Concept: The centre of gravity and basic divisions of the foot
The centre of gravity is the single point associated with an object where the force of gravity can be considered to act. Four parameters - front, back, medial (towards the centreline), and distal (away from the centreline) - coarsely divide the foot into four sections through which a dancer's centre of gravity appears to act. At which point the centre of gravity acts through the foot affects, profoundly, a dancer's ability to utilise force for motion.

Exercises: Kinesthetic detection of the position of the dance partner's centre of gravity, two-footed
Partnered. Double-hand hold, eyes closed. Weight evenly distributed across both feet. Centre of gravity acting through front or back of foot. The leader moves the partnership hand-hold gently and firmly away and towards his/her body, sensing the changes in contact pressure; the follower varies the exercise by changing from weight toe-ward to weight heel-ward. (An advanced practice involves the follower moving his/her weight toe-ward on one foot and weight heel-ward on the other foot.) How does the each partner perceive the 'lightness' or 'heaviness' of the other?

Exercises: Kinesthetic detection of the position of the dance partner's centre of gravity, single-footed

Partnered. Double-hand hold, eyes closed. Follower's centre of gravity acting through any quadrant of the supporting foot. The leader moves the partnership hand-hold, gently and firmly, away and towards, to the left and to the right of his/her body, sensing the changes in contact pressure. The follower varies the exercise by changing the quadrant through which his/her centre of gravity acts. How does the each partner perceive the 'lightness' or 'heaviness' of the other?

Exercises: Kinesthetic detection of the position of the dance partner's centre of gravity under turning, single-footed

Partnered. Single-hand hold, eyes closed. Follower's centre of gravity acting through any quadrant of the supporting foot. The leader executes HALO turns (see: http://www.salsa-merengue.co.uk/VidTutor/merengue/halo_fol/int_halo_fol.html) sensing the changes in contact pressure.

The follower varies the exercise by changing the quadrant through which his/her centre of gravity acts. The leader varies the practice through choice of HALO direction and height. How does the each partner perceive the 'lightness' or 'heaviness' of the other?

Concept: Mode of movement (Dance) and a mode library
Parameters, such as the part of the foot through which a dancer's centre of gravity acts, profoundly influence a dancer's quality of movement; and how it is perceived by his or her partner, and even onlookers. A dancer can configure a mode of movement through the setting of these parameters and proceed to building a library of modes, from which may be selected the most musically appropriate at any time.

Exercises: A simple mode, full dance context
Partnered, to music. Deploying a simple, single-parameter, mode: selecting which point of the foot through which the centre of gravity acts; in full dance context.

Section II - Rhythmicity

Concept: 'Depth of penetration' of weight into the dance floor
This is a progression with pedalling, based on its learning metaphor of 'pressing a nail into the floor' (see 'Learning Tips' in http://www.salsa-merengue.co.uk/VidTutor/merengue/lbaction/det_lba.html). To 'drive the nail deeper into the floor', the dancer smoothens and slows the pedalling action, taking up more of the beat. To 'tap the nail onto the surface of the floor', the dancer shortens the time of the action.

Exercise: Salsa walk, 'driving the nail deeper into the floor'
Solo, then partnered. Kinesthesia - detect the tone and relaxation around the hip, and co-relate it with the intensity and progression of pressure registered through the soles of the feet. Does this groove feel heavier or lighter?

Exercise: Salsa walk, 'tapping the nail onto the surface of the floor'
Solo, then partnered. Kinesthesia - detect the tone and relaxation around the hip, and co-relate it with the intensity and progression of pressure registered through the soles of the feet. Does this groove feel heavier or lighter?

Concept: Lower body action (pedalling) affects rhythmicity
The 'depth of penetration' of weight qualitatively affects two aspects of the lower body action: attack i.e. how rapidly the heel contacts the floor; and duration i.e. the breadth of time over which weight is transferred. Both of these are parameters in percussion and by extension, rhythm.

Exercises: A simple mode, full dance context
Partnered, to music. Deploying another simple, single-parameter, mode: selecting the quality of lower body action; in full dance context. An advanced variant is to deploy a different mode per leg.

Exercises: Compound modes
Solo, then partnered. What are all the possible modes which can be created when two parameters: where the centre of gravity acts through the foot; and quality of lower body action, interact?

Section III - Modes in practice

Exercise: Compound modes to music, solo
Solo, to music. This is an action-event practice: deploying modes of movement to music and assessing their musical qualities.

Exercise: Compound modes to music, partnered
Partnered, to music. This is an action-event-partnership practice: deploying modes of movement to music, assessing their musical qualities in first and second person, and understanding how modes influence apparent weight (and hence how others perceive you as a dance partner).

Loo Yeo

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Hierarchy of Advancement Workshop Eight

Introduction
Building on the arm-functionality begun in the previous workshop, this session uses an actual flamenco rhythm interpreted on the hands in synchrony with lower body movment. More complex body isolations and arm positions are detailed.

Section I - Basic flamenco castanet rhythm

Warm-up reprising Exercise: A basic hand and foot rhythm to Nuevo Flamenco
Solo. Basic rhythms on castañuelas (hands) and zapateo (feet). All wrist gates.

Concept: The basic flamenco castanet rhythm
Left hand is the time-keeper; and
Right hand plays the roll from little finger to first finger.

Exercise: Basic flamenco castanet rhythm co-ordinated to a simple walk
Solo. Basic flamenco castanet rhythm on castañuelas (hands) and walking (feet). Heart wrist gates.

Exercise: Basic flamenco castanet rhythm co-ordinated to a simple walk, to music
Solo, to music. Basic flamenco castanet rhythm on castañuelas (hands) and walking (feet). Heart wrist gates.

Section II - Lower body action

Concept: Knees as regulators of the lower body action
The rate of extension of the knee joint is critical to the timing of weight transfer; its alignment with the heel and the hip determines the nature of the hip deflection: whether achieved through muscle tension or relaxation. And yet is probably the most overlooked aspect of the lower body action. As salsa dancers are least likely to be developed with respect to the proprioception and cortical mapping of the knees, the final section of basic lower body action will address this.

Exercise: Pedalling revisited
Particular emphasis on the smooth, horizontal plane, backward travel of the knee joint. Detecting the initial effect of the backward travel of the knee by sensing pressure on the sole of the supporting foot. Detecting the advancing effect of the knee by detection of pressure and displacement around the hip joint.

Exercise: Pedalling to flamenco castanet rhythm, static
Synchronising the pedalling action to the basic flamenco castanet rhythm:
heel - knee (commence) - knee (continue) - knee (complete) - hip

Exercise: Pedalling to flamenco castanet rhythm, walking
Without, then to music.

Section III - Compound body movements, horizontal plane

Practice: Body isolation exercise, seated, upper body (torso), compound circular paths
Figure-eight motif e.g. centre-west-centre clockwise one rotation, centre-east-centre anticlockwise one rotation. Repeat. (Note: Inverting the direction of rotation i.e. anticlockwise and then clockwise creates the reverse figure-eight.)

Practice: Body isolation exercise, seated, upper body (torso), compound linear-circular paths
Horizontal-plane loops e.g. north-west linear to north, full clockwise circle plus 90degrees to east, linear to south-east.

Practice: Body isolation exercise, seated, upper body (torso), compound linear-circular paths
Vertical-plane loops - "rocking the cradle".

Likewise:

Practice: Body isolation exercise, standing, lower body (pelvis), compound circular paths
Figure-eight motif e.g. centre-west-centre clockwise one rotation, centre-east-centre anticlockwise one rotation. Repeat. (Note: Inverting the direction of rotation i.e. anticlockwise and then clockwise creates the reverse figure-eight.)

Practice: Body isolation exercise, standing, lower body (pelvis), compound linear-circular paths
Horizontal-plane loops e.g. north-west linear to north, full clockwise circle plus 90degrees to east, linear to south-east.

Practice: Body isolation exercise, standing, lower body (pelvis), compound linear-circular paths
Vertical-plane loops - "rocking the cradle".

Learning point:  Side-of-hip points to little toe
Observe that the lateral mobility of the hip is constrained by the supporting joints beneath it; the ankle and the knee. A general, though not absolute, guide is that 'the side of the hip should point to the little toe of its supporting foot' when that side of the pelvis laterally rotates to its forward-most position.

Concept: A fundamental difference between rumba and son action
The 'side of hip to little toe' phenomenon is used in defining the movement characteristics of rumba and son:
  • rumba action has less foot turn-out and hence the hip rotations are further forward, resulting in an even 'figure-eight' pelvic movement-path when viewed from above.
  • son action has more foot turn-out and hence the hip rotations are hardly forward, resulting in an asymmetrical 'figure-eight' pelvic movement-path which is flattened on the frontal side (facing the partner) when viewed from above.
Section IV - Arms

Concept: Constraints of the castanet positions
Having to hold the castanets from audience view behind the hands of the dancer, limits the distance which the castanet arm gates can be located distal from the body's centreline - the wrist of the outer arm can only bend inward so far.

Concept: Fan and skirt gates
Gates more distal from the centreline can be defined, and understood more easily, with the hand fan and the skirt. If necessary, a cape can be substituted for males.

Concept: Inner gates, castanets. Outer gates the fan and skirt/cape
These constructs determine the spatial location of the limbs and the routes of travel they trace. Additionally, they determine the conformation/shape of the hand(s).

Exercise: Positioning the arms through the external gates
Upper (fan), upper-outer (fan), outer (fan or skirt), lower-outer (fan or skirt) gates

Section V - Guaguancó fundamentals

Concept: The elemental guaguancó dance rhythm
The basic dance rhythm is a regular one alternating between unaccented and accented beats. This is translated into movement as step-accent-step-accent-(repeat).

Concept: The basic guaguancó movement mode is lateral
The functional constraint of the male having to circle around the female, yet still facing her, results in the foundational movement being laterally-based. Culturally the definition of the circle is important as it represents the circle of creation. Guaguancó is classic pursuit-and-capture.

Exercise: Basic guaguancó walk
Solo. Lateral movement. Side-tap-close-tap-(repeat).

Exercise: Basic guaguancó walk
Solo, to music. Lateral movement. Side-tap-close-tap-(repeat).

Yeo Loo Yen

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Hierarchy of Advancement Workshop Seven

Introduction
Current arm work is dominated by the 'styling' approach, whose emphasis is solely aesthetic, and is divested of its underlying tenets of physical functionality. This workshop takes a historical and cultural route to arm positions and movement, as a counterpoint to the styling industry. We also consider how the principles of arm-flow differs in performers with above-average limb-length, and how these are reflected in the strategies they employ.

Section I - Arms

Concept: flamenco's gates
Adapted for Afro-Cuban dance. Spatial way-points for the passage of wrist and elbow joints. Gates explored (wrist): hip, centre, heart, crown and high. The importance of developing cortical mapping, spatial mapping, and proprioception.

Introduction to flamenco's castañuelas
Adapted for Afro-Cuban dance. Deploying castanets as a means of providing auditory feedback for the (unsighted) positions of upper limbs in space and time.

Exercise: A basic hand rhythm to Nuevo Flamenco
Solo. A basic rhythm interpreted on castañuelas, wrists at the heart gate.

Exercise: A basic hand rhythm to Nuevo Flamenco
Solo. A basic rhythm interpreted on castañuelas, wrists at the central gates.

Exercise: A basic hand rhythm to Nuevo Flamenco
Solo. A basic rhythm interpreted on castañuelas, investigating all remaining gates.

Concept: flamenco's zapateo
The practice of zapateo [foot-tapping] as a means of providing auditory feedback for the (unsighted) positions of the lower limbs in space and time.

Exercise: A basic hand and foot rhythm to Nuevo Flamenco
Solo. Basic rhythms on castañuelas (hands) and zapateo (feet). All wrist gates.

Concept: gate linking
The flow, control and angles of the arm-joints as they travel through the various gates perform the functional and aesthetic characteristics of the dance.

Exercise: Offerings on saucers
The parameters of the start positions are: right hand or left hand or both; clockwise or anticlockwise; above or below the shoulder. The objective is to keep the saucers as level as possible throughout the movement, keeping the travelling smooth, even, passing through all the relevant gates, and maintaining an upright torso as far as possible.

Section II - Torso

Concept: finishing the compass points
Compound action of previous torso exercises to achieve linear and circular movements

Practice: body isolation exercise, seated, upper body, north-east to south-west

Practice: body isolation exercise, seated, upper body, north-west to south-east

Practice: body isolation exercise, seated, upper body, compound linear paths
Linked X forms e.g. north-west, north-east, south-west, south-east, north-west. Repeat.

Practice: body isolation exercise, seated, upper body, circular
As per: http://www.salsa-merengue.co.uk/VidTutor/bodyskills/chest_movement_circular.html

Concept: rhythmic changes in movement
The 'push-pull-push' or 'chachachá' movement variation, especially in the linear paths.

Practice: body isolation exercise, seated, upper body, all linear paths, chachachá variations
Substitution of chachachá rhythmic movement variation in all linear path exercises.

Additional Materials
Gravity by Jesse Cook

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Dance Ethnology Distilled

"Dance sets politics in motion, bringing people together in rhythmic affinity where identification takes the form of histories written on the body through gesture."

From Delgado, C.F., and Muñoz, J. (1997). Rebellions in everynight life. In Everynight Life: Culture and dance in Latin/o America.

Loo Yeo

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hierarchy of Advancement Workshop Six

Introductory briefing
We can use salsa as a stepping stone to rumba. The first section of the workshop will involve the development of skills in the salsa context which are transferable to the rumba rhythm group. The second section is directly pertinent to guaguancó: the timing, or at least one possible timing, of the vacunao and the defense against it. An introduction to a dance gearing in columbia is the subject of section three.

Section I - Salsa's Heartbeat

Concept: locating, hearing and feeling the conga open tones of the tumbao moderno
Hearing the tones as the 'lub-dub' of the heartbeat.

Exercise: tapping the 'lub-dub'
Solo, to the isochronous conga track. Tapping on the chest over the heart (a la Dirty Dancing).

Exercise: tapping the 'lub-dub', dancing
Solo, to the isochronous conga track. Tapping on the chest over the heart while dancing the salsa step rhythm.

Concept: in dialogue with the open tones (salsa context)
Call-and-response between the drum (conga open tones) and the dancer (salsa dance rhythm).

Exercise: the dancer calls, the drum 'responds'
Solo, to the isochronous conga track and later the conga plus piano track. Note that this is an illusion, a pre-recorded drum cannot respond.

Exercise: the drum calls, the dancer responds
Solo, to the isochronous conga track and later the conga plus piano track. Note the slight latency in timing which softens the attack of the dancer. This is a prerequisite skill for rumba and dancing to live music performances.

Practice: both call-and-response variations, partnered
Using the isochronous conga track, then the instrument layers tracks in increasing complexity, and finally complete pre-recorded salsa tracks.

Section II - Vacunao and defense timing

Practice: playing martillo on the bongó

Exercise: stopping on beat one, starting on beat eight
Solo. Beats as counted by Europeans. Drumming the martillo on the bongó. To bolero, chachachá and timba tracks of increasing tempo.

Exercise: stopping on beat one, starting on beat eight
Partnered. Beats as counted by Europeans. Dancing the rumba basic. To timba of increasing tempo.

Exercise: a basic vacunao and defense timing
Partnered. Beats as counted by Europeans. Dancing the rumba basic. To timba of increasing tempo. Addition of the leg-raise vacunao on beat one (or five), with women's defense on the 'and' of beat one (or five).

Demonstration: points of flexibility in a basic
Two fundamental variables:
  • how a rumba basic may be flexed in its centre to give rise to changes in orientations; and
  • how the close step can be substituted with a front cross step.
Exercise: dance-creating four variations of a rumba basic
Solo, to music of increasing tempo. Maintenance of orientation discipline is stressed.

Section III - Dance Gears

Briefing: tresillo as a common motif in Caribbean music
Identifying the tresillo as the 3-side of son clave.

Exercise: clapping tresillo
Solo. Moderate tempo salsa and timba music. Begin by clapping son clave, then substituting all 2-sides with the tresillo.

Demonstration: tresillo as an alternative gear in rumba
Dancing a rumba basic using the regular downbeat-based dancer's rhythm, and then switching to a tresillo dance rhythm.

Exercise: dancing rumba, switching gears
Solo. To 'Sandore' by Suzzana Owiyo. Dancing rumba basic, switching between the regular down-beat gear and the tresillo gear.

Additional Materials
Loo's Instrument Layers CD
Timba Teaching CD1
Timba Teaching CD2

Yeo Loo Yen

Monday, April 09, 2012

Hierarchy of Advancement Workshop Five

Introduction: workshop objectives
One of the greatest challenges of Afro-Cuban dance is the learning of gestures which aren't present in the Western/European cultural lexicon. The theme of today's workshop involves the learning and practice of component movements from which the gestures are constructed; and understanding the importance of repetition in cortical mapping and building internal models of movement in the cerebellum.

Briefing: The impact of commercialisation with the Cuban cultural boom
Cuban (and non-Cuban) cultural mediators have had to consider the questions "what can I sell?" and "what do I think non-Cubans are interested in?" This has had a filtering/accentuating impact on their cultural information abroad, both subtractive and additive.

One of these is the portrayal of the guaguancó which has been hyper-genderised; disproportionately accentuated for performance purposes, and to render it more obvious from yambú. The spectrum of transition has been lost, creating perceptual genre boundaries. Portrayal of the guaguancó with greater emphasis on performance, in what is already display-based pursuit-and-capture dance, heavily biases its learning by cultural outsiders in favour of type A personalities.

Section I - An African Context

Concept: Luo movement as a context for women in guaguancó
The Luo peoples are river-based with a soft vowel rich language, who have had significant interaction with the Bantu (from whom some important aspects of Afro-Cuban culture is derived like the conga drums). The Luo women based around Lake Victoria dance from their shoulders; providing an alternative 'back-to-the-source' context for the learning of movement by non-type-A women, which can be translated into the guaguancó.

Practice: a Luo basic, in place
Dancing from the shoulders: lateral over vertical.
How the shoulder-blades meet: upper, middle and lower positions.
Quality of movement: legato (smooth) over staccato.
The effect of head position: "ears pulled up".

Practice: Luo basic, with weight transfer

Practice: Luo basic, with weight transfer, and slight change in orientation

Practice: Luo basic, timing cycles
Performed to Western cycle. Performed to African cycle.

Section II - Body Skills

Concept: 'shoulder-blades back' versus 'chest out' - more than just semantics

Practice: body isolation exercise, seated, upper body, north-south
As per link below, with emphasis on shoulder-blade movement.
http://www.salsa-merengue.co.uk/VidTutor/bodyskills/chest_front_back.html

Practice: body isolation exercise, seated, upper body, east-west
As per link below, with emphasis on shoulder-blade movement.
http://www.salsa-merengue.co.uk/VidTutor/bodyskills/chest_sidetoside.html

Practice: body isolation exercise, free-standing/supported, hips, north-south
As per http://www.salsa-merengue.co.uk/VidTutor/bodyskills/pelvis_front_back.html

Practice: body isolation exercise, free-standing/supported, hips, east-west
As per http://www.salsa-merengue.co.uk/VidTutor/bodyskills/pelvis_sidetoside.html

Section III - Rhythm Skills

Briefing: playing open tones on the bongó
Effect of finger extension on speed.
All fingers of the hand extended, index finger slightly depressed.
Striking zones on the drum head.

Practice: bongó open tones, accenting whole beats
Alternating hands, dominant hand accent.

Practice: bongó open tones, accenting upbeats
Alternating hands, non-dominant hand accent.

Practice: bongó muffled tones, upbeats
Alternating hands, non-dominant hand thumb and fingers (in alternation) on macho drum head.
Dominant hand open tones on hembra drum head.

Practice: bongó muffled tones, upbeats
Alternating hands, non-dominant hand thumb and fingers (in alternation) on macho drum head.
Dominant hand open tones on  macho drum head.

Practice: bongó, martillo

Practice: bongó, accents on rumba clave
Alternating hands, macho drum head only, accents on rumba clave.
3-2 and 2-3 orientation.

Section IV - Guaguancó Context

Concept: the damp teacloth exercise
Developing power, commitment, and timing in the arms.

Exercise: variations of elemental arm movements
Three heights - upper, middle, lower.

Exercise: timing of the vacuano and warding it off

Context: choreography ideas
To 'Somos Cubanos' by Los Van Van.

Additional Materials
My Roots by Suzanna Owiyo
Mama Afríca by Suzzana Owiyo
Llegó... by Los Van Van

Loo Yen Yeo

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Hierarchy of Advancement Workshop Four

Introductory discussion
As a dancer knowledge of percussion deepens cultural understanding, strengthens relationship with music, increases timing resolution, and helps discern genre boundaries. Put another way, it both raises the potential of a dancer, and the ability to realise that potential. To that end, rhythmic development as a percussionist is explored, and made relevant by using drumming concepts in a dancing context.

The bongó is the instrument of choice because of its:
  • wide variety of tones;
  • portability;
  • presence in a large number of genres; and
  • adaptability (can be used to interpret rhythms from other instruments).
Section I - Percussion

Briefing: salient features of a basic martillo
The ubiquitous Afro-Cuban rhythm of the son and rumba (modern) rhythm groups.

Practice: drumming a simple martillo, complete rhythm
To bolero music, increasing tempo.

Briefing: salient features of the modern guaguancó drum rhythm
The similarities, differences and ethos of modern Havana and Matanzas variants.

Practice: drumming a simple guaguancó, complete structural rhythm, Havana variant

Practice: co-operative drumming of guaguancó, Havana variant
One drums the tumba tones (ponche), another drums the conga tones.
Highlights the necessity for a master rhythm (clave)

Practice: co-operative drumming of guaguancó, Matanzas variant

Section II - Guaguancó

Concept: the engine of rumba guaguancó
The upper solar plexus as the seat of power, the cyclic motion of which ripples to the body's periphery. The upper back is a good indicator of strong drive from the engine; stretches for the upper back and shoulders is recommended when training for guaguancó.

Practice: activating the engine of the guaguancó
Solo, in place. Vocalising the guaguancó core drum rhythm.

Practice: guaguancó's basic step
Solo. Matching the basic dance rhythm to the (vocalised) core drum rhythm.
Basic step as per http://www.salsa-merengue.co.uk/VidTutor/salsaone/cucabas.html

Practice: effect of tilting the engine
Solo, in place. Vocalising the guaguancó core drum rhythm. Preparation for creating contra-body movement in the guaguancó basic.

Concept: gender roles in rumba guaguancó
Introduction to gender affirmation in Afro-Cuban dance. The unique gestures of the vacunao and ward-off.

Practice: a basic hand position and its timing
Solo. Vocalising the guaguancó core drum rhythm, later to music. Male and female positions.

Demonstration: advanced guaguancó rhythms
A comparison of folkloric, modern and popular forms. Reiterating of the centrality of rumba clave in the interpretation of guaguancó.

Briefing: some properties of clave in Cuban music
Understanding the similarities and differences of rumba and son clave. Drumming 'guaguancó con clave' and 'guaguancó contra clave', and its cultural implications.

Practice: clave from a dancer's world
Partnered, salsa. Feeling the difference in relationship between salsa's dance rhythm and rumba or son clave.

Additional Materials
Rumba 3 (Popular) rhythm pages from "Latin-American Percussion: Rhythms and Rhythm Instruments from Cuba and Brazil" by Birger Sulsbrück
Basic Strokes and Martillo rhythm pages from "The Bongo Book" by Trevor Salloum
Guaguancó 69 by Justi Barreto
Tempest by Jesse Cook
Aquí El Que Baila Gana - Live in Miami (Disk 2) by Juan Formell y Los Van Van
Llegó... by Juan Formell y Los Van Van
Pa'l Bailador by Johnny Polanco y su Conjunto Amistad
Fresquecito by Elio Revé
Homenaje 50 Años by Elio Revé
El Explosión del Momento by Orquesta Revé

Loo Yen Yeo

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hierarchy of Advancement Workshop Three

Introduction: workshop objectives
The ultimate objective for the day was to reach the state where the bolero and salsa become mutually supporting. This would require the bolero to evolve from its simple basic into a flexible, living and breathing form. (Quite the ambitious challenge for one session, but I was very confident!)

Warm-up: dancing the bolero
Performing the bolero basic, partnered. With emphasis clearer form. There were two main learning points:
  1. The value of using the third (foot) position: to liberate the hip action, and provide unsighted tactile feedback.
  2. A full, correct, settling of the hip in the preceding step facilitates the accurate deployment of the third position.
A principle in the development of physical skill:
"A visible fault is a delayed symptom, the error resides in the preceding step."

Practice: breaking the bolero basic
Partnered, in both lead and follower roles. Understanding the concept of flexibility in a basic. Two points were investigated:
  1. Substitution - backward steps replaced with forward steps; and
  2. Re-angling - 90 degree angles increased to more obtuse angles up to 180 degrees.
    (
    Re-orientation was not addressed)
Discussion: emotional expression in music
Facets discussed were:
  • The multi-layered nature of Latin music allows for interpretations/arrangements to be biased on a gradual spectrum between the extremes of the lyrical-melodic to the rhythmic-percussive.
  • Melodic expression may or may not be congruent with that of the lyrics.
  • A dancer's expression of emotion does not necessarily require comprehension of a song's lyrics, nor privilege their meaning over that of the melody.
  • The right of interpretation is that of the dancer.
Concept: the grammar and syntax of Latin dance (Part 1)
Within the context of Latin dance of which there are groups of proximal (i.e. related) genres, where there:
  • is a core relationship between the dancer's rhythm and the music's which is unique; and
  • are elements/properties which are portable across related genres.
Practice: Elucidating core transferable elements from salsa
Solo and partnered. Walking elements:
Turn elements:
These utilised a variation-based approach, which is the best way to identify blind-spots in a dancer's element vocabulary. All turns were performed across multiple bars of music, to:
  1. eliminate the bias of followers assuming the turn would span just one bar, and lead themselves around accordingly; and
  2. develop sensitivity to pressure as an indicator of turn direction and speed.
Demonstration: construction of a simple combination
Partnered, salsa context. Two variations of a simple combination comprising: Follower's HALO, Lead's HALO, Follower's HALO, and Neutral Turn.

Exercise: developing drive in the forward steps (salsa)
Learning points:
  • reduce number of steps per distance;
  • maintain full hip action.
Exercise: driving the Latin basic
Performing the Latin basic (six steps per cycle) and the extended Latin basic (twelve steps per cycle) over the greatest distance, whilst retaining correct hip action.

Practice: deploying core transferable elements into bolero
Partnered. The process of deployment occurred in the following order:
  1. modifying the basic (reprise);
  2. addition of linear walking elements;
  3. circularisation of walking elements; and
  4. addition of turning elements.
Concept: identifying salsa songs with bolero DNA

Practice: deploying the bolero mode of movement in salsa
Learning points:
  1. filling out the space in-between beats
  2. slower, slower, slower
  3. strong, long, hip action
Additional Materials
"Transnational Salsa" draft reference by Loo Yeo
The Voice of Cuba by Hanny
Tata Masamba by Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca
On Fire by Orquesta La Palabra

Loo Yen Yeo

Saturday, March 03, 2012

2nd March 2012 Los Van Van @O2 Academy, Leeds

I wasn't sure about giving Cuba's veteran super-group second chance; so lacklustre was Los Van Van's (LVV) concert at the Roundhouse thee years ago to the week. What swung it in the end was that the concert would be happening in a town nearby (Leeds), and that I'd be catching up with a load of great salsa friends at the very least.

Once ticketmaster's palm had been crossed with silver, I headed on over (electronically) to my favourite Latin music shoppe and placed an order for the latest Los Van Van album they would be tour-promoting. 'La Maquinaría' turned up last month, and a good portion of four weeks was spent pitching a critical ear to the studio album. It was a bit of a slow burner. My initial impression was that a majority of the cuts followed a predictable formula established by songs from preceding albums 'Llegó...' and 'Chapeando'. It felt as if some of LVV's creative brightness had dimmed with the exit of César Pedroso. Nonetheless, there were two numbers which stood out straight away: 'La Bobería' and Yeni Valdés-fronted 'Que Tiene Ese Guajiro Que'. Although I've since come to appreciate 'La Maquinaría', I can't say that it's captured my imagination as much as 'Llegó...' did before.

In the run-up to the concert last Friday, Los Van Van suffered lineup upheavals which seems to have plagued them since Juan Formell took a back seat. The band's press release of 11th October 2011 announced the departure of Mayito Rivera, the only singer who displayed real passion that fateful night at the Roundhouse. I was dismayed, but cautiously welcomed the news that his space on stage had been given to Armando 'Mandy' Cantero, formerly of César Pedroso's ensemble. Then there was the tragic loss of their conguero Manuel Labarrera less than two weeks before tour, which triggered the departure of their bassist Pavel Molina not long after.

Gulp!

So I walked into the O2 Academy in Leeds not expecting too much - a combination of previous experience, and knowing the backdrop to the tour. The venue has a capacity of about fifteen hundred, of which more than a thousand tickets had already been sold; no mean feat, and largely due to DJ Lubi Jovanovich's titanic promotion efforts. This was our old stomping ground, where Lubi used to have his Thursday night Casa Latina residency  in the basement called the Underground. Above it would sit the Town and Country club which has played host to Eddie Palmieri and Issac Delgado (with a fledgling salsero me in the audience).

Now it's whitewashed, blue-LED lit, dark-floored, and modern.

Oops!?! Los Van Van still setting up after doors open
Much to my surprise, some of Van Van were on stage. That indicated to me that they'd probably only recently arrived, and that there might not have been a full sound-check. Okay... things were going to be interesting. A quick glimpse at the Front-of-House (FoH) desk told me that it was a Soundcraft Vi6, about forty-thousand pounds of digital mixer; the engineer had better know what he was doing to be let near the thing! I put all of that to one side and indulged in antics and banter, surprised to see the likes of Chunky - an  instructor with Red Hat Salsa - from as far afield as Reading. When all the introductions were said and done, the only thing left was the moment of truth.

The band opened up and the singers strode onstage.

I let out a breath that I hadn't realised I'd been holding. Los Van Van were hungry and they sounded like they'd appreciated the lengths to which some of their fans had travelled (I met a young lady who'd flown from Ireland). Their delivery was consummately polished and nimble, with the ensemble's powerhouses clearly being Samuel Formell (on drumset), Yeni Valdés and Mandy Cantero. The years have been kind to Yeni's stagecraft; she now exerts a commanding presence where she only showed glimpses of before. Mandy was the real surprise of the night, giving it as good as Mayito ever did; perhaps moving away from Pupy's group to LVV will prove to be the liberating challenge that his performance career needed.

The band didn't reprise any of their previous material. Neither did they play 'La Bobería'. I understand, because there had been only a few months for Mandy, less for some others, to learn the songs they had to sort their priorities out. And knowing U..K salseros' preferences for up-tempo music, it was also natural to expect them to shy away from the slower numbers. Although Los Van Van's performance lacked the rage of Maikel Blanco's (I think that their gig in London the night before took a lot out of them), they convinced me enough to be a concert-goer for them again.

But not at the O2 Academy.

Sadly, FoH sound failed to match the calibre of the band. The order of instruments which the sound engineer chose to tackle: brass, vocals, bass, keyboards told me he was unfamiliar with Latin music; and the opportunity to create a strong acoustic space for one of LVV's key assets, the lead vocals, (and well within the Vi6's capabilities) was overlooked. Aggressive high-frequency distortion from a damaged driver on the top-left of stage remained untamed, as did the low-frequency boom left to chase itself in the auditorium's corners.

An enthusiast of live Latin music based here learns to look past deficiencies in Public Address provision (due to their lack of familiarity with the genre) and peer into the heart of a performance. I, probably more than any of the 1000 present, was grateful to find Los Van Van with a properly thumping one.

Loo Yeo