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.

Practice: body isolation exercise, seated, upper body, east-west
As per link below, with emphasis on shoulder-blade movement.

Practice: body isolation exercise, free-standing/supported, hips, north-south
As per

Practice: body isolation exercise, free-standing/supported, hips, east-west
As per

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

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