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.
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.
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.
Isochronous son clave only tracks
Loo Yen Yeo