Saturday, January 25, 2014

Clear Objectives: A Return to Teaching

Esh and I have been talking about offering dance lessons.

That's for want of a better term. It's stemmed from my one-to-one workshop sessions with him,.and we'd had Elaine, a mutual friend drop by the occasional three-hour Sunday who'd gotten quite absorbed in them. So it occurred to me to ask, "how about we open this up?" Not in a commercial sense, but to people we know whom might be keen. After all, it's just as easy for me to run a session for a small gathering of individuals as it is for one; and, there's the opportunity of developing partnered skills.

Besides, given the unconventional format and flipped-learning model, I wouldn't anticipate that attendee retention would be high, given that the general populace of dancers have already been pre-selected and optimised for conventional instruction.

But I'd have to get something out of this as well, apart from an altruistic joy of teaching. It wouldn't be financial - I've always preferred a social contract to a financial one. So I've articulated some clear personal objectives should I choose to proceed. I think it's crucial to have these, not only to determine the direction of development, but also to judge the value of the activity.

Principal objectives
  1. Explore the externally-perceived value of a contrasting pedagogic ethos
  2. Data generation for on-going dance research
  3. Validation of pedagogic hypotheses
  4. Continued personal development as dance educator and proponent
On the up-side, that commercial viability is not a necessity will allow for plenty of scope in implementation. On the down-side, how does one satisfy the contradictory notions of: being able to accept newcomers/accommodating people who have essential commitments flexibly, with the need for clear progression?

Loo Yeo

Monday, January 06, 2014

Cultural Mark, Social Brand

There's nothing like a hard deadline to focus the mind. And with our commitment to launching our Latin dance social event, there's been a lot of focussing lately. I don't think Esh, Steve and I have been in such sustained contact, ever!

Apart from the bringing together of materials and investment in capital assets i.e. the operations facet, the most important long-term decision is, "what to call it?" It has to have the opportunity to grow into a name of social meaning, to reflect the uniqueness we feel the night can (and should) be. Yes, it will be a brand, but it'll be less the values of Monsanto and more Rainforest Alliance. Or maybe Eataly.

Whatever it is, I have a few parameters.

The word or phrase has got to have a nice internal rhythm to its pronunciation, to make it an easy handle to grasp

Cultural Dimension
I would like to see this as a place where both Latin Americans and locals alike feel comfortable. It has to have elements of cultural grounding in the Caribbean, and hence have 'authenticity'.

As I envision the music policy to be broad, encompassing such like: vallenato (for Colombians), gaita (for Venezuelans), cumbia (for Chileans, Mexicans), bachata (locals and Latins), merengue (for Latins), timba (for Cubans, Cubanophiles and Casinoholics), and a main staple of salsa (from romantica to dura); the symbol must have a dimension which crosses the Caribbean and South America.

It should be one that has not been seen before in the local environment, in this context.

'Empty' Term
I suspect my co-partners would want to go with something which has 'salsa' in the title. I feel that whereas that might help us get up and running quickly, as people hearing it would think they know what to expect, it is that same expectation which would hinder the brand in the long term. The better, (albeit harder) way is to choose an 'empty' term and imbue it with our own meanings, rather than try to adapt one with existing meanings.

This is a concept most immigrant parents or those of different cultures face when choosing names for their children. A good number of them choose names which are pronounced similarly in both (or more) languages.

Social Dimension
Wherever and however the mark is derived, it has to convey a strong social dimension which I feel should be the core of what we do.

So, all in all quite one of the easiest things to do. I already have a few candidates.

Loo Yeo

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

New Year's Eve 2013 Old Skool Disco @Creswell Social Centre

I'd just settled down in front of the telly-box in anticipation of a musical evening capped with Jool's Annual Hootenanny. Everything was right: the comfy socks, the hot beverage, mince pies... New Year's Eve is quality 'me' time.

Then the phone rang:

"Loo, get ready. I'm coming by to pick you up in 30 minutes. We're going to an old skool disco," said Esh.
"Eh?" said I.
"Old Skool Disco.." enunciated Esh, much more slowly.
I thought he'd gone looney-tunes. 'Why on Earth would I give up a Hootenanny for a night that can't even manage to play one song all the way through?' I thought to myself.
"It's at a possible venue for our dance night," cajoled Esh.

At that point, the prospect of quality 'me' time bleated as it was sacrificed on the altar of Latin social dance. "Okay," I sighed.

An hour and a half later and we, Esh and I, were standing at the threshold of Creswell Social Club's main hall. This is what we saw:

Old Skool
Revellers shuffled from foot to foot, clutching their prized golden nectar in plastic cups, some mouthing lyrics from fragments of songs by Bon Jovi. Air, made acrid with artificial smoke, occasionally lanced by sharp beams of primary colour, pounded with the weight of an overpowered system. Spots of white versus off-white battled for supremacy across the lid of a giant box.

I looked to my right and read Esh's expression.
"Not feeling the love, huh?" I observed.
He shook his head, despondent.
"Don't worry, I can make this work" I said.
He looked surprised, tinged with a good handful of disbelief.
"Trust me."

This wasn't my first rodeo, and I could see its potential immediately. The plus features of the room were its:
  • width - close enough for people to mingle and not feel exposed when crossing over to ask for a dance;
  • size - large enough for a decent capacity yet, crucially, intimate enough that a good atmosphere could be had with smaller attendance numbers;
  • height - the ceiling was high enough to draw away some of the heat, and had fans for circulation; and,
  • dance-floor - a slightly-sprung hardwood floor, kept in good nick (even past the spilt beer), with no detectable steel-joist hard-points beneath.
All the key aspects for dancers' comfort were addressed in the room. With the right lighting, and imaginative dressing, this unpromising duckling could be swanified.

"I need to check their loos" I said. The business-person in me learned, a long time ago, that the state of the toilet facilities are the clearest indication of staff morale. Creswell's were modern and immaculate, easily the best I'd seen at a social club anywhere. Dancers with expensive dance shoes appreciate good facilities.

Steve then took Esh and I into the kitchen area to meet the venue manager, Pat - a slim lady, with bright eyes, gentle smile, and kind no-nonsense demeanour. She listened to our plans in an unhurried manner (in the midst of a busy New Year's Eve service period), then said, "Let me get out the venue diary for the year."

I'd expected her to say "let me think about this and contact you." Caught on the hop, I knew we had to take an immediate plunge or lose organisational credibility. We'd come prepared. I'd already identified the first Saturday of every month as the best candidate:
  • Fridays were always a rush for most working people, yours truly included, whereas a Saturday evening event meant for a more leisurely build-up of anticipation;
  • the first Saturday of the month slotted in well with the cycle of monthly events in the region, it having become available after a promoter had decided to cease a running regular event; and,
  • previous experience told me that the first Saturday after pay day was less vulnerable to seasonal fluctuations.
We committed to start on the 1st of March 2014 - a mere two months away - and confirmed the dates for six months, pencilling the other dates for the remainder of the year (with a view to confirming them or not after an internal four-month review).

Esh and I left Creswell with a sharply renewed focus. There's nothing like making a commitment to crystallise the mind. Now I have to make good on my promise of transforming Creswell into a delightful swan of a place to Latin dance in.

I took a deep breath.