Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Cultural Knowledge

Last Saturday was our Sheffield Parranda Espectacular event in Sheffield. Apart from the hospitality, operational and performance aspects make up the running of a great night, I try to squeeze in a few moments to sound out Solares/The Rueda Academy (STRA) attendees. The way they express themselves, their interpretations of their own learning is richly informative, helping me understand how better to tailor their learning experience.

One of them made an astute observation. When Solares first started, he was under the impression that it was a novel kind of workshop; that there were subcomponents or aspects being trialled which would inform my dance research. And yet after two years of workshops, all the material we'd covered was contained in my rather snazzy salsa website. This snippet, which should be read in a positive tone, was couched within a larger conversation of satisfaction with Solares' direction and modes of delivery. I had the chance to explain later that while "yes" the material was similar, it was the environment and means of delivery that was novel.

When I first elucidated the content elements and hierarchy some fifteen plus years ago, the young women and men whom I trained turned out to be exceptional educators and dancers displaying physical and conceptual skills at the peak of Bloom's taxonomy. Where they were (comparatively) less strong was their fluency with the musical, rhythmic, and cultural domains in Caribbean dance.

In retrospect, it was my naivete in searching for an ideal objective means of dance instruction that was to blame. I had neither the maturity nor the experience associated with the cultural knowledge of salsa to appreciate its value, its necessity as a subjective part. This except from "Spinning Mambo Into Salsa" (2015: 114) by Juliet McMains captures the difference between then and now.
"For Cuban Pete, mambo was not something that could be learned in a dance school. It was cultural knowledge he inherited from his family, dancing in the kitchen with his mother.
"This tension between Latin dance as cultural knowledge that can only be learned through time spent in a particular community versus Latin dance as a technique that can be bought and sold in formal dance classes intensified as the salsa dance industry emerged in the 1990s."
While I am not able to provide the literal environment of growing up and dancing in a kitchen with a Latin American mother like Cuban Pete's, I am interested in whether a surrogate environment may be created where subjective Latin American cultural knowledge may be acquired.

This is the basis of Solares' novelty.

Loo Yeo