Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Phase Changes: Symmetry Versus Asymmetry

Last night I had the participants all to myself, for a whole two hours, because my partner-in-teaching-crime had abandoned them to their fates, in favour of a blustery sojourn in England's North-East.

It was a chance to build momentum and give them something to sink their teeth into. Based on the evidence of cognitive saturation witnessed last week, I knew that I would only be able to push them with maracas-embodied rhythm practices for 45 minutes; any more and they would tip over into super-saturation, impairing their learning ability. There had to be a contrasting activity for the remainder 75 minutes.

So I decided to dedicate the first half of the double Solares session to maracas-embodiment activity, and the second half to a 'sneak peek' at an upcoming chapter for next year. The latter would contextualise more skills, allowing me to introduce them earlier than I'd planned.

When the sun shines, it's time to make hay.

Warm Up: Complete maraca rhythm, son montuno version
Solo, to music. Caribbean sway basic, atiempo embodiment rhythm. Playing the compete maraca rhythm.

After three songs, it was time to make things more interesting:

Exercise One: Caribbean sway and on-the-spot embodiment transitions, with maracas
Solo, to music. Playing maraca rhythm. Lower body moving between the Caribbean sway and marking rhythm on the spot.

Participants found it challenging to maintain steady maracas rhythm because of interference from the lower body rhythm. Once the long side-step of the Caribbean sway was denied to them (they'd been using the distance to absorb time during the 'slow'), participants were unable to absorb the time by slowing down the movement of their joints. This indicated an area of imminent attention.

Exercise Two: Simple embodiment transitions, with maracas
Solo, to music. Playing maraca rhythm. Lower body moving between the Caribbean sway, marking rhythm on the spot, walking forward.

Playing the maracas rhythm while performing the salsa walk made the phase-change relationship between the instrument and the dance obvious.
  • Salsa is a symmetrical dance i.e. a different leg is used at the beginning of each bar/measure of music
  • Maracas-playing is an asymmetrical activity i.e. the same hand is used at the beginning of each bar/measure of music.
Put them both together and one bar will begin with the arm and leg of the same side, the next bar will begin the same arm with leg of the other side. For example:
left arm-left leg; left arm-right leg; left arm-left leg; left arm-right leg...
This can be read as:
in-phase; out-of-phase; in-phase; out-of-phase...
Correlating that with the brain's motor activity:
right side fires; both sides fire; right side fires; both sides fire...
Hence the brain experiences a cyclical fluctuation in co-ordinative load during the performance of the maraca-embodiment rhythm.

Based on their greater level of automation with the Caribbean sway, participants had worked out a progression for their practice: Caribbean sway > on the spot > salsa walk. When they became perturbed, they would return to the Caribbean sway instead of stopping. Likewise with their maracas: one set of double tones (4,4+); two sets of double tones (2,2+ and 4,4+); complete maracas rhythm.

It was encouraging to see them all take charge of their own practice and to manage the levels of challenge in a scalar manner.

By now, we were sailing close to the cliffs of cognitive saturation. It was time for a change. Time for 'The Human Dance Recorder'.

Loo Yen

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