Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Way To Contratiempo

With my partner in crime away, I was regaled with a double session at Solares last night. I seized the opportunity with both paws, since we could get through more than twice the content (efficiencies of scale), to open up a new chapter: contratiempo [literally 'against time'] embodiment rhythm.

Warm Up: Martillo on maracas
Solo, to music. Vocalising 'tok-tik-tuk-tik'. Playing martillo on maracas. Full Caribbean sway, atiempo. Participants were asked to note that in the atiempo embodiment rhythm, their first and third steps coincided with the 'tik' vocalisation and click of maracas handles.

Briefing: The Way To Contratiempo
Just as with languages, contratiempo embodiment rhythm may be achieved either through acquisition (like our mother tongue) or learning (like subsequent languages). Whereas it is possible in solares to do so through acquisition, I'd opted for the learned mode. This is because nearly all contratiempo instruction delivered in the U.K is in the learned mode. By doing the same, I can outline the pitfalls which other instructions overlook, so that participants can still attend workshops by other instructors and be able to fill in the gaps.

The learning mode (for those whom already dance salsa atiempo) comprises to phases:
  1. Translation
    where the embodiment rhythm is 'frame-shifted' later by one beat. This generates the rhythm structure referred to as "dance on 2" or "power 2".
  2. African-derived Phrasing
    where instead of the count "2-3-4, 6-7-8", it is phrased to African cycle "8~1-2-3, 4~5-6-7". Phrasing is the most significant differentiator between "On2" styles and contratiempo, and this aspect is most overlooked by educators.

Exercise One: The Frameshift, side step only
Solo, to music. Vocalisations and Caribbean sway's side step. It began with the isolation of the Caribbean sway's side step during the 'tok-tik' part of the vocalisation. No movement occurred during 'tuk' nor 'tik'. Participants got used to initiation the side-ways movement on 'tik', hitting the 'tok' with the side of the hip, and relaxing shortly thereafter.

Exercise Two: The Frameshift, full Caribbean sway
Solo, to music. Vocalisations and Caribbean sway. In between Caribbean sway's side step during the 'tok-tik' part of the vocalisation, the back step and replace was introduced during 'tuk' and 'tik' respectively.

Participants were left to practice the frameshift. I observed that approximately half of them gravitated towards 'on2' phrasing while the others did not demonstrate any clear phrasing. When asked for their feedback, they reported a solidity to their timing, as if they were rhythmically "on rails". I attributed this to the martillo reference timeline where every tone is clear, defined and on-beat when vocalised (as compared to the tumbao moderno's every other).

I drew participants' attention to the fact that a number of them were using the back step on 'tuk' as a starting point, and that this was 'dance on 2' phrasing. They were told that this was acceptable so that they would develop a feel for 'on2' phrasing, but that they would be progressing to contratiempo phrasing in the upcoming sessions.

Participants' observations also extended to the physicalities of execution, centred especially on the performance of the side step. They noted the requirement for:

  • hip flexibility - more than one of them were asymmetrical in their side step to either direction due to lower flexibility which, left unchecked, would result in a sideways 'ratchet';
  • pull-push - the smooth transfer of weight required a 'push' with the unloading leg as well as the customary 'pull' with the loading leg; and,
  • trailing contact with the floor of the unloaded leg as an indicator of gradual weight transfer i.e. if trailing contact was absent, the weight was being transferred too quickly.

Progress had been good, and the penetrating questions asked by participants told me their comprehension, assimilation and synthesis were on track. Although we'd addressed only the translation phase, I felt it best not to court cognitive saturation, and to finish on a high.

Loo Yeo