Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Contratiempo: First Walking Steps

It was time to resume the planned course of development after being side-tracked last week. The session started off with the recap warm up exercise; a practice which has become a mainstay not just to refresh participants' memory, but also to bring those who'd been previously absent a small chance to catch up.

Warm Up: The Sequence, martillo only, then to music
Solo, to bongó martillo only, then to music. Vocalisation of martillo. Maracas interpreting pregón.
  1. Listen for the martillo, or super-impose it if not present;
  2. Vocalise "tok-tik-tuk-tik" to the martillo;
  3. Play the pregón using the maracas: "tok" (beat 4) with the hembra, and "tik" (beat 1) with the handles;
  4. Perform the Caribbean sway side step only: initiating the side-step on "tok" and completing with relaxation after "tik"; and then,
  5. Perform the full Caribbean sway.
Part-way through the warm up I noticed that one of the participants, after Stage 3 above, was performing the side step only, then the full Caribbean sway. Since was a logical intermediary stage which would further differentiate the pregón from the coro, I amended last week's sequence accordingly.

Briefing: Assuming we can walk is an unsafe assumption
Last week, we observed that while we were able to enact call-and-response phrasing in the Caribbean sway, this soon dissolved the moment we were asked to walk the embodiment rhythm. Why is that?

What makes us expect that we would be able simply to fit coro-pregón phrasing onto our walk just like that? Without prior training?

Some people are lucky, and they way they walk can be naturally phrased. Most are not, and our biomechanics make our walk repel phrasing attempts. Take, for example, individuals whom have indifferent floor relations, whom just throw their feet onto the floor: uncontrolled descents produce a staccato rhythm which limits the scope of phrasing.
Phrasing is not an overlay veneered over our walk.
Phrasing is the structure in which we learn to walk.
So how do we do it? We do so incrementally from a point where we already have phrasing: the Caribbean sway.

Exercise One: Side step on the forward diagonal
Solo, to music. Vocalisation of full martillo. Full Caribbean sway, diagonally forward side step.
Instead of taking a lateral side step, the side step is taken diagonally forward. The forward angle is small at first, and gradually increases as the body acclimatises. The objective is to achieve a forward walk while preserving call-and-response phrasing.

Participants were cautioned that rushing the process would sacrifice phrasing over forward movement. They were asked to find the critical forward angle where they would have the most forward movement while still retaining phrasing. The learning mantra being: "phrasing is king!"

The greatest challenge participants encountered was being able to get the weight fully transferred, with a straightened leg, over the foot at the end of the "slowandslow" ('tok-tik'). This difficulty presented itself as:

  • a leading bent knee generating floor pressure, slow to straighten, and a lagging hip movement, with snatched relaxation phase; and,
  • a short "slowandslow" where there was insufficient drive to move the weight transfer on time at the onset, and a lack of hip deflection through relaxation after the 'tik'.

The former was caused by too much forward angle before drive geometry could be adapted. It was solved by reducing the forward angle, and emphasising the straightening of the knee to get the hip-weight over the foot.

The latter was caused by too large a pregón step. It was solved by shortening the pregón step while emphasising a full "slowandslow" sway atcion.

Exercise Two: Diagonally forward side step, playing pregón on maracas
Solo, to music. Vocalisation of full martillo. Maracas playing pregón. Full Caribbean sway, diagonally forward side step. This exercise is identical to that of Exercise One above, except with the addition of pregón interpreted on maracas, intended to reinforce the currently-less-dynamic diagonal step with more rhythmic energy. Two participants exhibited a great example of best practice. They began with the sequence in static position before engaging the walk.

Exercise Three: Diagonally forward side step accenting coro, playing pregón on maracas
Solo, to music. Vocalisation of full martilloMaracas playing pregón. Full Caribbean sway, diagonally forward side step. This exercise is the same as the one above, with emphasis on the coro steps i.e. the back and replace steps on 'tuk' and 'tik' respectively.

I encouraged participants to tidy up their walk by ensuring that their back step was made in third position, and their 'replace' step should be taken slightly forward. This was to develop their sense of register, and to add the rhythmic counterpoint of the coro to the pregón.

As anticipated, participants' feedback was that they could better feel the call-and-response relationship. The call of the 'tok-tik' voiced by maracas, and the response of the 'tuk-tik' voiced by the pressure sensed through the heels of their feet on the floor.

Pedagogically the quality of the pregón step was compromised to achieve this, since attention to execution had shifted to the coro steps. However, I'd determined that it was much more important to cultivate the rhythmic relationship between pregón and coro first. (I'll address the quality of pregón in upcoming sessions.)

Rationale: Constructing the reverse walk
Although we were close to session's end, I felt it important to show - in the interests of participants' empowerment - how the reverse walk could be derived using the same principles as the forward one. The encouragement participants would have if they left the session knowing how to perform both forward and reverse walks could not be underestimated.

We began from the same point: the Caribbean sway.

Exercise Four: Side step on the reverse diagonal
Solo, to music. Vocalisation of full martillo. Full Caribbean sway, diagonally reverse side step.
Instead of taking a lateral side step, the side step is taken diagonally backward. The reverse angle is small at first, and gradually increases as the body acclimatises. The objective is to achieve a reverse walk while preserving call-and-response phrasing. Participants were asked to place the first step of the coro ('tuk') in third position, and the second step ('tik') as a proper replace. This was to develop their register.

The derivation of the reverse walk proved easier than participants had anticipated. There was occasion for brief practice before I drew Solares to a close, with the promise of revisiting it next session.


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