Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Contratiempo Rueda: Breaking Open Basic Combinations

Warm Up
Two-couple square formations. No partnership hold. 'Enchufla-Dame-Dile Que No' stacked calls. Federated calling. To music. We began this double-session where we left off. This was a chance for me to assess the level of retention of last session's content. In general this was good, but a gentle reminder to emphasise availability in the 'pockets of synchronisation' was necessary.

Educator's Note
Last session, I'd thought to introduce a mid-session contrasting activity in the form of an ethnomusicological briefing. Although all participants agreed that it was informative, I felt that it lacked flow, and caused bodies already warmed up to cool off. This made it more challenging to resume flow.

I resolved to front-load the briefings as part of the warm-up, and use physical contrasting activities as necessary in the latter phases of the session.

Concept: Line of Dance
Social ballroom dances of European origin which are progressive in nature proceed around the dance floor in an anti-clockwise manner. Rueda de casino is no different.
  1. Progressive movement anti-clockwise around the floor is described as moving "along the line of dance" and, its converse, clockwise around the floor is "against the line of dance".
  2. Orientation along the anti-clockwise circle is "facing down or along the line of dance" and, its converse, clockwise around the floor is "facing up or against the line of dance".
Hence the 'arriba' ['up'] call modifier in rueda de casino. I used the analogy of kayaking - moving or facing downstream or upstream - to drive the point home.

Exercise One: Line of Dance Orientation in Contratiempo Rueda de Casino
Two-couple square formations. No partnership hold. 'Enchufla-Dame-Dile Que No' stacked calls. Federated calling. To music. This was identical to the warm up, except participants were asked to take note of their orientations and movement relative to the line of dance.

Concept: Relative Direction, Ensemble versus Individual
I asked participants "On which side are you stepping on when you make the ¡Oye! alert call?" They all came back with individual-relative directions: 'left' and 'right'. I introduced them to the idea of ensemble-relative directions: 'inside' and 'outside' of the rueda de casino circle.

Exercise Two: Ensemble-Relative Direction in Contratiempo Rueda de Casino
Two-couple square formations. No partnership hold. 'Enchufla-Dame-Dile Que No' stacked calls. Federated calling. To music. This was identical to the warm up, except participants were asked to:
  1. take note of their orientations and movement relative to the line of dance; and,
  2. pay attention to when they were alerting and issuing calls, in ensemble-relative terms.
At the end of the exercise, participants observed that:
  • using individual-relative direction, calls issued changed between left and right when dance orientation reversed; whereas,
  • using ensemble-relative direction, calls issued remained the same - inside or outside - despite reversals in dance orientation.
This phenomenon of calls remaining consistently unchanged when using ensemble-relative direction is central to the meaning of the next exercise.

Exercise Three: Disassembled Enchufla Combination, Interleaved Elements
Two-couple square formations. No partnership hold. 'Enchufla-Dame-Dile Que No' un-stacked calls. Federated calling. To music. This exercise was identical to the previous ones except for one very important thing. Callers were asked to call each element individually, unconcatenated. This would give rise to:
'enchulfa' - Caribbean Sway basic - 'dame' - Caribbean Sway basic - 'dile que no' - Caribbean Sway basic - (repeat)
The pedagogic objectives were two-fold:
  • call-orientation flexibility - calling on a different foot (individual-relative) yet same foot (ensemble-relative) direction; and,
  • clear feedback on movement quality - providing clear definition between elements, thus rendering transparent the quality in execution of change-of-place elements.
The stringency made clear:
  • any differences in call timings (in transpired that a participant was calling one beat too early);
  • the need for close and consistent partnership distance (to maintain connection and mirror neurone stimulus);
  • the levels of drive needed to get into a good position in the change-of-place; and,
  • began to establish connections between dancers of the same role i.e. follower-follower and leader-leader.

Concluding Point: Redirecting the Stamp
I'd observed that a habit had spread to all participants - they were all accenting with their feet (almost stamping) the 'tok' (beats 4&8). I understood that this was deployed as an overt means of inter-member synchronisation.

The emphasis, while rhythmically correct, introduced a vibration perturbation to their lower body which prevented the hip from settling in the immediately following '-y'. Whatismore, it indicated that energy was being lost through sound and friction-generated heat on the floor - energy which would be better harnessed as mechanical leverage.

I drew their attention to their accent, and asked them to redirect the accent:
"Instead of stamping the sound on the 'tok',  try redirecting the accent sideways through the hip."
It took a couple of tries, then an exclamation rang out: "there's so much power!"

My work tonight was done.

Loo Yen

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Contratiempo Rueda: Enchufla Is A Combination

Knowing in advance that this Solares was a double session, I chose to plan this as a substantial two plus hour masterclass; something I could afford to do based on the premise that all the attendees would have had significant prior experience.

There were two learning objectives, broad enough enough to be considered contexts:
  1. the continued performance of dance using contratiempo phrasing to the bongó's martillo - this would serve to ingrain the phrasing to the same naturalised extent as atiempo; and,
  2. to investigate, in both 'big picture' and fine detail, the structure of one of rueda de casino's most basic pieces of vocabulary: the 'enchulfa' - as a basis for identifying and executing essential dance skills.

Rationale: Learning Group configuration
The learning group was set up into:
  1. a membership of three: two leaders, one follower, and one virtual follower; and consequently,
  2. into a rueda de casino square of two pairs; and,
  3. partnerships without hold.
For leaders, the alternation between real and virtual followers would test, clarify and validate their spatial positioning. The square configuration of two pairs would create the most demanding angles in the performance of rueda de casino. If they could cope with this, every other configuration would be easy. The requirement for good visualisation would be laid bare through negating the use of the arms.

Concept: Revealing "enchufla" as a combination
The group was shown how the "enchulfa" move comprises three sequential change-of-place components of enchulfa, dame, and dile que no where:
  1. enchufla is a simple change of place clockwise, incorporating a follower's left turn;
  2. dame is a simple change of place clockwise, ending with a 90 degree change of orientation - followers to the right, leaders to the left - to acquire new partner;
  3. dile que no is a simple change of place anti-clockwise.
As a result of component 2 (dame), there is a net group rotation of 90 degrees clockwise.

Warm Up
Partnered, without hold, to music. Calls used were "dame" and "enchufla-dame-dile que no". Calling was federated. The group was given time to get their bearings with the new orientation angles. It took two songs.

Exercise One: Pockets of Synchronisation
Dancers were asked to focus on their 'pockets of synchronisation' - phases in their dance where they were most available for synchronisation - corresponding to their martillo vocalisation of "toc-y-tik-y". The application of this point was most easily observed in the leaders when with their virtual follower. When asked at the end of this exercise, all dancers responded that they positively felt more 'in tune' with each other.

Exercise Two: Dame Pocket of Synchronisation 
I drew participants' attention to their movement ensuing from the 'dame' call, indicating that it lacked completion. Both followers and leaders, especially the latter, needed to end their movement not just oriented to their new partner, but finishing in a manner which made them available to be synchronised with. I called this the acquisition phase.

This stimulated a useful discussion about the moment preceding acquisition, when there was a tapered ending with the current partner before a smooth beginning with the new partner. I likened it to the use of a clutch in a car when changing gears.

Concept: Change-of-Place
Participants had exposed to the idea of change-of-place previously in our merengue sessions. The major difference between that then, compared to the change-of-place from the Caribbean Sway, is that the latter requires the places to be traded in two steps, not three. The first step of the Caribbean Sway is behind into close third position, which only leaves the second and third steps for movement.

The first step into reverse close third position 'loads up' the body and prepares it for movement through stacked torque curves in an upward cascade through the joints. This provides the drive of the second step taken, not directly into, but slightly diagonal of the partner.

Followers are led to trace a route of an asymmetrical "V": longer and shallower angled on the second step; shorter and more steeply angled on the third step. Leaders move themselves through the counterpart route around the partnership's axis of symmetry. Both routes together result in an oblique parallelogram, or offset diamond. The symmetry of the routes is indicative of the equal effort contributed by both partners to the movement.

This still holds true if either partner is executing a turn.

Exercise Three: Change-of-Place
The change-of-place movement was practised in partnership, first without music, then to martillo, then to music. The learning points provided were:
  • "aim for your partner's shoulder" (on the passing side); and,
  • "skimming around/almost brushing the turning partner's back with your chest".

Exercise Four: Caribbean Sway with Major Turn
I introduced a variant of the Caribbean Sway incorporating a major turn - turn in the same direction as the stepping leg (i.e. if stepping onto the right leg, then a rightward turn, or a leftward turn if stepping onto the left leg) - commencing on the second step. The rotation continues through the third step during the 'tok-y-tik', completing on the final '-y'. The turn is distributed across two bearings, created by the balls of both feet on the floor, and thus changes from a major turn in step two, to a minor turn in step three.

This is a common movement in rueda de casino, performed for example by the follower during enchufla.

Briefing: The Transnational Martillo
I was keen, with this being an extended session, to maintain participants' touch with music. And so, I took the opportunity to put my ethnomusicologist hat on, and provide some background to the existence, history, evolution and importance of the martillo rhythm in Caribbean music. I used 90 as the magic number, and began with two occurrences:
  • 1990 as the date of release of "Bachata Rosa" by Juan Luis Guerra, the album which brought bachata to international prominence; and,
  • 1890 as the beginning of Cuba's struggle for independence, which resulted in Sindo Garay's flight from Cuba to Dominica.
The discussion touched on the turbulent history of Haiti and Dominican Republic, the whitening of the latter, and how it impacted the interpretation and performance of its music and dance. The emphasis was on the shared origins of itinerant Cuban son and Dominican música de guitarra.

The Main Practice Session
All these elements were incorporated into rueda de casino practice, in square format, using only the elements of enchufla, dame, and dile que no, to federated calls. Music alternated between slow-tempo son and bachata, to up-tempo son montuno and salsa. Slower music emphasised control and primed movement, quicker music brought excitement and forced assimilation.

By the session's end, all participants had reached learning saturation and were physically tired, but enough practice had been done for the major points to be assimilated - ready for another double-session next week.

Loo Yen Yeo