There were two learning objectives, broad enough enough to be considered contexts:
- 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,
- 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:
- a membership of three: two leaders, one follower, and one virtual follower; and consequently,
- into a rueda de casino square of two pairs; and,
- partnerships without hold.
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:
- enchufla is a simple change of place clockwise, incorporating a follower's left turn;
- 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;
- dile que no is a simple change of place anti-clockwise.
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.
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 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