Clave Change

Have you ever danced to a song, and then all of the sudden, you are dancing on the follower’s count (while leading), or the Leader’s count (while following)??
You have no idea why this happened, but you are certain to have executed everything correctly.

Please let me tell you… It’s not your fault.  The music changed on you… or to be more precise, the “Clave Changed” on you.

Tu No Sabes” by Bio Ritmo is my favorite track that exemplifies perfectly this concept. (Bio Ritmo is a band based in Richmond, VA. Please support artists like these, who are still recording original music!)

Why does this happen?  To tell you the truth, I don’t know completely.  I think there are a few reasons, but to try understanding the “Clave Change” concept, I’m going to share a few concepts and findings of my research:

  1.  This music comes from two different places.  Africa and Europe.
    • European Music uses the Whole Note” (), which in 4/4 last 4 beats in the measure.
    • African Music (at least West African) uses the Clave as a measure or guidance.
    • There are a few types of clave now days… Son, Rumba and 6/8, which are the most popular.
    • In order to line up the Clave “African Percussion” and the Whole Note “European Melodies”, we need 2 whole notes.  This is because Rumba or Son Clave are spread out through 8 beats, or two 4/4.
    • Clave does not change, what changes is the point in which the melody starts.  The melody can start on the 2 side of the Clave, or on the 3 side of the Clave.  In either case, the Clave stays the same. (Please see the illustration at the bottom of the page)
  2. The Traditional Structure of the “Son” lines up with the Three Rumbas and their appropriate Claves.
    • The Cuban Son has three sections (traditionally): Son or Intro, Montuno or Rising, and Mambo or Climax… and they usually go back to the Son at the end.
    • These sections (traditionally) had their own Claves. Son is 3/2, Montuno is 2/3 or 3/2, and Mambo is 2/3 or Cascara.  Now this last point of Cascara can be argued, but just go with it for now.
    • The three Rumbas have their own claves: Yambú is 3/2, Guaguánco is 3/2 or 2/3 (now days is predominantly 2/3), and Columbia is 6/8.
      • Columbia’s 6/8 developed into Katá, which later on developed into Cascara. (Cascara is the rhythm played in the shells of the timbales)
  3. The way music is written and arranged makes the melody go out of alignment with the Clave from different sections of the song.
    • Music composers often develop their compositions in different sections, and then they try to put them together.
    • Most times, these different sections share the same Clave, and sometimes they do not match.  When two sections have different Claves, then an arrangement is made, so that the Claves can match.
    • Please see the illustration for more clarification.

PS: Actually, it’s your fault because you did not pay attention to the music! 😏

The Complexity of Simplicity

Why do we overcomplicate things in dance?  There is beauty in simplicity… a perfectly positioned arm, the breath during a long note, or even a subtle pause of intimacy are usually the most memorable moments.

Dance is special, because it’s a dynamic form of self expression as well as an art form.

Good communicators craft their message using precise and explicit words, saving time and energy without unnecessary embellishment. Their message is direct, intentional and clear.

Painters also use the same method of economy in order to create master pieces.  Take Picasso for example, I once stood in front of his self-portrait at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Upon close inspection, his painting looked unfinished, with his strokes being disconcerting, disorganized, poorly executed and childlike.  Suddenly, I remembered my art teacher’s advice to appreciate composition, so I stepped back.  The more distance between the painting and I, the more realistic the portrait became.  When I was about 15 feet from the painting, his face became a 3D image, jumping out of the canvas.  Every little “flaw” that I was observing from a close range was suddenly very purposeful.  They helped create this masterpiece, which will continue to be studied for many more generations.

In dance often we have the tendency to overdo things.  It’s a common belief that the best dancers are the ones executing the most amount of moves.  From my perspective, all of those moves are distractions. They are just words without a message.  Sometimes BIG words that are poorly applied, and have nothing to do with the mood set by the music.

We forget that dancers are artists first, and being purposeful with each movement helps us compose our story.  The truth is that to become a master in this craft, it takes a whole lot more than a large repertoire of moves… It takes an understanding of composition, music, culture, and oneself.  Inspired by the music, every single movement is intentionally executed.  Dancers tell a story in each dance, and every dance is a unique experience.

Let’s dance by telling our stories, and hopefully inspire the next generation with our compassion and vulnerability.

Technique

Technique… It’s a term that gets thrown around quite a lot.  I have heard dancers from other styles say this to Salsa/Mambo dancers with the purpose of belittling our art form.

So what is technique?

From Cambridge English Dictionary:
“A way of performing a skillful activity, or the skill needed to do it.”

Martha Graham said this about technique… “Freedom to a dancer means discipline. That is what technique is for — liberation.”  And she also said, “Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.”

Most of the time when I hear about technique, they are usually referring about Ballet, Jazz or Ballroom.  But what about other types of dancing?

  • Do African dances not have any technique?
  • Do breaking, popping, afrobeat, waacking, krumping, electric boogaloo, or any of the dances under the Hip Hop umbrella require technique?

I used to rock climb, and I used to hear this from my fellow rock climbers: “I like her/his technique”.

What I’m trying to explain is:

  • Technique provides consistency.  Good technique allows you to be successful at achieving results/goals at a high rate. If A and B produce C for you, a good technique (A+B) will provide the same results (C) for others.
  • Good technique = Safety.  Having an understanding of alignment, balance, control, strength, connection, counterweight, etc. will keep you from injury.
  • Quality without much effort. A good technique is appropriate when it allows anyone to produce similar or same positive outcomes with the least amount of effort possible.  It needs to be efficient and effective.
  • Can be replicated.  By comprehending the systematic approach to a skill, that skill can be replicated by another.  Techniques are methods, which allow us to recreate similar situations achieving expected results.  Meaning that it can be taught or learned.
  • Clarity. The methodological approach needs to create clear results.  In dancing, good technique allows us to convey our message clearly.

Latin Dance has borrowed techniques from many different dances.  Our technique allows us to communicate almost instantly with our partners.  It help Leads to spin the Follows ten times “on a dime”.  It makes our bodies move in beautiful symmetrical contradictions.  Our technique allows us to feel one with the music, with our partner, with the moment… at the same time, it takes us back in time to our ancestors, and the culture we inherited from them.  Our technique makes us feel… I think Martha Graham said it best… passionate and liberated!

Salsa vs Mambo Debate

The Salsa Vs Mambo Debate
Every so often a discussion appears on social media about this subject, and it usually redirects to on1 vs on2.
After studying this dance for many years, I have come to some conclusions.
1. The premise is incorrect. Mambo is very specific to a dance, that is executed to a specific rhythm. While Salsa does not really specify a rhythm or a dance. Actually, it could be many different rhythms developed in the Caribbean islands, predominantly Cuban rhythms.
2. On1 vs On2. There is no wrong or right way. These two are optional ways to execute the same basic steps, the same turns and figures. They both use the same structure and techniques, only shifted on the timing of execution because of where the basic starts in the musical phrase. These terms are mainly used in the US to describe the slotted/linear dance style.
3. There are many different ways to dance what we call Salsa music. There is Son, Changüí, Mambo, Rumba, Pilón, Bomba, Plena… just to name a few. Each style applies to a very specific rhythm. Most times a track will include sections or breaks with these rhythms, and the dancer should adjust accordingly.
4. There is more than 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 (or EnTiempo). While this is a great guideline to help us understand the phrasing of the music, it’s not the only base used. There is contratiempo (2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8), On Clave (2, 3, 5, 6, 6.5, 8 — 2/3 Son version), Chacha (1, 2, 3, 4, 4.5, 6, 7, 8, 8.5), Rumba (1, 3, 5, 7 or the syncopated 1, 2.5, 3, 5, 6.5, 7), Pilón (1, 3, 5, 6.5, 7), etc, etc.
There are many different ways to connect with the music.
5. Mambo as a dance and music has changed/evolved or morphed into something different through different times, and regions. There is Cuban Mambo, Palladium Mambo, Ballroom Mambo, NY Mambo (Often referred as On2 or Eddie Mamboking Torres Style). The influence of Jazz of the 50’s in NYC started taking the music in a new direction starting with Machito and his Afro Cubans with Mario Bauzá as their musical director. With this fusion, the dance also started to be influenced with the other dances (lindy hop, swing, tap, jazz, ballet, etc) that were around the city.

This can be as complex or as simple as you need it to be. The important thing is to have an open mind, a good ear and kind heart. People will dance or stylize the dance accordingly to their region, culture, customs, ancestors, heritage, and feelings.
Let’s accept our differences and celebrate the diversity within our latin dance community. After all, this dance reflects the different shades of our complexion.

What is the Muelleo?

Passing on the knowledge entrusted to me by those who fought so hard for this art.

“The energy comes from the earth… Mother Earth, she gives us the energy to move” – Master Pupy Insua. (+)
My late mentor said this to me when explaining the “Muelleo”.
What is the “Muelleo”?
In Afro-Cuban dances, it’s the bending of the knees (demi plié), which allows the dancer to move by pushing into the ground creating and releasing energy between steps/moves/beats. The posture of the torso is slightly tilted forward. It almost looks like “bouncing”, but I rather use the term “hovering”.
In other dance forms they use similar techniques, like “plié and releve”, “grounding”, “foot articulation”, etc. Posture varies accordingly to the style.
The “Muelleo” is the most important element in Afro-Cuban dances. Understanding the concept, and learning how to apply it, can take years of practice, but once you got it… it’s a whole new world.
Something that Pupy also shared with me was that “the best Rumberos study the Orisha’s dances”. AND from my own observations, the best Salsa dancers study Cuban Rumba.
Let’s continue our education of these dances in order to move forward with the evolution/fusion of it. If you want to fuse something, you better know what elements you are using. It’s about traditions, culture, history and artistic integrity.
Let Mother’s Earth feed you with her energy next time you hit the dance floor!

Dancing from the Heart

New Year Resolution… Educate people more!
Counter Body Motion or Cross Body Motion is essential in Latin dance, specially the Afro-Caribbean dances.
Ribcage and hips more oposite directions from the dancer’s center. This fluid motion or grove, creates energy that triggers the movements of the arms and hands, also the bending and straightening of the knees, which eventually helps your feet roll in and out of the floor (foot articulation) when weight shifting.
Everything comes from the center, from micro movement to explosives macro movements… So we dance from the center… We dance from the HEART!
Let’s add more heart to each dance this year!

Why do you dance?

I feel a little dishearten when I know of people leaving the Salsa Dance Scene, because they think they have “learned everything about it.”
Most likely, it’s because you have acquired limited knowledge of this style. The problem is that most instructors lack of a deep understanding and knowledge of this dance.
Here are two pictures. The First shows what most instructors think of Salsa… The Second one shows the complexity of this dance, which has evolved for centuries in Cuba, with meaningful moves that connect the dancer with the music, culture and mystical traditions.
Do you want to learn to DANCE? OR Do you want to learn some steps?
Dancing is more that mimicking some steps or spin a dozen times on a dime. Dancing is feeling, and in this case… Salsa is how WE connect to our music, our culture and our ancestors.
(BTW When I say “WE”, I include everyone, because many cultures have contributed to the developing of this dance and music)

See you in class!