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How To Go About Learning Our Dance - Some Words Of Advice To Students & "Jacks Of All Dances"

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How To Go About Learning Our Dance - Some Words Of Advice To Students & "Jacks Of All Dances"

Post  AnandMajumdar on Wed Jan 07, 2009 4:04 pm

article credit - salsanewyork.com

How To Go About Learning Our Dance - Some Words Of Advice To Students & "Jacks Of All Dances" -

There is a lot of discussion about how New Yorkers dance On 2, and how that relates to the clave, the cowbells, the congas, etc., and how one must be attending to those instruments in order to learn how to dance On 2. This is not true. These discussions are usually by those who are not primarily and dominantly On 2 dancers. Here in the New York metropolitan area, when we learn to dance On 2 from friends or in classes, whether it is with Eddie Torres, the "Mambo King", or any of the many other excellent instructors noted above , we are not paying much, if any, attention to the clave or these other instruments. That is a much later focus in our learning.

In fact, when we initially learn any part of this dance, whether it is the basic step or shines, or more advanced turn patterns, we do not even play the music at all. Instead, we count out loud "1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7" while learning to place our feet or hands in the proper positions. In order to really understand the feeling of the clave and conga rhythms when dancing On 2, one usually must FIRST be an intermediate or advanced On 2 dancer. And that means that one must have mastered the footwork, timing, partnerwork and open shines to the extent that they are automatic, and that they feel like the only natural way to move to this music. I am not saying that this is the only way to learn our step, but rather that it is the most common method of instruction currently. As with music, while some may learn to play by ear, the majority learn by using a the standardized systematic notation; some may learn mambo in other ways, but the majority here learn by breaking down the dance into the count and the various turn and open shine patterns, many of which have names. By the way, if you do not have access to New York area mambo classes, or would like to supplement your class learning, I highly recommend the Eddie Torres Training Videos in order to learn the correct fundamental and intermediate skills. You will find the other On 2 Training Videos listed below to be very helpful too.

Counting out the 1, 2, 3, and 5, 6, 7 is only used for learning and communicating to others when we "break down" the dance into it's components. We use it when we learn as beginners, and then later as intermediate or advanced dancers when we learn new turn patterns or open shines. And we use the counting to explain to others as we "break down" our moves. The count is the schematic diagram of the dance, in the same way musical notation is the schematic diagram of a piece of music. But when we are just dancing for fun, or when performing, we do not count. We just dance to the music.

Skip the academic discussions, just learn to dance On 2 - Here's how we learn: First of all, find the beginning of the measure, the 1st beat. Almost all music has measures (salsa, cha cha, disco, R & B, soul, rock, hip hop, reggae, classical, jazz, etc.), and one must learn to find the 1st beat of the measure. For some help with this, see Manny Siverio's Article article on how to find the beginning of the salsa measure, his review of Mike Bello's Practice & Counting CD , and the Jai & Candy Timing CD, which include learning to count the beats in the salsa music. It is difficult to explain in writing how to find the 1st beat, since songs start their measures differently, sometimes even changing from verse to verse. Sometimes it's signaled by the singer, but other times it's the chorus, the clave, the congas or the bass, and it may keep changing. My other advice is to find someone who knows how to find the 1 in the music, whether it's a teacher, friend, relative, fellow dancer or musician; some people just know the 1 and can show it to you. Put on some salsa music and have them show you the 1, and explain how they found it. Then have them help you learn to feel it, count it and tap your feet all the way through entire songs. A good exercise is to stop and then restart the song to see how quickly you can find the 1 and get on the beat again.

Second of all, when you have learned to find, feel and tap your foot to the 1st and the 7 other beats in the salsa measure, then begin your count and step as spelled out above: 1,2,3 and 5,6,7. Ladies always step on the 1st beat with their right foot, and on the 5th beat with their left foot. Men always step on the 1st beat with their left foot, and on the 5th beat with their right foot (the only exception to this is during more advanced syncopated open shines). Now drill this for hours, weeks and months: in classes, clubs, at home, anywhere. Whether you are doing the basic forward and back step, a side basic, back charges, partner turns or open shines, you must get to the point where the sound of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th, 6th,and 7th beats in the salsa music makes the proper foot go down in the right place, and this must all happen entirely automatically, instinctively, naturally from your heart. No thinking is involved. The man's left foot, and the woman's right foot, must feel the 1st beat, and hit the floor with it. And that goes for all the other beats in the count. You should be able to maintain that timing when listening to the music and dancing with your partner, brushing your teeth, beating an egg, carrying on a conversation, or clapping out a 2/3 or 3/2 clave. In other words, you shouldn't have to think about your feet at all.

Why is this important? Because when you are dancing to a great song with your partner, doing cross body leads, complicated turns, shines, and interacting with your partner and moving to the phrasing of the music, there is no time to be thinking about what beat and what foot you should be on. The count and the feet must be so much a natural part of your relationship to the music, that it just feels right. For example, if you are a man leading a double touch-and-go turn, followed by your own single left turn, it must be automatic to start your partner's turn on the 1, while stepping with your left foot, and your own turn on the 5, while stepping on your right foot. And for the woman, it must be automatic to be stepping on your right foot on the 1 at the beginning of that double turn, after setting up with your left foot on 7, and be stepping back on 6 with your right foot when you come out of it. There is no time to be thinking, or to be confused, about what timing one is on. You must have drilled it until it has become automatic and natural.

When you have achieved this level of mastery of dancing On 2, it now begins to be possible to feel and understand the complex relationship of the dance to the rhythms in the music. Notice that one can become an intermediate or advanced On 2 dancer without any specific discussion or focus on the clave, cowbells, congas/tumbao, etc. That is how we are taught here in New York, including our finest performers who tour internationally representing the New York ON 2 timing and style. The reason this is possible is that the 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 timing, and breaks on 2 and 6, are designed around the clave and conga-tumbao sounds and rhythms, so without mentioning them, you are already dancing to them. And that is why I say above: "Skip the academic discussions, just learn to dance On 2" first, then let's discuss the rhythms and instruments we dance with. Which is what we'll do now.

The following discussion of the relationship between the music and our way of dancing refers ONLY to the classic mainstream Caribbean-influenced salsa music that contemporary New York On 2 mambo dancers generally prefer for their style of dancing. It is the music we most frequently hear in our local clubs and studios, and have in our own collections, usually played by the New York and Puerto Rican bands. It does not refer to other forms and styles of "salsa" music, such as "old school Cuban music", "pop salsa", nor much of the so-called "salsa" that is frequently played elsewhere in the U.S., South America and overseas, cumbias, some charangas, son montunos, and other related types. This mainstream New York-Afro-Caribbean style of music is distinguished by it's much stronger and intense rhythm sounds, played especially by the clave, conga and bongo drums, timbales/cowbells, bass, and also represented in the repetitive beats incorporated into the melody lines.
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Re: How To Go About Learning Our Dance - Some Words Of Advice To Students & "Jacks Of All Dances"

Post  crazzycat on Tue Feb 16, 2010 6:52 pm

awesome article thanks a lot

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Re: How To Go About Learning Our Dance - Some Words Of Advice To Students & "Jacks Of All Dances"

Post  meenakshi on Thu Feb 18, 2010 12:50 am

Excellent Article ..thanks for sharing anand!!!!!It sure helped a lot Very Happy
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Re: How To Go About Learning Our Dance - Some Words Of Advice To Students & "Jacks Of All Dances"

Post  Naimish on Mon Mar 08, 2010 9:20 pm

Thanks for sharing Anand Very Happy
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