Thursday, April 9, 2009

Musicality and Dancing with the Percussion

Here are some general pointers that I use when dancing to the music:

Dancing to Slow Songs
  • For a slow intro, dance to it... sway to it, step side to side to it. Don't just stand their waiting! Start with a sway/slow merengue (one-two) step, then go easy until music builds up. Go back to swaying on slow breaks, then maybe do rumba side step on any caballo bits, then go back into main bit with matching of moves to tempo.
  • Focus on the 2-3-5 beats of the 2/3 clave, emphasise these steps and ignore the others as much as you can. Put body movement into it too. This makes it appear more romantic.
Finding the "One"

  • Practice this by yourself (so you can't take clues from other students in the room), or shut your eyes if you are in a class. It makes it really hard!
  • Listening to music will help. But also listen for key instruments, bass lines, lyrics... whatever helps you identify the one.
Finding Breaks
  • Slow songs are more likely to break from one to the five. This is always a trap when teaching a beginners class with slow music (all of a sudden the entire class ends up dancing on the five - even if only the teacher notices it!).
  • Slow songs are more likely to break from one to the five. This is always a trap when teaching a beginners class with slow music (all of a sudden the entire class ends up dancing on the five - even if only the teacher notices it!).
  • Watch out for one bar breaks... this throws out the salsa timing (i.e. two bars per basic). Solution: listen for the break... sometimes you can hear it coming. Otherwise, count the number of bars until the next break, and you will probably find the same thing happens the same number of bars again (e.g. 16 bars later for example). Also, the musical lead into the break is often identical each time.
Different Percussion Patterns in Salsa
  • When either a rumba or a caballo rhythm kicks in, I do either shines or a rumba step.
Muscle Memory (Dancing Without Thinking)
  • You can't think about percussion beat by beat when playing... same for dancing, even for shaking your hand (try this... shake your hand from side to side. Now do the same again, but by mentally instructing each movement - i.e. tilt left, tilt right, tilt left, tilt right. Notice how slow and difficult it is to "think" through the movement? Dance is just the same!)
  • Focus on key beats in the basic when dancing... so just the one and the five, or maybe the on beat or the off beat. But... do not listen for each and every beat and step... it will make you chase the music... making the music feel faster than what it is.
  • If you are still "chasing the music", try counting a full salsa basic (i.e. two bars of 4/4 time) on just the on-beat, but use the counting system of 1,2,3,4 in half time... i.e. 1=1st beat, 2=3rd beat, 3=5th beat, 4=7th beat. This tends to help you slow down.
General Musicality
  • Interpretation and styling comes from within... by recognising and moving to the music, and then just letting your energy flow.
  • Some people recommend listening to heaps of salsa to get the feel and understanding of it. For me that didn't work... I had to break it down and understand how it worked, then it just came naturally after that.
  • Light and shade is super-important for a linear style dance... holding off until the last moment then quickly going past each other and back into each other's respective places on the slot.
  • Following the lead with musicality is difficult: you need to hit the breaks, do body rolls, etc, but also in time with the breaks that your partner hits. You shouldn't just do something because you hear it... particularly if your partner is half way through a move, etc.
  • Good looking combos look good because they are done with musicality. Learning the move won't make you look good... dancing it with style and timing will.
  • Combination after combination does not look good and doesn't really impress anyone either... particularly the poor girl who spent ages getting all dressed up, only to look like she has been dragged through a wet hedge half way through the song. What really works is well-timed and selected combos, mixed in with smooth body movement and a connection with the music.
  • I always practice being able to recall moves when away from dancing. If I can, for example, think of four different combos at the lights when driving my car, I know that I should be able to "pull these out" on the dance floor. It's a really good mental exercise!

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