In my last post, I talked about the difference which stems from dancing, as done on a stage, and the dancing that occurs on a more social level, on how these two different forms of dancing produce two very different dances. Today, I want to expand a bit more on this. Specifically, I want to talk about this distinction between the stage and the social dance as it pertains to some of the workshops that may be offered at Cuban dance events.
The reason I am writing this post is because, every now and then, I come upon a YouTube video like this one, showing a demonstration of what the instructors have taught the attendees at their workshop.
As every time I see a video like this, I ask myself, “Do the people filming this video and taking this workshop actually believe that what they are watching, what they have learned, is in fact replicable on the social dance floor? Do they believe that, after learning these turn patterns, they will be able to go to a club, a dance social, dance with a complete stranger, and perform flawlessly the same moves which these two dancers are doing in this video?”
Let’s dissect the video. Up until the 0:11, I would say that what they are doing is replicable socially. I mean, sure, you would have to try really hard to lead these moves with someone, but it can be done, if you have the level. However, once they get to that elbow lock on the 12th second and they begin shaking their bodies uncontrollably, followed by a shine pattern (0:18) that culminates with a sort of rumba break—once they start doing all of this, it becomes impossible to replicate during social dancing. What Yanek and Karelia are doing in this video is a choreographed routine of theirs that only works for the two of them.
Make no mistake, they have practiced these moves with each other time and again; they have figured out what to do with their feet and bodies one on each part of the turn pattern. In fact, this is so theirs that you will have a hard time finding a video of any of them dancing with any other person and doing the same turn pattern they do with each other in this video. (I’ll save you the trouble of looking; said video does not exist.)
So, in short, they have created a choreography for a workshop and sold it to you, the social dancer, as something that, if you are as good as they are, will someday be able to replicate when dancing socially.
As we talk about choreography, let us acknowledge this: when you really look at it, the dance of casino is a choreography. When you go to take a lesson, the class is full of people who are learning the same moves as you are, so that, when you start doing these moves later on by yourself, others recognize it, triggering the memory of learning that move and by extent being able to follow or lead you. Every move is choreographed, from setenta to sombrero. Make no mistake about that.
The difference, however, lies in the fact that, unlike the turn pattern show in the video above, the turn patterns that you learn at your dance class and later replicate on the social dance floor, well, those moves you can actually lead and follow. That is, with the right lead or follow, your partner is able to discern what it is that you are trying to do. Think about it, when you “mess up” as you are dancing—the scenario being here that you both know how to dance casino—it happens because one partner was not clear as to what the other person was doing, or that—and this is the case for females—she did not know what “move” that was. It stands to reason that this is going to happen. For when you are dancing to a choreography, and someone does something that falls outside of the set moves you have choreographed and practiced during your lessons and social dancing, it throws you off, you get lost, and you cannot follow.
What these two do in this video, after the 11th second, is practically “unfollowable” and “unleadable”. Seriously. Once that arm lock happens, what cue can you give the other person that can let him/her know that “Hey, we’re about to start shaking what Mama gave us.” And once that is done, what possible lead can you give the female that tells her, “Hey, do you thing because I am about to do my shines.” There is really nothing you can do to make that happen, for there are no ways to lead these types of things. And the only reason they are able to do it is, again, because they have both practiced it with each other a number of times.
So, I guess that if you want to replicate what they do in this video you can find someone who is willing to practice these moves with you for as long as it takes until you both learn them well, and then, based on the cues that you two give each other while dancing, you can do this short choreography while dancing socially.
But attempt to do the same thing with another person who does not know of this choreography you two have put together, and believe me, once you lock those elbows and start shaking your body, the other person will not know what to do. (I guess she could catch on, eventually, to the body shaking. But by then you would have moved on to the shines, leaving her, once more, utterly clueless about what it is that you are doing.)
So, next time you are in a casino workshop, and the instructors are teaching you any turn pattern that falls outside of the basic choreographed steps we all have learned for casino, do ask your instructors how it is that you can lead or follow the moves that they are teaching. In other words, ask them how you, as one of the partners in the dance, can let the other partner know what you are about to do so that they can follow you. (Now, keep in mind that some moves are pretty hard to lead or follow, but they can be led and followed nonetheless, with enough practice. They key here in discerning an “unfollowable” or “unleadable” would be that the instructors cannot tell clearly what to do in order to to follow or lead. Instead of telling you what you can do to let the other person know what is happening, they will tell you something along the lines of, “Once this part comes in, this is what you do,” and concentrate on what you have to do instead of explaining the process of communication between you and your partner–because, again, that does not exist in a move like that.)
Seriously. Ask them. After all, it is your money. It is you who are paying for the workshops.
More importantly, by taking these workshops, you are paying to become a better social dancer, because that is what casino is and always has been: a social dance.
And if what they are teaching you is not replicable on the social dance floor, but is rather a choreography put together to impress you and get you to take their classes again…well, these instructors are wasting both your money and your time.
Hey Daybert, I could not agree more with this! I think this goes also for other styles as well. In my experience I have witnessed both a workshop that taught a simple routine that is easy to apply to the dance floor and difficult ones as well. For the beginner dancer, understanding fundamentals of dances are important. I’ve always seen beginners in more experienced festival workshops and watched them struggle. They are very easy to spot. What I have noticed at all cuban dance festivals is that there are beginners track workshops which is a very good idea to have although some probably won’t go. It’s a good way for the new dancer or even if they have been dancing for a few months it’s good to get the skills polished. And that’s as long as they are being encouraged by their own instructors. I’ve noticed for quite some time that instructors don’t encourage their students enough. Which plays a role in the student wanting to learn more. I think that with a beginners track, a student will gain great knowledge and even tips from more than one instructor they haven’t had before.
Now, for the experienced dancer, I would say technique is waaay more important than a 12 count turn pattern. So this clip here doesn’t really show technique at all. More like flare. I took a workshop called ‘finding your style,’ and any experienced dancer could have taken one or two things from it. You learned how to make a turn pattern fun or even get creative with it. It was something simple for the experienced dancer but fun at the same time. In contrast, I’ve taken workshops with ONE turn pattern that lasted the whole hour. UNBELIEVABLE! But I will say this, the instructor mentioned that ‘you won’t remember this whole turn. I don’t expect you too. You shouldn’t expect yourself to remember it either.’ He then went on to say ‘remember to have fun when you dance.’ Now that I was impressed with. Even after that whole hour! Mind you, I recorded the turn pattern and haven’t even looked at it since. LOL. And I’m sure a lot of other people have not either. Again, this was at a cuban dance festival.
Moving along to other festivals where it might be exclusive to bachata or other American style salsas, I’ve always notice the intermediate or advanced workshops that have patterns so complicated that it would have taken 2 hours for everybody to understand and complete. More than once I was in a workshop where the instructor(s) could not continue their full turn pattern because it was just too long. It’s ridiculous! Mind you a lot of these instructors came from well known dance companies throughout the states and probably outside too. I just feel like the directors of these events don’t really think about the dancers taking the workshops as well as the performers/ instructors who teach the workshops. I’m sure they have meetings but I wonder if this topic comes up: teach a 10sec pattern with technique. I surely doubt it. Most of these Performers/instructors get so caught up with entertaining everyone they forget about the smaller things like all the people who payed FULL price for a pass to the festival. These people are no different than the ones on the stage. We all come to dance and show off our skills. So what’s the point if instructors don’t take the time to target a class on technique, and when I say technique I mean understanding body language and leading and following technique. The word technique is tossed around and seems like in most of the congresses it’s forgotten. They just like using the word. Maybe the directors should screen these workshop instructors in what they are going to do before allowing them to do it.
Also feedback from attendees is just as important. If people aren’t giving it then directors won’t know what’s wrong with their own festival.
“Do the people filming this video and taking this workshop actually believe that what they are watching, what they have learned, is in fact replicable on the social dance floor? Do they believe that, after learning these turn patterns, they will be able to go to a club, a dance social, dance with a complete stranger, and perform flawlessly the same moves which these two dancers are doing in this video?”
I know quite a few that can and do lead and follow these moves.
But these people are mostly either quite talented, very experienced and well trained, or both.
These leads can lead most followers (those that know all the basic elements well) to these moves, and the followers can follow most complicated moves, regardless of getting to see them before or not.
At the end of the day, the number of elements is limited, and a goof follower will learn to recognize and follow them instinctively with time.
Some thing do, of course, require a certain build from both leads and follows, especially long arms and a good deal of flexibility at the shoulder joints.
This applies to the figures found in the video and the likes of.
It doesn’t apply to the body motion Karelia does, because there are plenty of other movements that a follower can do at the same time (BTW, the movements she does there seem to be improvised, not choreographed, or at least, can be improvised, just as many other movements one can add if they have the skill).
Also, it doesn’t apply to the “suelta” (solo) steps, because the leader and follower can improvise great many such steps when not in a hold or when in a semi-closed hold (such as a dile que no position).
Also, this can work by imitation.
Suppose the lead starts moving his hips after the “gancho”.
The follower can see that, and respond accordingly.
Then, if the leader wishes, he can do a few more bars of music in this position, only then moving to the next element.
Anyway, at least the way I see it, you don’t go to such workshops to learn specific moves, combinations or steps.
You go to enrich your repertoire, adding more “tools” to your “toolbox”, and after you master the combinations, you can break them apart, and ligate them in any way you like among themselves and with other stuff you already know.
Also, from my personal experience, in the long run it doesn’t matter if you remember this or that specific figure or movement, as your body learns with time, and you will get better after taking and practicing such material in sufficient amounts.
So, with time, learning these figures, open steps and body motions will get easier, and you will able to do them better.
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