This is a subject which seems to spawn more debate than any other, within the realm of partnership dance. There is a certain “imbalance” to how we apply the nuances of polyrhythms, that is primarily left for the Lead, to dictate.
In other words, no matter how great a followers understanding of the music, she is,by and large (shines, apart) at the mercy of the leader. So guys… we have to undertake the responsibilty of interperating the songs in which we choose to dance.
From a Social dance perspective, in the latin genre, we need to examine not only its core musical instrument (the Clave), but how this should affect the…..
(a) construction of the dance, and
(b) its inclusion in several of the current standard forms we now hear being played.
The most common forms used in todays social dance scene are… Gauguanco, Montuno, Gaujira, Son, Cumbia and Guaracha.
Once we have identified one of these polyrhythms in a specific song, we are then in a position to deviate from a basic dance structure (or not) to comply with the changes.
That, is the ultimate conclusion, to using the music for our best advantage.
Here’s a fairly simple one to recognise… Cumbia rhythm passages are akin to the “feel” of a Samba rhythm ,with its syncop. 1 and 2…. 3 and 4, danced similarly to a whisk (5th position break), but compact.
These musical passages appear quite frequently in Colombian style Salsa music ( Son rhythms for e.g. ), sometimes for 8 bars and longer…
One frequently sees dancers continuing the same basic structure, which really does not reflect the music.
Lets digress to the the beginning (socially) of the Rumba/ Bolero genre (its correct name for all of its hybrids). Even this form had its beginnings in Son,Danzon and Guaracha, a similar construction, to the square forms of Rumba.
Examining the Danzons musical format, gave us a QQS rhythm sequence, commenced to the Left side on a QQ (Fwd on Slow).
By “opening” up this box movement to the same configuration of Bolero we are now complying with the “call and response” theory of its origins… the major difference between the 2 dances are its “break” accents… 3 for Bolero, and 2 for the Mambo format.
The other major difference being the timing change, Bolero being a SQQ start and Mambo / Salsa QQS (a prep step on 1, is often taught when breaking on 2).
Having established the obvious differences in appearance, we need to know WHY this took place in the 40s, (the 1st major music change to affect the social construction).
Much of the Latin music prior to this was written in 2/4 and 6/8 (a Son time sign)… when the musical arrangers decided to change this format to a 4/4, it opened up all the new avenues, which today we take in our stride.
CLAVE… the driving force instrument in the genre.. as one famous musician noted.. ” NO Clave.. NO Mambo!”. This instrument has been the cause of more controversy and discussion than the whole orchestra.
So, what exactly is the musical make up that this instrument provides?
In a nutshell, 2 pieces of wood, struck 5 times in a set sequence.. commonly phrased as .. “Shave Hair cut.. 2bits “(note the compression of 2bits), a count of 1 23 and4 (note below), there are many recordings where the Clave is featured. Incidentally, that same rhythmical sequence is played on Bass and Piano. The allocation, musically, is a litle more complex than I outlined, but from a dancers perspective, that fits the bill .
People some times say that they are dancing “on” Clave. Well, that is possible (using all five “clicks” in a continuous side basic for e.g.) and could also be danced in the basic Mambo box format…. but… what is more likely, is their reference to breaking on the 2nd beat of each bar, in the 2 bar sequence.
From a musical standpoint, Mambo / Salsa, on occasion changes the Clave sequencing from a 2/3 (Guaganco) to a 3/2, which now produces a different musical content, namely that of Guaracha and Montuno. It generally happens after a long sequence of Verse and Chorus with a 4 bar change. I’m told by musicians, they really dont care for it!
I would hasten to point out, that these changes will not impede your dancing, as the majority will not even realise it has happened .
I find the next rhythm, Son Guajira, one of the most intriguing. Its musical construction is responsible for the way we have structured the Cha Cha (all styles).
First, to the musical make up.. unlike Cha cha, the syncop. is within the bar.. as in 1,2, 3 and 4… Cha Cha, of course being a conjoined bar between the 4th and 1st beat of the 2nd bar. There is also an additional interpretation of the basic musical structure, know as Guapacha.
This is concieved by delaying the “1” of the bar, and condensing the 2and3 as in 23.
These musical forms were first introduced as a “Salon Guajira” by the Cuban singer, Guillermo Portabales.
Its earliest form was also incorporated into the original style Mambo, and can still be seen danced in the fwd and back basic by some Cubans. When slowed down to around 28 to 30 bars a minute it now trancends into the forerunner of Cha Cha, namely Guajira .It does occur at varying speeds from band to band.
The song “Gauntanamera” is possibly the most notable Guajira song ever written.
Guajiras is a dance of simple construction, and its basic is that of Triple Mambo, and also includes an openly danced Box turning gradually to the left in a circle. Breaking on “1” and tapping on the 2nd beat of the bar. This is also incorporated into Cuban Son (the dance form).
Someone recently asked me what dances had the most influences on Salsa /Mambo (from the Ballroom world).
I suppose it begs the question.. is Mambo a Ballroom dance or is it “Street”? It might be fair game to say, that the Cubans use the term Salon ( a place where one dances to the rhythms of the day, in Cuba).. if we now remove that basic format they had developed and diversified the basic concept, would that, in and of its self, change it to a “ballroom” dance? The point is moot…. I dont believe one would have survived without the other, and received the recognition that it has achieved.
Whilst on this subject, lets examine the different commencing directions for the dances within the genre..
Mambo.. originally commenced side left (prep on 1), break back R on 2
Salsa.. danced on 1,2 and 3.. commenced frequently fwd on 1
Guajira.. Fwd on 1
Cha Cha (Amer. style).. side Left on 1 back R on 2
Cha Cha (Intern. style).. side R on 1 break fwd L on 2
Cha Cha street.. fwd left on 1
When breaking on “1” in Mambo/Salsa you are effectively dancing to the CowBell that is struck on “1” which is the first of each bar ( its also struck on all the odd beats), whilst the Conga is accented on “2” of each bar.
Like all social dance forms that have evolved from an indigenous rhythm and structure, they have been adapted and implemented by the ever changing musical influences from Jazz to Popular. The most notable, of course, was the new paradigm, from Mambo to Salsa in the 70s.
I thought it might be interesting to see which variations that are in common use in Salsa, have their roots in another genre… heres a few examples;
Bolero.. CBL.. Crossover breaks.. Around the World and all the “breaks” ( most of these are modified Ballet positions )
Swing (East and WCS)… Backspot (Hook) from Lindy.. Swivels.. Shoulder spins… Side Pass
Square Rumba.. Cuddle / Sweetheart.. Wrap around.
I pose 2 questions, that I know will elicite various responses, and they are about the style of music that is often used in performance and competition style dances.
And the first is this…when “Pop” songs, which are in the mainstream of music are used, are they doing an injustice to the genre and creating a mis-representation.. or…. does the spreading the word of “Salsa” no matter its forum or format, serve a useful purpose?… you decide…
And secondly… is the Ballroom Latin a parody of of the genre, or just another form of expression… again… you decide.
I think the answer may lie in the following response… a famous person was at one time highly criticised in the press. When asked what he thought about it, he replied, “I dont care what they say, as long as they spell my name correctly”.
The author of the above article is Terence Le Vine a Fellow with the I.D.T.A. and the U.K.A in B/room and Latin, and, a former Examiner with the N.A.D.T.A