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It was a sticky, humid day at the 2009 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, but this did not stop Puerto Rican bomba y plena musicians Viento de Agua from giving a dynamic performance that had the audience on its feet dancing.

Here is a video I made of Viento de Agua performing a plena. I did not catch the name of the song, so if anyone knows what it is, please comment. Plena is a traditional Puerto Rican style of music that we were told has its roots in the sound of a train. You can certainly here this underlying “chugging” sound in the music. Plena is one of the many caribbean styles that lends its rhythms and styles to salsa and merengue. It is characterized by the use of percussion instruments and vocal harmonies to form the rhythm and tune.

The second half of the 2009 Smithsonian Folklife Festival runs July 1-9 on the National Mall. The three featured themes this year are:

  • Giving Voice: The Power of Words in African American Culture
  • Wales/Cymru

and my personal favorite…

  • Las Americas: Un Mundo Musical / Music in Latino Culture
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Salseros dance to the music of Orquesta Ashe at Adams Morgan in DCSometimes when you’ve been doing something for years, you think you’ve thought all the thoughts there are to be thought about it. But an outside perspective can reveal new insights.

Here are three insights into salsa which encapsulate what I’ve always loved about it in a very concise way:

“1) salsa dancers, men and women of all ages and sizes, take pride in their bodies;

2) dancers seek partners who match their skill level, not those who are the best looking;

3) after taking only two lessons […one can learn enough] to follow the rhythm of the dancers.”

This is excerpted from an article by Carrie Hagen of phillyist (read the whole thing, it’s a good article), who accompanied my friend and salsera/writer extraordinaire Mathina to a mambo social. What she captures with these three observations is the 1) accepting, 2) egalitarian, and 3) accessible nature of salsa and salsa culture.

I haven’t posted any salsa videos in a while. This was a performance I saw Saturday at the Resolution Jam in the Salsa Room (Cecilia’s Nightclub, Arlington, VA). The dancers are Darlin Garcia and Vera Rowe. I enjoyed watching them a great deal; their energy and musicality were amazing.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Darlin Gacia and Vera Rowe“, posted with vodpod

While my salsaholic days are long over (going out dancing at least 2-3 times a week), and I am lucky if I make it out once a month, salsa is still an important part of my life.

Salsa is an old, familiar friend to me. Going out on a week night, I just have to grab my shoes, make sure I look halfway presentable, and go to the club. Salsa doesn’t even really require a warm up. The walk from the car to the door will do it.

Salsa is one of the few things in my life where I’m able to be truly present in the moment. I don’t have to think about anything other than being right there in the moment with my partner. Just like riding a bike, no matter how long my absence has been, the steps come automatically to me, as do the minute weight shifts and flourishes. It’s fun and I can bring whatever style or attitude to the table that I brought with me that night.

Salsa will always put a smile on my face. Sometimes it makes me feel fun, flirty, sensual, and sassy. Sometimes it makes me feel light and graceful. Sometimes it just feels as nice as hanging out with an old friend. It’s thanks to her I really fell in love with dancing in the first place. By now, I know I will always have salsa; and salsa will always have me.

From an article on “freaking” (grinding dancing favored by high school students) in yesterday’s Washington Post article “Two Types of Dirty Dancing”:

This is where, instead of shaking our head, we introduce them to the idea that dances can be highly erotic by delivering nothing while promising everything.

We’re headed into full-out wedding season, and the NYT has an article about couples going above and beyond the traditional ballroom dance at their wedding. In the case of dancer couples, this can come in the form of a dance choreographed as a gift to the spouse-to-be. There are also services which will choreograph interpretive wedding dances, incorporating the personalities and abilities of the betrothed.

The common theme seems to be that these are tongue-in-cheek elements of the wedding, with the idea that the occasion gives one license to be a little sillier and more uninhibited than in other venues.

Perhaps the execution is more charming than the idea, but it just seems to fit the whole syndrome that one’s wedding is one’s special day upon which one must be the focus of attention and one can do whatever one wishes and the assembled guests are obliged to express their delight at it. I like the idea of presenting a gift of ones own choreography to one’s fiance, because it is eminently personal. However, shelling out [a minimum of] $1500 to a company called MatriMony Mony to explore one’s own performance fantasies seems highly self-indulgent and more than your average wedding guest might be able to bear. Or would it be a welcome break from the monotony of tradition?

“`

Kind of reminds me of this video that I posted a couple months ago:

I find that I’m often apologizing for not having posted in a while. My general goal is to post at least three times a week and to stay up-to-date with a core group of dance blogs on my feed. But that can’t always happen. I travel quite a bit for my job, and two thirds of the places I go are small and rural towns. Internet access can be iffy there and my days are so long that there’s no time for writing.

Then there’s the fact that I tend to be more inspired to write when I am surrounded by dance. I seek out dance opportunities on the road when I can (more on that later), but I am missing out on my normal classes on rehearsals. I was on an airplane during the last episode of Step It Up and Dance and anyway, it seems most hotels I stay in do not carry Bravo tv in their lineup.

Then there is my at-home routine. Missed classes mean that I’m constantly struggling to get my body back into top dance shape, and missed rehearsals can mean missed performance and casting opportunities. My family and friends are important to me, and being away so much means that I may miss additional classes and practices to spend quality time with them.

If you are like me, just trying to balance (as the subtitle of this blog says) a passion for dance with real life, I’ve put together a list of some of my own strategies for balancing your traveling lifestyle with your love for dance.  Even if you don’t travel too much, some of these things can apply to you whenever you travel.

  1. Take care of your body. Just about every hotel these days has a gym, and if they don’t they usually have an agreement with a local gym. Going for a run on the treadmill will help you maintain cardiovascular endurance, and it also helps me be wide awake for those early morning meetings. As for stretching, I try to do short yoga sequence before bed, maintaining flexibility and centering me before bed. I’m not so good about working out at home, but I find that the close proximity of the hotel gym (or a yoga studio: see my post Keeping Balance on the Road) motivates me to work out every day.
  2. Travel can be a minefield of junk food– acknowledge it and do what you can to minimize the damage. I was going to entitle this one “watch what you eat” but I wanted to practice what I preach. Sometimes it can be impossible to avoid eating fatty simple carbs when that is your only option, and the cookie tray/candy dish that comes out mid-afternoon can be hard to resist. Acknowledge that this is a challenge and try to load up on fruit and other healthy options when the opportunity arises. Even in the most rural haven of fried food, there is usually a salad and a vegetable side dish on the menu. If you don’t follow this one, at least you’re working out every day at the gym! It behooves all of us to eat healthy for a variety of reasons, but mine is seeing my bloated, lethargic self wearing nothing but a spandex leotard in the floor-to-ceiling mirror at the next ballet class.
  3. Take advantage of the alone time to practice. Usually all I want to do when I get back to my room is conk out on the bed and turn on the boob tube, but taking even just 10 minutes to go over some complicated steps or practice a barre sequence can make a big difference and will make you feel like you did something. I hardly ever have time to practice at home. Even if I’m alone at home, I feel guilty about laundry or dishes (or writing in my blog!) but you don’t have those pressures in the hotel room. Take advantage of this precious time.
  4. Go to class. Although I said 2/3 of the time I’m in small, rural towns, I didn’t mention that the other 1/3 I go to large cities. Chances are, any city with a population over 100,000 is going to have some opportunities for dance. Do your research before you leave so you can schedule appropriately. For classes, a google search for “[city name] adult dance classes” will pull up some local dance schools offering evening classes for adults. Make sure you call ahead to make sure they take students on a drop-in basis, and that classes will be offered the dates you’re there. It is often hard to make this work, but doing your research in advance will at least keep your options open. It is also great for your development to study with different instructors in different cities.
  5. Social dancers: this is your golden opportunity! If you are a social dancer– salsa, swing, etc, travel may be one of the very best things for your growth and confidence as a dancer. Most large cities have at least one opportunity each night of the week for social dancing. Here again, google is your friend (i.e., “detroit salsa”). My strategy when I walk in the door is to ask the organizers where the serious dancers hang out. More often than not, they will introduce you to the best dancers, who in turn will be excited to dance with someone outside of the same old group. Living in a city with a large a vibrant salsa scene (DC), it is fun and confidence-boosting for me to travel to smaller cities where I can be a big fish in a small pond. Every city has its own distinct style of social dancing, and exposing yourself to new styles and new partners will help you improve by leaps and bounds. See my account of Salsa in Seattle for an example of this.
  6. About 4 and 5: bring some extra cash and a shot of courage. Getting out there to find classes and clubs in an unfamiliar city is not always easy. It may entail a pricey cab ride and you have no idea once you get there if it was worth the trip (see The $52 cha cha cha). Obviously, have your wits about you and ask around about the neighborhoods you are going to to make sure it is a safe place to go on your own. But don’t let being alone be your only excuse. Chances are, if you show up and put yourself out there, you are going to be glad you did.

Happy Trails!

I haven’t done a Dance on the Web in a really long time. I’ve been pretty out of touch with the blogosphere over the last month or so for various reasons, so this is me attempting to get caught up with what’s out there, including exploring some new dance blogs. A lot of them seem to have popped up recently.

From Dance Metro/DC:

Dance/MetroDC is proud to present our second annual Dance Is The Answer event! During National Dance Week 2008, area nonprofit dance organizations have united to introduce, energize and excite the public to the benefits of dance. From April 25-May 4, 2008, over 120 free classes, performances, workshops and open rehearsals will be available from over 30 organizations to help you experience that Dance Is The Answer.

Dance Is The Answer to achieving and maintaining good health
Dance Is The Answer to reaching weight management goals
Dance Is The Answer to finding an inspiring creative outlet
Dance Is The Answer to enriching your social life
Dance Is The Answer to deepening your connection to community


For listings of Free Classes and Workshops, click here.
For listings of Free Performances and Open Rehearsals, click
here.


A special thank you to all our participating organizations:

American Dance Institute, Rockville, MD
AVAdance, Washington, DC
Bowen McCauley Dance, Arlington, VA
BlackRock Center for the Arts,
Germantown, MD
Capitol Movement Inc., Washington, DC
CityDance Ensemble,
Washington, DC and N. Bethesda, MD
ClancyWorks Dance Company, Silver Spring, MD
Capitol Region Educators of Dance Organization,
Washington, DC
Dance Place,
Washington, DC

DC Dance Collective, Washington, DC
Dhoonya Dance, Arlington, VA
Expressions Dance Theatre,
Clinton, MD
Dream in Color Dance Studio,
Alexandria, VA
Harman Center for the Arts, Washington, DC
Indian Dance Educators Association,
Washington, DC
Jane Franklin Dance,
Arlington, VA

Joe’s Movement Emporium, Mt. Rainier, MD
Joy of Motion Dance Center, Washington, DC and Bethesda, MD

Kathy Harty Gray Dance Theatre, Alexandria, VA
Knock on Wood Tap Studio,
Silver Spring, MD
Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Takoma Park, MD
Maryland Youth Ballet, Silver Spring, MD
Mason/Rhynes Productions, Washington, DC
Momentum Dance Theatre, Washington, DC
National Dance Educators Organization,
Washington, DC
Publick Playhouse,
Cheverly, MD

Sitar Arts Center, Washington, DC
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C.
The Washington Ballet, Washington, DC

Thanks to everyone who came out last night for the Tribute to Women in Salsa at Zanzibar. I had such a great time performing and it was nice to do a little social dancing again after a too-long hiatus.

From the feedback I got, everyone loved the Birds of Paradise, and my hat goes off to Irene Holtzman for her amazing vision and choreography. And thank you Talisa for doing my hair…I seriously wish I could wear my hair like that every day.

Congratulations to Andrea Brachfeld and Judith Condezo for being last night’s honorees.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any of the other groups since we were backstage. I saw a a lot of video cameras rolling, so if there are any videos out there, please share and I will put them up here.

…you know, the guy that comes to the salsa club with no intention to actually dance. He only comes away from the bar during merengues and reggaetons to, um, invade your personal space.

Now, thanks to Usher, that guy has his own theme song.

The 2008 Tribute to Women in Salsa showcases salsa performances by all-female groups, and will honor women who have made a contribution to salsa music, dance, culture, or community. It is organized annually by the fabulous Eileen Torres and has become an integral part of the DC salsa calendar.

Tribute to Women in Salsa

With performances by:

Dance In Time

Salsa Fuego Student Group

Clavekazi’s Birds of Paradise

SalsaVive

Salsa Fuego

Joie de Vivre Salseras

Wednesday, April 2

Show will start some time after 9pm

Zanzibar on the Waterfront
700 Water St SW
Washington, DC 20024
(202) 554-9100

closest metro stop: Waterfront (green line)

Admission: $5 before 10pm, $10 after 10pm

Free salsa class, 7-8pm

Please note that Zanzibar does not allow jeans. If you must wear jeans, I think they have relaxed that policy a little but they will charge you double.[update: according to Beto’s comment, jeans are now allowed]

[Full Disclosure: this is a shameless self-promotion post…I will be performing in this event. Hope to see you there!]

salsa partneringTwo contrasting experiences of late highlight the delicate balance required for good dancer partnering.

Experience #1: Excessive desire for contact

I recently went to Havana Village (a salsa club in DC), which is not my usual scene for salsa. There’s just a little too much meat market sprinkled in amongst the dancing for my taste. While some great dancers go there, there are some not so great ones in equal measure. Havana is in a narrow townhouse in Adams Morgan, and thus the dance floor is tiny, with no room for bad floorcraft (which nevertheless abounds). Many of the guys who go there are also not necessarily looking for just a dance.

It is a challenge to the dance connection when other agendas are present. What I mean by that is that although salsa is a sensual dance, sensuality is the quality of the movement in salsa but romance is not the purpose of the dance. It’s difficult to describe exactly what goes into a good connection other than to say it requires both partners to be absolutely in tune with each other, and responsive to cues and movements from the other. Bringing in other intentions that do not arise from that place actually interfere with the connection.

Specifically– and I’m using specific examples from my recent Havana Village experience:

  • When you gaze deeply into my eyes searching for me to return whatever it is you’re feeling for me, that does not help our dance connection.
  • When you throw me into wild dips and drops without first having established a trusting, balanced partnership, that does not help our connection.
  • When you try to increase the intimacy of our contact by pulling me closer or trying to move your hands below my waist, that does not help our connection (and may perhaps reward your efforts with a push or a slap).

When the man I am dancing with is trying to get something else out of the dance other than just dancing with me, it quite frankly puts a big wall between us.

Now, you have probably witnessed or experienced deep eye gazing, crazy tricks, and intimate contact on the dance floor where it looked or seemed perfectly natural. However, I guarantee you that in each case, the action arose out of the bond that had already been established between the dancers, whether out of an existing relationship, the experience and trust built from dancing together more than several times, or in some rare cases, the chemistry is right from the very first dance.

Experience #2: Fear of contact

contact improv from DC improv festivalIn my modern dance class today, the choreography included a few very brief moments of physical contact with other dancers. One, in which we leaned against each other lying on the floor, and the other in which we provided brief support in a layout and assistance in standing up.

Trust me when I say that I have not heard so much giggling since my friend Stephanie’s first grade birthday party sleepover. We were all grown adults in this class, and yet it seemed that most (some who I might add have professional dance experience) felt embarrassed or uncomfortable with this sudden contact required by the choreography.

Being a salsera and all, I felt like a fish in water with the contact; however, the awkwardness does start to be contagious when one’s partner is erupting in fits of giggles.

Where does this fear of contact come from? I have witnessed the same thing at play in beginner social dance classes because it is indeed something that takes some time and exposure to get used to (but in the end becomes the most beautiful aspect of the dance). In our daily life, we do not often come into physical contact with each other and often consciously avoid it. We are not so accustomed to making the eye contact necessary for effective partner communication, and to sustaining touch against the body or hands of someone we don’t really know or have not ever had that sort of contact with.

As experience #1 shows, that very intimacy we are apprehensive about in experience #2 it not what effective partnering is. Once we get beyond those apprehensions and into the dance, we realize that this physical contact is actually pretty neutral territory. It’s territory that requires trust and an acute tuning-in to one’s partner. It’s true that other things can arise out of the partnership, but that requires the intention of both halves, and it’s not something that’s going to happen during a brief combination in class.

I’ve never done contact improv, but I’m curious to try it out to test this hypothesis. I also think that I’ve identified a need in the DC adult dance education arena for a partnering class in modern and ballet. In the meantime, I would highly recommend that classically trained dancers seek out some partnering “cross training” in social dance such as salsa, swing, tango, or ballroom to break down some of those feelings of discomfort.

Oh, and don’t go to Havana Village or you might get the wrong idea about those salseros!

I came across this quote (via the WP tag surfer), and it really resonated with me:

I see solo dances as the dancer expressing his message to the outside
world, his audience. Partnered dancing is like a conversation of two,
and together, you draw others in and making them want to be part of
your conversation too. That is what I like, living the wonderful
experience of dancing simultaneously with another and not by myself.

-Amanda’s Shoebox

I’m leaving town for a week and internet access will be iffy at best. In the meantime, here are some of my favorite older posts you may not have seen.

  • You all know about ballet, modern dance, tango, salsa, waltz, foxtrot, samba, and so forth. But unless you’re involved in latin club dancing you may not know much about Bachata. Bachata is both a style of music and a very fun and romantic style of dance. Read my post about Bachata here.
  • While we’re on the topic of social dancing, sometimes accidents are inevitable on the dance floor. Unfortunately, it’s hard to predict how people will react. I addressed this issue in Dancefloor collisions: no one is to blame.
  • All About the Dress: one of my all time favorite dance videos on the internet, and one of my more popular posts.
  • As winter comes to a close, take advantage of those last week of ice skating, and read about some insights I had on a recent trip to the skating rink: Taking my dance skills to the ice skating rink.

If that’s not enough to tide you over, check out Going back in the ATTD Time Machine #1 

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