Monday, February 11, 2008

Last Week's Lesson: My Official Introduction to The Clave

Last week's lesson was a little unusual, this time I was absolutely in the mood for a good ol' time. RT had more technical pursuits in mind. We started with a little Salsa, after a few measures RT asked me to clap on the 1st and 4th beats while maintaining the steps in Salsa, well this proved to be a bit of a stretch for me. See in Salsa, you move on the 1st thru 3rd beats, pause on 4, then start again with 1. Or, sometimes you'll see Salsa counted as 1, 2, 3, (pause 4) 5, 6, 7, (pause 8). So to actually write it out it looks like 1, 2, 3, ..., 5, 6, 7, ... Attempting to clap on the 1st beat, fine... ask me to again clap on the 4th when I'm paused is a bit like asking me to pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time. I simply can't do it without practice and a lot of thought. I nearly instantly became frustrated by my lack of ability to do this, and kept asking why he wanted me to attempt this seemingly silly practice. I was hoping that the "why" of it all would help me understand how to do it.

"Look it's the Clave, [as you learn Salsa], it's important that you know this." stated a mildly exasperated RT.

"Oh, ok... I've read about that." I replied... but unfortunately the brief period of study I had with the Clave (said Clah-VAY) was bit over my head at the time so I just filed the information away to be referenced later.

This will prompt a writing of what I understand the Clave to be in a later post, but for now... on with the lesson.

What I do know is that the Clave is a particular stick-like instrument used to accent particular beats in Afro-Cuban music. I never spent any time listening for it, or paying much attention to it at all... until this lesson. RT and I continued with my attempting to clap/step, clap/pause on the appropriate beats, to no avail. I was having a terrible time with it! Which is so tragic, considering the amount of time I've spent with music in my life. It was so bad at one point two of the studio employees that had been watching from the office behind me made their presence known by randomly clapping to either distract RT and I or worse. I turned... looked at them, turned to RT and simply stated "Oh no... now that we have an audience, game over, I'm not going to keep doing this." I then told myself that this week's homework was going to be studying the Clave, so even if I couldn't clap and step, or not step, at least I should be able to pick out the Clave rhythm next time RT and I meet.

Thankful that RT knows the difference between when I complain for the sake of complaining and when I really put my foot down about doing something, we moved to fine tune some of my positioning in cross body leads, something I picked up on much faster I think. Then we worked on my pivot turns, surprise of all surprises I anticipate those we worked on that as well. In spite of the failed Clave bit, I was still happy to get my Salsa worked on. First part of the lesson complete we moved onto our next dance.

I have no idea how much advance planning goes into my lessons, whether RT decides as we work through our warm up dance what we're going to do next or it just dawns on him when we run to the music machine to pick out tunes. Either way I was all too pleased when, while at the music machine, RT suggested West Coast Swing.

Ah, West Coast, I know the way I currently know it is pretty much studio specific... I've seen WCS at other places and I barely recognize it. Someday I'll learn that too... For the time being I'm happy with the one I've got... now we just have to get my coaster step to the point where RT is happy with it too... and we'll be set. We worked on the coaster a lot, sadly I've worked on the coaster a lot at home too... and it hasn't translated to lessons yet. Ok, so that's two bits of homework... Figure out the Clave, and polish that coaster step.... Check.

I think we took a Rumba break, even if I don't mention it here, I'm pretty sure Rumba makes an appearance in EVERY lesson... This time I was pleased to get some Cuban motion in to see if I could maintain it with a new style of shoe I'm now attempting to sport around the studio. Ok... moving on...

East Coast Swing! Yippee Skippy! It wasn't long after we started the triple step, that I noticed RT watching the one way mirror by the office that had previously held the clappers that distracted us. You know... It's pretty rare that I pay attention to what's going around the studio during my lesson, unless RT is paying attention to something... I can tell the difference between his using the mirror to inspect steps and lines, and when he's watching someone inevitably watching back, in the span of a microsecond. A sign of us working together for too long I think.... Well I don't care who's paying attention to my ECS, I have way too much fun doing it to care if I screw up, and of course I did... on one of my favorite steps too... oh well... I asked that we do it again and it was a little better.
Also, I ALWAYS misread the lead for that sequence that opens with 4 steps back then a few taps/kicks/points..whatever they've evolved into... oh well... at least we make it back to the triple on time. I love that dance.

With that lesson was over, and I cruised out of there homework in head... how am I going to pull learning the Clave?? Photobucket

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