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SALSA DANCE STARS WORKSHOP (FEB 2002)

 

by Tiffany Sanchez, special correspondent

 

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Location: Oakland, CA

Date: February 2, 2002


On Saturday, February 2 I had the chance to attend the Salsa Stars workshop in downtown Oakland, always a fun event! It is sometimes difficult to decide which classes to take when you have four new choices each hour, but you gotta just go with your gut. I generally prefer to take the LA teachersí classes, just because I donít normally have a chance to see their styles. This time I decided to really get to know the instructors I was taking, so I took both of Edie & Alís classes and both of Mike Belloís. I really missed Jobyís ladies styling this time! Where was it?

Salsa Stars has one logistical problem they have to deal with: getting hundreds of people in there by 10:00 a.m. If you want to be in the building by 10:00 a.m. for the start of classes and donuts, you have to get to the door at the latest by 9:45 a.m., which is not so easy on a Saturday morning after spending all Friday night watching Edie & Al do their thang at Dance Spectrum!

MIKE BELLO - LECTURES AND SHINES

The Mambo Fello provides us non-musicians with an invaluable service. He breaks down the music for us based on the patterns of percussion weaving around the clave. His workshop is mostly about understanding exactly and in detail what the clave is, how to find it and feel it when dancing, and the different types of clave patterns. If you already know these (son clave, reverse clave, and rumba clave), try to think back to when you were a beginner and didnít know what they were. Remember how confusing and intimidating it all was? Thatís the Mambo Felloís niche in the salsa/mambo world, explaining it to all the rest of us, because believe me, a lot of us need it broken down. Not to say that the advanced dancer too doesnít have quite a bit to learn from Bello, because his information does go deep into the history of salsa music and mambo dance.

Another exceptional thing about the Mambo Felloís lecture is that he introduces most every other instrument which comes into play in your normal salsa song, and demonstrates what it individually sounds like and what its rhythm is. He dissects the entire structure of a salsa song, and then when he puts it back together for you; itís like you listen to it way more completely than before. I remember after his workshop last year when I first got what the cascara rhythm was, I ran around banging it out with a pencil on every surface I could find. I still have the ultimate personal goal of being able to do the cascara with one hand while maintaining doing the clave with the other hand! Try it sometime, itís harder than it sounds!

I first learned about the clave a year ago, and Iím telling you it helps the dancing a ton. Knowing the parts of the song, the instruments involved, and what exactly they do, absolutely gives our dancing more depth and makes us better. Why? Well, of course, the more familiar you are with the music the more you can feel it and be on the beat. But also, the more you can hit subtle accents and the more you can pick and choose which instrumentís accents you want to style to in different parts of the song.

Belloís mission is to make us find the ultra "cool" dancer within each of us and allow us to be living representations of the music, in his words. On his awesome website, www.mambofello.com, you can find a pretty comprehensive summary of his material, under "Salsa Mambo Training." But thereís something about seeing him in person in his lecture class that makes it all a little easier to understand, especially for people like me with NO background in music theory whatsoever! Heís big on anecdotes, well-spoken, and always entertaining.

After the first hour of lecture, we stood up and spread out for the next class: shines. It was time to put what we had learned into practice, if you will. His choice of teaching open shines on the Classic "2" is helpful for understanding and becoming fluent "on 2". Here in the Bay Area, we can learn the Modern "2" from a growing number of teachers, so itís nice to practice traditional mambo for a change, just to keep the dancing flexible.

My favorite part of the shines class was definitely the body motion drill, the point of which was to make sure your torso and hips are going in the natural way in relation to which foot is stepping. Bello taught us a shine, where we swivel from our toes to our heels on each beat (toe toe heel heel, and swivel them in between each transition), and then put on Larry Harlowís beautiful upbeat song "La Cartera." We danced the &*$# out of that shine, the whole song. Itís actually a really good idea to do a shine for the duration of a song, because then you get a really good workout too. Sometimes dance classes have you walk through stuff ("marking it") so much that it becomes more cerebral than physical. And despite the repetition it wasnít boring at all. My calves are still sore from all that swiveliní.!

Then Bello taught us a five-shine pattern from his list of something like 50 shines. The idea is that the shines are arranged in a way that they flow well into each other, so if you learned the whole thing, it would be a mambo line dance. (Someday thereíll be our own salsa version of the electric slide to do at weddings, just wait & see.) Most of us who took last yearís workshop probably still have our shines list, itís nice and small enough to fit in your wallet. He taught some from around the middle of the list, and the whole class got into it and had a blast. Heís a great dancer to watch, and as many people noted, Bello is a really nice, down-to-earth, approachable guy. As were all the teachers from the Salsa Stars, including Edie the Salsa Freak and her husband Al "Liquid Silver"Ö.

 

 

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EDIE & AL

Edie the Salsa Freak is another teacher with an AMAZING website, www.dancefreak.com . She writes about everything, the practical stuff. Whereas Mike Belloís site explores the roots and structure of what weíre doing, Edie gets right down to it and talks about the social stuff, from salsa addiction to panty hose, and my personal favorite, dealing with offbeat partners. You could spend hours reading her articles. So, I was very excited to see her in person. She and her husband are hilarious, very sweet, and excellent teachers.

Edie & Alís first class was how to do very fancy dip patterns. The length of the routines was manageable for the class, but the dips seemed a little hard to learn in just an hour. I decided to just watch because Iím not much on letting guys (especially ones I donít know) experiment on dropping me by my neck or balancing me on their leg. I may be too cautious, but thatís my neck! Itís very valuable to me! And Iím especially paranoid after having my nose broken by my own partner a couple of weeks back at the club. The other observers and I were cringing at watching the occasional woman slipping or falling. Iím still not sure how safe these dips and tricks are, but actually, about half the class was getting it. But, just because Iím a scaredy-cat and my throbbing nose wouldnít let me participate, does not mean that the class wasnít awesome!

If anyone can teach fancy dips and tricks, itís these two people. They explained very clearly how both people should balance, what parts of the leaderís body should be supporting the woman, in real detail. For those bolder than I, these dips were very cool, and definitely help partner connection and coordination.

Edie and her poppiní & lockiní husbandís second class was of a very different subject matter: hip hop/salsa fusion. Yes! Now I was getting really excited. First the couple split us up into two groups to learn different sets of menís and womenís shines. Edie was a perfect teacher for this section of the class, and from what I could see of the guys on the other side of the room, they were teariní up the floor as well. In a very crowded room full of eager hip hopsters, Edie defied logistical obstacles and somehow provided us all with space and adequate time in the front with access to see how she was demonstrating. She managed in that small room with no mirrors. She was completely in control of the class and kept it organized through very frequent rotation. Otherwise, most of us would not have been able to see her, due to front crowding.

Side note: often class participants, in any dance genre, do not realize that if they squeeze together in the front row, no one else in the class can see, because they are effectively forming a wall, which results in even more front crowding. A solution to this in a normal space is just for everyone to spread out, but in this room, there was no space for that. So, like I said, Edie expertly maneuvered the situation through rotations once every minute, which made the class much better, despite a small number of students, to whom I would like to note: When the teacher of a class or workshop says, "front line move to the back," it means just that. So just do it, and stop trying to stay in the front line for the whole class. Very often I see students from the front row take one step back and think thatís sufficient. Guess what, if you donít move to the back row, the rest of us donít get to move forward.

Back to the class. Edieís hip hop shines were awesome, and she taught them effortlessly in heels. It was actually the most fun routine Iíve done in a long time, and again I broke a sweat. The routine started with a purely hip hop style side kick which brought the foot up much higher than a woman normally would in salsa. It took a minute to get used to, but soon it felt great, because it gives you the power to really hit the accent. The only concern would be at the club not to kick anyone if you try to throw it in your styling. We then we went into another present-day hip hop move that I loved; it was straight out of a Nelly video. I chose to take it to the floor, because why not do it up, and you could totally use it at the club. Thatís what hip hop can give ladiesí styling: sharp clean movements that really accent the hips (read: "booty") and therefore can make us even more sexy on the dance floor.

Then Edie got old school on us. She transitioned into a Hammer move (and she gave props to Oaktown, thanks Edie!) This was a difficult move, but she broke it down very clearly, her great teaching skills coming into play yet again. And finally, she topped off the routine with an ultra cool move that reminded me of one of my dance idols: Re-Run of Whatís Happeniní. I forgot what she called this one but it was so fly, and involved circling both arms from overhead down the sides of the body, and ending with a clap behind the back, complete with some sharp looks left and right for fun and emphasis.

Next, in good-natured dance-off style, the men and women faced each other and took turns doing our groove thang. Those men definitely were getting the point of Alís choreography, and they were hitting each move with a stronger, harder punch than usual in salsa. And it works. Sometimes salsa can be smooth and tentative, but hip hop energy definitely blends in perfectly as well, especially in certain songs or parts of certain songs (not the slow romantic buildup). I can totally picture doing these moves during the hip hop breakdown of some DLG songs.

The second half of the class was partner work, salsa choreography with a hip hop feel to it. There was lots of room for body rolls in this class. The guys got to do some masculine body rolliní too and overall, the class helped me think of other ways to connect with my partner, and add different types of styling. Very fun, and highly recommended.

 

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