Friday, 3 November 2017

Blend Format


Blend Format a new type of salsa evening

Fantastic to participate, engaging to watch.

Salsa Classes have been in the UK since 1987 and it’s fair to say that the way salsa classes are presented hasn’t changed much in that time. Usually it’s a couple of classes followed by some free dance.

Over the last two weeks I’ve been gradually integrating the new Blend Format at Salsa Camden. Blend a new way of operating an early week evening that literally ‘blends’ the party and the classes creating an atmosphere of buzz.
It’s taken a long time to create and I’ve waited until we’re back in Gabeto (formerly The Cuban) before I’ve fully committed to it.

"Resistance is Futile"
The truth is there’s always a resistance to change, the safety of old familiar ways that drag at the heels of innovation.  I view my innovations as experiments that either work well or not so well. Hopefully Blend will live up to its strapline ‘Fantastic to participate, engaging to watch.’
I’m prepared for the resistance to release ‘Generation Troll’ in a chorus of ‘It won't work!’ because I’ve got experience of things that ‘won’t work’.
There was my Move Machine format back in the nineties which was salsa meets circuit training, that ‘didn’t work’ at our Rayners Lane venue for a year until the  venue was sold. At Salsa University at the iconic Turnmills nightclub we had up to six advanced classes in every style with different teachers every week. That ‘didn’t work’ for eight years ... until Turnmills was sold.
Then there’s the Salsa Rapido 1-Day Intensive Salsa courses at bar Salsa that now seems such a familiar part of the salsa scene. Back then the idea of a full day Intensive course was unthinkable. Until I did in 2003 see www.streetbeat.co.uk/1-Day, and fingers crossed the venue hasn’t been sold, yet! 
So here goes....

So what’s Blend Format all about?
Within an evening of two and a half hours e.g. 7.30pm - 10pm there’s 105 minutes of tuition fulfilling the needs of beginners through to advanced. This is  presented in 15 or 30 minute sessions, Whole group active interspaced with Free Dance time.
There’s constant music and a buzzy mixing and mingling as groups come and go.
Come for the evening, stay for the evening, dance for the evening, socialise for the evening.

Inspiration?

The inspiration for Blend came out of my Mambalsa project in 2012. Mambalsa is a new partner dance I created that worked to any 4:4 time music. It seemed only right to take a look at a typical evening dance class and see what worked and what didn't. As a salsa teacher who specializes in beginners and improvers, I was disappointed at how poor the traditional salsa UX is. UX or user experience comes from web development and is simply looking at something from the perspective of the user.
The typical absolute beginner, arrives, pays and is left alone until the class starts. They then have to cope with a warm up of footwork that they haven’t been shown. The class is often of mixed ability where they’re the worst, and is led by the least experienced member of the teaching team in the worst location in the room. After the class it’s a quick bye bye as another (more important) class is about to start.
Sound familiar?

Why Blend?
The world has changed!

Our classes are aimed at intelligent career minded people who want to wake up fresh the next day. More and more people respect the ‘not on a school night’ lifestyle. Blend means that dancers don’t have to sacrifice their free dance after the classes for an early finish, as there’s a significant amount of free dance opportunity during the evening. More importantly everyone can stay to the end and is made to feel part of the group rather that the uncommitted one who leaves early.
Blend is our chance to radically value and improve the UX of everyone who attends especially beginners. Effort spent here will retain clients and swell the upper levels.

I’ve spent over twenty years developing salsa teaching so people can learn more quickly and better, so Blend has to offer real advantages for tuition.
The free dance sections allow techniques to be discussed, digested and practised before another load of info arrives. After the free dance you’ll return to the session refreshed in mind and body :-) Finally, Spoiler Alert, the best way to learn salsa is to dance salsa! Freestyle salsa is where you find out if you know something or not. It’s early days but I’ve now got beginners free style dancing within fifteen minutes!

There’s no doubt that Blend is a long way from the traditional evening class format but I think it will be a rewarding learning experience, more fun and more social.
Whenever people try something new there’s always a little resistance between the familiar and unfamiliar.

If it ain’t broke why change it?
Fair question and for those venues that operate the traditional format successfully well done, but does that mean there shouldn’t be an alternative format?
There’s a huge opportunity out there. Ask around in any salsa club and most people like things as they are. ‘It works for me.’ Of course the one’s that it doesn’t work for aren't there! They got filtered out a long time ago.
Five percent of the UK population dance even if not regularly. Some can’t or won’t, but many could and would if the format appealed to them. By appealed, I mean: educated, entertained and respected their lifestyles.
Apart from opportunity, I suggest that the current system is simply ‘broke!’
There are issues in the salsa business that don’t make comfortable reading for salsa teachers:
  • Why are there now less venues than before?
In London there’s used to be several nights for every area, now there's far less. Has the teaching changed? Are we more fussy about venues? Have we become ‘event orientated? Perhaps the venues don’t want salsa or salsa nights are just harder to promote? One thing’s certain, we haven’t overpriced ourselves. In 1995 I charged £5 for one hour. Most classes now work out the same per hour or less with discounts.
  • Why is the dropout rate, so big at beginners level?
I estimate it to be over half within the first few weeks. Whatever the actual number is, it’s huge. Salsa nights simply aren’t compelling.
  • Why is it so difficult to get venues to host salsa nights?
Salsa is stylish, well behaved, and can fill an empty venue on a quiet night but the proposition for bars without a separate function room is daunting.
Stop being a bar while we teach, often in silence. Then everyone will want serving at the same time, and that’s if they want to by any drinks at all!

Blend isn’t going to change the world or even the salsa scene. But it might offer a little more choice that will suit some. It will stretch us teachers which is never a bad thing and I hope it will open up new opportunities for salsa.
I’m not seeking to protect Blend in any way from my competitors. All I ask is credit me for Blend and  I invite you to help improve it together :-)
Happy birthday Salsa :-)

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Counts Commonly Used in Salsa

Counts Commonly Used in Salsa.
A explanation of the most common counts used in salsa classes and a discussion of their pros and cons. I've also included my preferences and recommendations.

What is counting for?
Counting serves several main purposes:
  • To connect us to the rhythm within the music, thereby synchronising the foot work sequence FWS to the speed of the music. This is achieved through identifying the pulses or beats within the music and vocalising them with a word. Our actions, including the FWS can be timed to those words.
  • Counts are used to synchronise the start of the FWS with the desired beat of the bar (usually the first) i.e. dancing in time.
  • Some counts may inform the dancer which foot they should be using at any time. This can either be in real time e.g. “left” is instantly comprehensible as your left foot, or as a debugging tool for when something has gone wrong e.g. “seven” in the 8-count will mean leaders right foot. (With practise this can become instant)

What’s wrong with counting?
The downside of counting is that the nuance of the music is often lost if the count is allowed to dominate your thoughts. Then you’re dancing only to the count and not the music. This prevents you from interpreting the music, or noticing if you are still synchronised to it i.e. dancing out of time.
Counts should be used as a temporary tool, to be discarded as soon as unnecessary. They should be viewed as a way to connect to the music not a replacement.
Worst case you find yourself out of time, with your mouth silently mouthing the words of a count. Beware it’s hard to loose a bad habit!

There are many counts commonly used in dance classes. There is no correct or official count, although some are more popular than others. The important thing is to understand their limitations and benefits and select the best tool for you at any particular time and not to use them when they are unnecessary.

Counts:


Pulse:
Any noise is used to mark the the beat of the music. I’ve used the word ‘Tak’ as this is a popular word used to mark the pulse in mainland Europe.
e.g. Tak Tak Tak ___ Tak Tak Tak ___
Pros:
It makes the beats stand out from the music and allows the dancer to connect to them.
Cons:
It doesn’t inform the dancer which foot they should be used next.
____________

4-Count A.K.A  'The musician’s count':
e.g.  1234 1234
1 Bar = 4 beats or 1 measure (USA)

Pros:
This is a global musical convention used by musicians all over the world. It is also used in almost all school music curriculum's and is clearly defined.
Salsa music is always notated as four beats to a bar i.e. 4:4 time. The length of a bar is not optional if you wish to remain within the musical convention*.
We can choose not to honour the convention but it may cause confusion and even sound ignorant if musical convention terms are used e.g. beats and bars, when we are deliberately not within the convention. I think best practise should be to avoid the phase ‘beat five’ as there is no beat five within the musical convention. Better to say ‘step five’ or ‘foot five’ to lessen the confusion. It may seem just semantics but I’ve seen many incorrect assumption presented in classes e.g. “The musical count spans the same period as the 8-count but is half the speed” THIS IS NOT CORRECT! The correct definition in terms of the musical convention, is that the FWS spans two bars of music.

The 4-Count allows for turnarounds in the music. (see below)

Cons:
This count does not describe which foot is being stepped into. i.e. ‘One’ may refer to a left or right foot.

Left Right Left Pause Right Left Right Pause
1     2      3     4       1       2     3      4

*I took the opportunity to discuss this fully with the head of conducting at The Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the head of percussion at The Royal College of Music, both are two of the world's leading conservatoires of music.

____________ 

8-count A.K.A.'The footwork count':
e.g. 123_567_
Spanning two bars, the footwork is clearly described, each step has it’s own number. Usually One is leader’s left foot and follower’s right, two is leader’s right and follower’s left etc.  The fourth and eighth beats are silent as no step is taken.

Pros:
  • Referencing the feet allows an instructor to say an action happens on beat five and the whole class understands which foot is required.
  • It’s a very popular count used by many teachers.
  • Eight beats is a near ideal length for remembering movement. I once found some scientific research on this but have since lost the reference. 
  • It’s excellent for conveying a series of moves or combos to groups who have already mastered their FWS.

Cons:
  • For beginners quoting numbers does not have any instant meaning compared to quoting left and right so there is not error prevention only debugging. In fairness to the 8-count, dancers quickly gain mastery of ‘one’ and ‘five’ and it’s almost as instant as ‘left’ and right’.

  • It addictive! So many dancers keep counting when they no longer need to, often moving their lips which looks idiotic. Vocalising numbers seems far more addictive than other words. The cure for count addiction is simple. Don’t count or ditch it ASAP!

  • Often the dancer is not dancing to the music but to the count in their head, which prevents them from interpreting the music.

  • The ‘One’ and ‘five’ is over emphasised leading to a stronger step on the ‘One’ or ‘five’ where there is no emphasis desired or in the the music.

  • The main benefit i.e. referencing the feet is often undermined in classes where the  follower’s One is their right foot when dancing with a partner, and their left foot when dancing in a line-up. This can be confusing.

  • Turnaround: In salsa music there are phrases and sections, like sentences and paragraphs, that form verses and choruses etc. These phrases often end with a distinctive ‘break’ that is easy to hear. In the genre of salsa sections are mainly an even number of bars in length but quite often there’s a ‘Turnaround’ where an extra bar is included. The Turnaround deliberately changes it’s feel of the following section’s rhythmic structure.
Dancers who use an eight count often fall into the trap of assuming the first beat at the
start of a section to always be a ‘One’. After a turnaround it may be a ‘Five’ which make them believe they have made a mistake. I have worked with teachers who have outlawed dancing on ‘Five’ or elevated it to an ‘Advanced Only’ technique. I believe this is not best practice. There is nothing wrong with dancing on ‘five.’  Get used to it. It may feel different and unfamiliar but that’s what learning something new is all about. It will also provoke a different repertoire of moves for the leaders. Listen out for tracks with turnarounds, there’s lots of them.
There is nothing wrong or unusual about dancing on five, but if you don’t want to you’ll need to find ways of flipping your FWS and your partners. I recommend Freezes, Transition Steps and eight beat moves, or just wait for another turnaround.

Without turnaround:
123 567 123 567 123 567 123 567 break 123 567 123 567
note the the first beat after the break is a one.

With turnaround:
123 567 123 567 123 567 123 567 123 break  567 123 567 123
note the the first beat after the break is now a five.   


____________

Beats 'n Bars:  
1234 2234 3234 4234 (underlined indicates which bar, the remainder which beat)
I believe this is a Ballroom/Latin count.
Pros: Great for long choreography
Cons: Choreography is the bane of freestyle salsa.


____________ 




Quick Quick Slow:
The quicks last one beat and the slow lasts two beats.
Another popular Ballroom/Latin count.
Interestingly the words are used to convey the period in between the pulses rather than the pulses as in ‘Tak Tak Tak’. This is actually more accurate as a beat is a period of time rather than a point in time.

Quick Quick Slooooooow
1       2       3       4

Pros:
Can be effective in emphasising a fluid transition from one bar to the next.
Cons:
Very limited apart from above use. The words have no connection to the FWP.
I wonder if ‘Medium’ would mean one and a half beats!
____________

Position to Position:
Unusual and rare but effective for getting the shape of the move.
Position 1 -(no fixed amount of time)- Position 2 -(no fixed amount of time) -Position 3
I’m not sure if this counts as a count, but it uses numbers so I’ve put it in. I once went to a class that used this count and it was confusing as hell at first. Later I enjoyed the way that it assumes you already have mastered FWS and timing.
Pros: It makes the dancer think about certain positions, how they look and the transitions to get there.

Cons: It has no connection with the music at all at!

____________ 

Left Right Left Pause Right Left Right Pause      
  
My personal favourite for use with beginners and anyone who has asked the question which foot am I on?
I recommended its use whenever under stress i.e. the move is new or flawed.
Pros:
Many hesitation mistakes are avoided as it’s very clear which foot is next.
We’ve usually learnt left and right and numbers by around six years old but numbers are never used to describe direction, so in a moment of hesitation, the dancers vocalising left or right will generally take the correct step without having to think. The dancer counting will have to work out which foot it should be.
As a debugging tool. To identify and fix an error quoting the FWS lets the dancer know exactly where the error is before it’s been practised.
It does not linger i.e. it's  not addictive. In fact you'll drop it to soon.

cons:
It's difficult to use at first and requires a little practise to become fluent saying the phrase: left right left pause, right left right pause.
It feels mechanical which is fine if you're debugging something or attempting it for the time. Because of this mechanical feel it doesn’t feel cool.

About 5% of the population have convinced themselves that they are rubbish at left and right, and these people feel a great resistance to the tool. This is sad because it may in fact help them with left and right.


____________ 


Tick Tock:
Quote Tick or Tock on alternate first beats of the bar.

Tick         Tock          Tick         Tock            
1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4

This is my prefered tool which is surprisingly useful and easy to adopt.
It’s best used when not under great stress (see Left Right Left Pause)
I recommend it for when things are working but still require a little help regarding which foot you're on.

Pros:
  • Easy to teach and adopt.

  • Non addictive.

  • These plenty of silence to hear and connect to the music leading to interpretation.

  • The secret is to be very light as is the words touch the beat like a butterfly landing for a moment. This seems to lift the dancer from a dogmatic mechanical mode into a lighter conversational mode.
Cons: Not as useful as 8-count in conveying choreography, and has no sense of cool about it.

____________ 

Conclusion:
People often confuse the style of teaching with the resulting salsa style. Counts are just tools to be used and discarded when no longer necessary. Understanding where the pros and cons of each are enable you to get on with the business of dancing and having fun.

My Salsa Rapido method's approach to counts used when teaching is to use ‘Left Right Left Pause’ for the high concentration mechanics. ‘Tick and Tock’ for to practise up a combo and the 8-count for conveying moves to those who no longer need to count.

No advanced dancer or competent Intermediate counts when they dance freestyle salsa. In other words: It's the music that counts not the dancer!

One final tip: Avoid ANY track or app that puts a count over the music. If they count for you, you’ll be slow to find your timing. 

That's it my number's up :-)



Thursday, 28 September 2017

Salsa Rapido method- Fast, Fun & Progressive


rapido-logo-2017.jpg
Salsa Rapido® - is not just another brand name but an alternative salsa teaching method that gets you dancing salsa faster, better and having more fun along the way.
I like dancing with fun, confident, stylish people and so that’s how I teach people. Call it progressive or just common sense.

Salsa classes reflect the values of the teacher. So who am I and what do I believe:
My name is Alastair Sadler I'm English and have been dancing salsa since 1992.  I created the Salsa Rapido® method in 1995 as a reaction to the traditional ‘dance class.’ It’s evolved into the fastest, most fun and progressive way into salsa.
In 2003 I created the world’s first 1-Day Intensive Salsa Course in London which has proved the longest running and most successful course of its kind anywhere in the world.
I’m still passionate about teaching social dance and the positive effects it has on those who get involved.

Why I believe Salsa Rapido should be fast and fun:

Fast! I work on the assumption that you don’t want to be a beginner for long. You want to walk onto that dance floor with the confidence of James Bond, knowing you can dance.
So learning is just a phase to go through. The shorter that phase is, the sooner you'll be out there dancing.
Can you get out there and salsa? Once you do, you'll discover that learning was worth all the effort. Don’t stop until you can dance. Once there, the chances are that you'll stay in salsa.
Surprisingly, learning quickly produces better dancers with less bad habits and misconceptions.

Fun! Classes should be fun and an entertainment in their own right. If you're having fun you're relaxed and spoiler alert.... you'll learn faster. Associating salsa with fun will draw you back to salsa again for more fun where you’ll meet others who also like having fun.


How is Salsa Rapido Progressive:

Confidence - I like dancing with confident people. Social dancing is a great opportunity to express our inner confidence. I don’t mean showing off, but the confidence we all express when sitting around a table having a laugh with friends. It’s also the confidence of connecting with other humans and together feeling inspired. It’s not about being the best, it’s about being the most you can be. Allowing the most confident version of you to be seen.  We seldom get the chance to practice confidence as a social skill but salsa is one way we can.

Method - I’ll use any and every trick, tip, wacky analogy and positive psychology I can, to get you dancing. After over two decades of teaching, I’ve quite a bag full!

Simplification - Salsa is easy and yet often it appears complex, something that will take forever to learn. Salsa Rapido® offers a simple conceptual framework. Parameters or rules within which to operate. Simple classification of types of moves, so once you get one example you’ve pretty much got them all in that category.

De-mystification - Understand the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ becomes easy. Keep the ‘why’ hidden and it becomes mysterious and complex and difficult.

Experience - Showing you what to do is easy. Identifying precisely what went wrong and how to fix it takes experience. Constructing a curriculum that avoids most of the problems and bad habits before they form takes a lot of experience.

Divergent thinking.
Divergent thinking is the approach where there are many correct and creative solutions  fanning out in front of you. This is opposed to Convergent thinking when you seek a single perfect way of doing something. Most social dance is traditionally presented convergently.  I teach divergently giving you many ways of looking good being creative within the parameters of what works across the world. More about that another time...