Thursday, 22 December 2016

Wishing You a Mambo Christmas and a Hustle New Year!

Rocking around the Christmas tree
Have a happy holiday
Everyone dancing merrily
In the new old-fashioned way


wishing you a 
Mambo Christmas 
and a 
Hustle New Year!

lots of love from
Frith the Div

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Dancing Authentically

So as I’m born and bred in Surrey, England, why am I claiming to be an expert in Latin dance styles?

As Mike Robbins says, “Authenticity has the power to inspire others.” I’m not from the Latino community, so therefore I must be lacking this authenticity. If we research this further however BrenĂ© Brown explains, “Being your authentic self is living in line with your values.” She also explains that we each have a unique perspective that nobody else has access to.  

I discovered Latin American style Salsa in Surrey. I fell in love with the music and the dancing but I was appreciating them from my own unique perspective. It was important for me to explore the genre in detail and to contextualise what I had found. I travelled to Africa, Cuba and New York and immersed myself in the various styles within their vernacular context. My aim however, has never been to become an imitation of a Cuban or Latino dancer.

There was an attempt by a few individuals from the Latino community to try and retain possession of Salsa dancing as it became popular in the UK. The majority of people, of course, paid little attention to this. They followed the dancers who inspired them, the ones who looked the best when they danced or those who danced in a manner that they found most appealing. Dance as a museum exhibition, as a relic from the past, does have its place and does have a value. As a form evolves and develops however, the interest and excitement builds. We explore, discover and expand what the dance can be.

The Cuban dance Son, often credited for being the original form of Salsa dancing, came from a fusion of European and African cultures. Partner dancing from Europe started to be combined with hip movements from Africa. You could argue that Salsa is as much European as it is African.

When I dance socially or perform my own choreography, I dance as myself. I love having the freedom to create my own style and express my personality. I absorb ideas from watching other dancers and I bring nuances from other dance styles. Other elements just emerge organically from somewhere within. I love to include some elegance and turn-out from Ballet and I naturally gravitate towards more sophisticated styles. I’ve travelled and trained with many of the best dancers in the world. For me, it’s all about trying on a variety of motions then sifting through to find what aligns with who I am.

My dancing authentically represents me.

Photo by Dee Organ

The great joy that then follows on from this is the inspiration that my dancing gives others. People are able to discover new things through me and to see new possibilities. It’s the best feeling when someone says to me “Now I know how I want to dance Salsa”, or “I prefer your style” when comparing me to other international artists.

The offerings of my business, Dance Diversion, also come from a thorough investigation into my authentic self. I’m offering what gives me the most joy and what opens up new opportunities for others. Modelling what other dance promoters were doing never quite tempted me to set up on my own. I’m very pleased to report that I’m courageously forging my own path. The word ‘courage’ comes from the Latin word ‘cor’ meaning ‘heart’. My business is an offering from the heart. What I offer isn’t for everyone. If you like words like ‘raw’ and ‘flava’ then my style of dancing probably isn’t for you. If you dance to avoid talking to people, then my events probably aren’t for you. If your values are similar to mine however, you are going to love what I do.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Let The Ladies Be Hipsters For Gents Chest Is Best

It seems that YouTubers are finding one of my videos rather helpful. The chest isolation exercise I’ve posted on my Dance Diversion YouTube Channel, I’m very pleased to see, has attracted thousands of views. The video is aimed at people who dance Salsa, Mambo, Merengue or Bachata and need the movements of the torso explained and broken down. Some people find the chest and hip movements very natural, but others don’t, and need to be taught them.

The movement of the chest is important for several reasons. It’s surprising therefore, that many teachers completely overlook it. When ladies learn a Latin dance style they know they have to learn the hip actions. They’re integral, and stand out obviously as a main characteristic. Once they have all this movement in their hips, ladies also then have to coordinate the movement of their chest. The hips move up and down and in figures of eight whereas the chest shifts horizontally. These body parts are attached to each other so their contrasting movements can be difficult to perform at the same time.

Men can almost get away with dancing some of these styles without much movement in their torso but their dancing will be missing certain elements. They’ll be missing an opportunity to add  styling, but more importantly their lead will be deficient. 

Most men will probably be aiming to dance with a masculine style. To achieve this the chest can be emphasised more than the pelvis. I teach men the hip movements and then coach them to dance very subtle versions of them. As men have broad shoulders and narrow hips, the side-to-side isolation of the chest can visually be more dominant. We then easily interpret this as a masculine way of moving. If a man over exaggerates his hip movements and other feminine stylistic details, he may look camp.

The movement in the chest is also vital for another reason. I realised this for the first time several years ago when a gentleman attempted to dance Merengue with me. He was stepping with his legs but holding his torso very still. I couldn’t tell the difference between him dancing and him standing still! He had failed to master a key element of the lead necessary for basic steps. The chest movement is vital to communicate your shift of weight, as the leader, to your follower and a good teacher will show you how this is done.

In many cultures this chest movement isn’t required for daily functional activities so it can feel rather unnatural and might take a lot of practice to master. Get started by doing a small shift of the chest, nice and slowly. Keep your shoulders horizontal and focus on moving the lower ribs. Only gradually increase the size and speed of the movement making sure you’re still doing it correctly and not allowing the shoulders to tip. Your shoulders should be relaxed while your abdominals and the muscles in your lower back control the movement. Drill the chest isolation into your body standing steady with your pelvis stable before you try to combine it with dance steps and hip movements. Then once you’ve managed all that, you just need to apply it when you’re dancing with a partner.

May I also suggest that you reward yourself for all your efforts with a nice minty mojito. The arm isolation you require for that is arriba, abajo, al centro, pa’ dentro.

Thank you very much for watching my videos and subscribing to my channel. I’ll be posting more videos up soon.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

What Shall We Do With The Dancing Sailor?

The only down side to making your hobby your job is that you need a new hobby. To be perfectly honest, it’s really not a bad situation to have to deal with!

My favourite hobby for many years has been boating. I have fond, although somewhat faded, memories from when I was young of a few family holidays that were spent on boats cruising the rivers and canals here in the UK. I have more recent memories (still a bit blurred, but this time for a different reason!) of many boating shenanigans that have taken place throughout my adult life. The ‘Poogate’ situation stands out. (Don’t all go for a curry unless you know there’s a working pump-out very close by.) When the tank is full, the tank is full. It’s just not good river etiquette to send out floaters from your overflow pipe!

Six years ago, thanks to a Mambo dancing friend owning a yacht, I added sailing into the mix. Now this is even better. Instead of driving a noisy bathtub up or down the river, you’ve got sails and a keel and a big open sea. You can switch the motor off and experience a fairground ride effect as the boat heels over. It can be a pub crawl, the same as on the river, but you also have the option of popping over to a restaurant in France. (Or pooping even, as there’s no pump-out required if you’re out at sea!)

Toilet humour aside, during the times I’ve spent on the water I’ve noticed a few things in relation to dance. A perhaps surprising observation is that people who list ‘dancing’ as their main hobby make much better crew than people who list ‘sailing’ as their main hobby! Dancers are much more confident leaping from a boat to a riverbank or a pontoon. Dancers are more coordinated, have better balance and are much better at timing their actions in relation to the rest of the crew. They’re also very used to having instructions called out to them. Dancers are nimble, fit, have good spatial awareness and can coordinate their movements in time with others. They’re also much more likely to play music and party at any time of day, even if strangers are watching, with or without the aid of alcohol. Whenever I’m in the role of Skipper dancers are very welcome on board.

On a recent sailing trip it also occurred to me how helming a yacht is very similar to leading a dance partner. I teach leading as well as following even though the role of leader, is usually done by a man. I’m a confident lead. When I lead beginners they dance much better with me than with most other people. When I lead ladies who can already dance they give me feedback that I’m a better lead than most men. I’ve danced with most of the best Mambo dancers in the world so I know what a good lead feels like and I’m also able to replicate it. The only thing I can’t replicate is being tall! Being tall means you can give a far better lead for spins (if of course you’ve been taught how to lead spins correctly). I’m also confident helming a yacht. You can’t force a yacht to take a specific accurate line. The wind and waves will always have their say. As with a dance partner you can suggest a particular direction or move but you can’t force her to follow. She is her own force of nature and will interpret what you initiate as she feels best. If you try to overpower her and you break one of her nails or mess up her hair, she’s not likely to dance with you again for quite some time. Back on your yacht, if you push the sails out of shape or snap some of the rigging it’s game over…      Only this time, you’re all at sea.

I’ve taught some of my Mambo students a shine (solo sequence) called ‘sailor’. If you look carefully you can spot it on YouTube in the show I performed with Nelson Flores. Just remember, next time you’re dancing on a deck rather than a dance floor don’t be having so much fun you forget to keep an eye on your tank gauges.

…Hooray and up she rises, early in the morning.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The ‘Strictly’ Effect

Okay, so it’s going to be impossible to write a blog about dancing without once in a while mentioning the immensely popular, long running, prime time television programme ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. People always ask me whether I like it. Here are some thoughts.

‘Strictly’ has done huge amounts to boost interest and participation in partner dancing and is undoubtedly an extremely successful television programme. There are aspects of it open for criticism of course, but overall, the joys of dancing or being a member of the audience are very effectively broadcast to the nation. I would actually go so far as to say that the programme has altered the national psyche.

Before ‘Strictly’, in some people’s minds, the thinking was that dancing was just for girls, women, gay boys and gay men. In beginner level Salsa classes, for example, there were always more women than men. The men who did take part had often been pestered into doing so by their girlfriends or wives. Some were clearly petrified and thinking that they didn’t really want to be there, they weren’t going to be any good and that they might even turn gay by the end of the class. Thankfully, after several years of watching burly rugby players, athletes, gay and straight men of various shapes and sizes succeeding on the dance floor and enjoying every minute of it, the penny eventually dropped. These days, lots of men are keen to dance.
Hurray to that!

Now there’s even the opposite problem. Following skills can usually be learnt quicker than leading skills because leaders have to memorise a whole repertoire of sequences. So now there are more men than women in some dance classes!

When I was teaching A Level dance to begin with I was assigned all female classes with only occasionally one boy in the mix. With this age group I would combine The Strictly Effect together with Diversity winning ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. I would credit the two shows for jointly increasing the number of boys in A Level classes up to two or three each year. The indication being that more boys were planning a career in dance and more parents were accepting it as a career choice for their sons.

I have to say, I rather like the progress that’s been made. I’ll be discussing how we can go even further but I’m immensely grateful, to both shows, and the men who have courageously taken part for redressing the gender balance and getting more men into dancing.

Friday, 9 December 2016

First Impressions: Happy. Attractive. Exciting.

Written in  July 2014

Apologies for the long delay in posting this next entry. I’ve just recovered from a nasty infection. The Irish Salsa Congress was a useful extra incentive to get better as quickly as possible. I can’t believe it’s been going for nine years now!

Over the weekend I chatted to some people who have recently taken up dancing Salsa and it reminded me of when I first discovered it. I had completed my degree and diplomas and had started my job teaching A Level Dance. A friend of mine wanted to go to our local Salsa club. I really wasn’t keen, but as I always like to encourage people to participate in dance, even if it’s not my favourite style, I agreed to go along with her. My lack of enthusiasm was mainly because I thought it would be like Ballroom dancing. My understanding of Ballroom was based on occasionally watching ‘Come Dancing’ on the television when I was younger. To me it just looked like couples gracefully walking around a dance floor in pretty outfits. There didn’t seem to be much skill involved. I thought it looked easy and nothing like the ‘proper’ dancing I was doing (Ballet, Contemporary, Tap and Jazz). So in my mind I was being ‘dragged’ along to this Salsa club.

The first thing that struck me, when I was in the bar adjoining the main room of the club, was the music. My eardrums started to think they were on holiday somewhere warm and exotic. It lifted my mood. Then of course I was confronted with a whole room full of people dancing. And remember, this was several years ago… I had never seen so many men dancing all in one place! It only took a quick observation and analysis to work out that they were definitely not all gay and they were a lot more attractive than Morris men! I was in heaven. Needless to say, I was very interested to stick around and find out more.

Photo by Dee Organ

I thought the dancing looked amazing… fast and sexy. I started asking questions. “Are you professional?” Some of them looked professional to me. “No” was the answer I got. So wow. That was impressive. “Is your routine choreographed?” “No we’re just making it up as we go along.” How could that be possible? It was so fast and two people were moving effortlessly together as if they were one. Now I was really impressed. A year earlier I had written my dissertation on ‘The Notating of Improvised Postmodern Dance’ so I was very familiar with improvisation within the Contemporary dance genre. In comparison, this Salsa dancing was much more complex and exciting.

At this first encounter I made up my mind…                                                           I needed to learn how to dance Salsa.