Thursday, 21 July 2022

Dance school says ballet is racially problematic and too gender binary

"A leading dance school has said that ballet is racially problematic and too gender binary.

..read a headline from the The Times

"The Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD) said it had reviewed the “elitist” and “potentially contentious” art form as part of a diversity drive. Proficiency in ballet was dropped as an entry requirement because it is rooted in “white European ideas” and splits dancers along gender lines."

I find the phrase 'rooted in “white European ideas”' provocative as we are in Europe so doing European dances is expected. The idea of restricting ourselves to only doing dances from outside Europe is ridiculous.

OK I've spend 27 years teaching salsa so lets just say all dance, regardless of origin is good and non-dancing is bad. If white Europe of the last fifty years could claim anything, it's a world class mastery of non-dancing! For those sitting on the fence on this point, or not quite sure if the Macarena craze of the 1980's makes us a dancing nation. But what about Strictly? I understand that many people can remember reaching out from the sofa to grab a snack as you watched the Christmas Strictly final, but that's not a dance move! Besides an art counsel survey reports only 5% of the British dance, and they're the ones giving all the money to ballet! Breath....
 


Clearly it's a hot potato of an issue!  A judgment upon ballet from within the ranks of a dance school fed by hundreds of traditional ballet classes. 

Elitist? I don't know about that. Many of the people I've met over the years who've learnt ballet as a child haven't come from privileged backgrounds. I think the elitism is at the performance end of the system where government sponsors ballet and opera for no good reason other than some inter-country status symbol, and fair dos, it's far cheaper to maintain a ballet company than an aircraft carrier! 

Ballet has it's roots in the French royal courts but so were the string instruments such as the violin and cello. Are they elitist too? 

Ballet is predominantly white. Ballet black and Carlos Acosta don't even begin to balance the scales on that one! I'm not comfortable with this on any level, the racial barriers play out in every aspect of our society and they need challenging in every aspect of our society. If we can't fix dance, then how can we expect to fix policing?

So that's me on my soap box achieving nothing!



The issues are deep and complex and I respect the NSCD for taking action to try to tackle these issues, and wish them luck. My response is simple. It's hard to change something that's established but it's far easier to to establish something new. 

Mambalsa is a partner dance form that has respect as part of its' ethos and when you unpack respect it's impossible to argue for disrespecting any one or any part of society.

Mambalsa is also relational, where empathy requires an interest and inquiry of your partner. Any pigeonholing of your partner creates an assumptive barrier restricting empathy and therefore collective Flow.h

We therefore arrive at a place of inclusion not exclusion. That doesn't make everyone a right-on politically correct zealot of woke-ism. Just a bunch of ordinary, curious people who accept the world isn't perfect and want to dance within a movement that's heading in the right direction. 

Sunday, 17 July 2022

F$%k Cancer Huka Mambalsa Style


I was killing time in between a blood test at UCLH and my Mambalsa workshop in Kings Cross when I saw Peter Lovatt AKA Dr Dance's F$%k Cancer Huka at the Also Festival.




www.linkedin.com/posts/peterlovatt_alsofestival-dance-cancer-ugcPost-6952008094923018240-VPKg?utm_source=linkedin_share&utm_medium=android_app


I totally get it! Not only as a dance teacher who encourages the expression of anger positively within dance, but also an integrative counsellor at The Nightingale Cancer Support charity in Enfield, and not forgetting my own recent diagnosis with lymphoma.

I believe that expressing the spectrum of anger, frustration etc. through the aroused emotion within dance is very healthy. So many partner dances involve expressive power that allows us to release our anger. Perhaps we should create a Mambalsa version of a L'Apache dance from France!









In between slurps of coffee, I studied Peter Lovatt's Huka then put it into the Mambalsa framework.

The footwork sequence of Mambalsa means we could have seamlessly segued from the fiery Huka into a fun partner dance whilst still enjoying the benefits of venting our personal frustrations.




youtube.com/shorts/rm6kMJQRIV0


As we danced the Huka in a group I noticed a serge of anger being expressed. When I slapped my arms I noticed the pain from the site of my earlier blood test and it didn't matter on bit.
I'm not sure we're ready to face down the All Blacks, but it was a wonderful opportunity to explore a small but significant part of New Zealand culture physically, from the inside out.
Afterwards I felt energised and happy. Perhaps we'd shifted aroused anger over to aroused joy, then slipped gently down to a state of satisfaction. Perhaps I should let the Rolling Stones know how it's done!


Here's the clip of the All Blacks's Huka, It's Awesome!!

If you're interested in dance psychology I totally recommend Peter Lovatts book 'Dance Psycology' amazon.co.uk/Dance-Psychology-Peter-Lovatt You can guess what it's about :)

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Mambalsa wedding

Me :)

So it was going to be a mix of dance from the outset! The bride has strong connections with the Salsa and Bollywood scenes. There was everything from Salsa, Bollywood and not forgetting several masters of the good old English Two Step, the original dad’s disco from a time before dad!
 
Bollywood demo by the Bride and friends

Me and Mrs Me were on a table with a couple who’d met at our salsa night, years earlier. They were accompanied by their two adorable little girls, think sugar and spice etc.

Also on the table was a French couple who spoke little English. Almost as little English as I spoke French, but around the monsieur's neck was a lace neck-tie with the relief of a couple dancing jive. “Vous dance la rock ‘n roll?” “Wee” Contact had been made!

Once the dancing started everyone got up and did what they did. The DJ played a good mix of pop and Bollywood with some salsa later on. Obviously the Bollywood dancers danced to Bollywood, the salsa dancers danced salsa and everyone shuffled away to the pop.
At one time when the dance floor was flagging a little, the French couple got up and over to one side of the dance floor, started a two person line dance/stroll. 
I’m certainly in the pro-dance camp and people dancing is always better than people not dancing, regardless of the dance. I did feel a little uncomfortable for them. Strolls work on mass but not so well in pairs, besides they were fellow guests and we’d been sitting on the same table.
Time for a little of the old Entente Cordiale.
Me and Mrs me joined them on the floor and picked up the pattern. It was a challenge but needs must, and suddenly we were four. By the end of the track we’d been joined by the Bollywood crew and there was a little dance thing going on that was tres magnific! Our gallic friends had gone from being excluded through language and dance style, to centre of the action.

Nothing that had happened so far was related to Mambalsa except possibly my previously limited view of what I danced to and why, has shifted towards a pro-any dance position. It was a wonderful example of friendship and support across the language barrier. An exchange of moves and opportunity from them, and support from us.

In a Mambalsa future, the Mambalsa FWS would be known to general population as much as the cha cha cha step is today.
The grids (strolls) could have developed during the track, not only in complexity but as a means of gifts exchanged. I give you the London Stomp, and you show me the Wiffy Cheese Shuffle!

After our collective dance victory, I asked the French Lady for a dance. A minute later we were spinning and grooving as partners to Mambalsa. No words were necessary, not even an 'un, de, troi'. 
It was a wonderful evening. I danced with old friends and new. I danced Mambalsa to Bollywood and pop. I danced Bangra and salsa too. We may have inspired an English two-stepper or two to learn to dance, but most of all it was dance helping people come together to celebrate the wedding of our friends.
Please be upstanding and point your camera at the Bride and Groom :)

Sunday, 22 May 2022

A Perfect Mambalsa Moment

Just a quick post to tell you about a perfect Mambalsa moment that happened yesterday.

We'd just finished my Salsa Rapido 1-Day Intensive  course at Salsa Soho. It was a great group as usual and one or two had some energy left for a dance afterwards. (Most were sampling the happy hour cocktails upstairs in the sunshine, which slide down well after a five hour salsa course!)

I'd packed up my gear and the music had switched over to the playlist pumped through from the office.

Now Salsa Soho AKA Bar Salsa! (the original one) has always offered an eclectic mix of Latin music on a Saturday night and the track that came on was a modern tango that I think was by the Gotan Project.

The salsa dancer's dilemma! Do we try and squeeze salsa into the wrong musical genre? Would it even work? What does that say about my values of musical interpretation etc. etc? 

Solution: Mambalsa

One minute later and I'd shown my partner the: tap-step, tap-step, tap, step, step, step sequence of Mambalsa and off we went. The bar was a little quiet due to the time and the sunshine, but we were the only ones dancing. Even the Latino couple who'd danced bachata at the bar when I'd introduced it to my salsa newbies remained still. Tango looks sensational and I really like the music but I can't dance it, and even if I did, I wouldn't be able to show someone else how to dance it within a couple of minutes. Mambalsa meant we were able to dance and look good in minutes.

Then three more of my group raced onto the dance floor. There was only one thing for it and that was a snowball! As you roll a snowball it gathers more snow getting bigger and bigger. This is how snow men and women make babies! On the dance floor a snowball is where one couple breaks apart and dances with two more who break apart and dance with four more etc. I've used it many times at weddings and corporate events to fill the dance floor.

I invited my partner to show a young man mambalsa and I danced with another lady. Were it not for the track ending, I'm sure it would have continued to grow until the dance floor was full.

Conclusion:

Did we look like tango dancers? No, nor salsa dancers for that matter, but we did look like dancers and dancers with style and connection who were having a good time. Mambalsa's ability to mould itself to any 4:4 genre of music is uncanny. It'll never usurp dancing tango to tango music as the two have evolved together. I believe Mambalsa's roll in the universe is to act as a common denominator of dance where dancers of any kind can dance together.

Mambalsa's ability to be easily picked up makes it the perfect bridge from non-dancer to social dancer, and that's 95% of the UK population! 

Dance makes you feel good in so many ways and Mambalsa's well-being ethos taps into this idea and rewards us with confidence through looking good and the connectedness of a typical Latin partner  dance :)

Monday, 16 May 2022

Last Monday night was brilliant!


Last Monday night was brilliant!

 I thought I'd do a write up of last Monday's Mambalsa at Kings Cross.

This is now a Free weekly event so check it out! mambalsa.com

After a short intro to salsa we switched to Mambalsa. It offered a level playing field as the small but beautifully formed group spanned beginners to advanced in salsa levels. This made it virtually impossible to run an effective salsa class but we did a few warm up exercises and explored the clave rhythm.


My theme for the evening was Mambalsa Grids.
A grid is where combos of footwork patterns (fwp)are danced in a line or multiple lines that form a grid of dancers. It's like a stroll in line dancing or a shuffle in R’nB. 

I originally wanted to call it a waffle but when I first suggested it everyone though it referred to how much I talk in the class! Ouch!

Unlike shines in salsa, in Mambalsa the footwork sequence (fws) is always maintained.

As I worked on the fws with our talented beginner, I invited the others to create a grid combo, and they did. (I won't name anyone as I don't have permission)

First up was the 'Side 'n Hook' a vampy little combo that, after the tap phrase, used the step phrase to first travel sideways twice and then to hook 180deg on S1. Later head flicks in the direction of the side steps and forward waves in contra movement to the tap-steps was added.

What I like about the 180deg hook is that it changes the orientation of the group. Those of us at the back were now at the front which dialled up the pier pressure.

I played the hissyfit card a number of times! A hissyfit is a faux angry moment when things have gone wrong. It’s encouraged as it releases tension and resets the mind. It’s also fun and unpretentious which de-shames errors.

Next was a casual swing of a move called, I think, the ‘Swing n Sway’. It certainly lent it self to swing as it really connected with Mambalsa's funk n grove. It reminded me of clips I've seen of shiny suited backing singers from Motown tracks, clicking fingers and finding the swing.

This combo had a casualness that created space for individual interpretation.

Finally was ‘Bob’ that for some unknown reason I kept calling zig zag. It was similar to the Side n hook but had the grounded stance of a boxer. Each travelling steps dug into the floor but remained minimised. The step phrase used three side steps to zigzag forwards or backwards.

The grounded stance was solid and powerful. It could be used as an expression of anger which so many dances have but few acknowledge.

For good measure I offered the ‘Three ‘n spin’ which is an easy spin on S1.

After we learnt the four footwork patterns, we put them together in a grid. For me it was a challenge to remember them but we got there.

To me it felt as if the leadership of the group shifted to the person who’d created the combo that we were currently dancing. This effect combined with the orientation of the grid and the shift from peer pressure to group success, made the experience very satisfying and joyful.

Reflections:

The group dynamic was as level as it could be, meaning that the traditional hierarchy of teacher at the top and beginner at the bottom was flattened to become a workshop experience.

I can hear my friend Sam saying ‘Alastair, you think too much!’ but these small groups offer clues as to how the Mambalsa class experience can reflect the ethos of confidence, empathy and respect. Peer to peer learning offers all three as well as practising personal expression, confidence through leadership, support of the group and creativity. All `healthy stuff that makes a pleasant environment to be in.

It was great to be a student learning from the others. For me it was my first opportunity to experience this in Mambalsa. I noted some old insecurities coming out e.g. the fear of falling behind the group. As I type I’m having flashbacks to A level maths classes where I’d struggle to scribble down a mathematical proof before the roller blackboard scrolled the text up and over into oblivion. (btw that’s what blackboards were called back then, even the green ones!)

There’s something about joy that I’m uncomfortable with. I feel it’s a bit happy-clappy to mention it. It’s just an emotion that we all experience and like experiencing any strong emotion, there’s often an after effect that ripples out.

Resolve:
By the end of the class it was clear that my passion for Mambalsa has not dimmed since 2014 and I want to teach dance. As a project it's new and exciting with amazing potential. I love salsa which has been apart of my life since 1992 (O.M.G. that's thirty years!!!) but Mambalsa is a chance for me to continue to grow and develop as a teacher. I feel I've come to a point where it's time to trust the universe and share Mambalsa with as many people as possible, and that means stepping up and shouting about it. It's time to set up shop and let the world in.

For the time being Mondays in Kings Cross will be Free and focussed on Mambalsa.

Details at mambalsa.com

If you use meetup.com there's a Mambalsa meetup group at https://www.meetup.com/mambalsa/



FREE Mambalsa every Monday in Kings Cross!

 

Mambalsa for FREE every Monday in Kings Cross!

Starting mid May '22
On Mondays in Kings Cross I’m running classes in Salsa and Mambalsa and I’d like to invite you to come to this fun, friendly and supportive space where you can try and improve both your salsa and Mambalsa dance.

Mambalsa:
You may not have heard of Mambalsa but it’s a new stylish partner dance similar to salsa but designed to work with any music from anywhere at any speed! It’s easy to learn and in no time you’ll be creating the nuance and complexity to express your personal style.

Salsa:
The salsa classes are presented using the Salsa Rapido method which is fast and fun.
The style is integrated spanning linear (CBL), static (Colombian) and rotational (Cuban Casino / Rueda)

As I mentioned the cost of the classes is FREE, although contributions are welcome at the end of the class if you wish. There'll be no arm twisting unless it’s done gently and is part of a move :) At the moment it’s more important to me to grow and establish the classes so please spread the word.

If you’re interested please take a moment to join the contact list to let me know you're coming at Join the contact list

Times:
6:00 to 6:45 Introduction to salsa (Absolute beginners most welcome)
7:00 - 9:00 Improver Salsa and Mambalsa (‘Blend’ format) about Blend Format

Location:
Upstairs at the The Star of Kings, 126 York Way, London N1 0AX The Star of Kings location

I hope to see you there,
Alastair - The Streetbeat Salsa Co.

More info at salsakingscross.co.uk  and of course mambalsa.com

Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Let's draw in under covid!

 

This is a line:

_____________________________________

Let's draw in under covid! 

And then move on and up and away :)