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.
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.
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.
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