Getting To The Roots of Salsa
Salsa, or more appropriately casino, remains the most popular dance studied by those visiting Cuba; but understanding and picking up a few moves from other popular dances that are the ‘roots of salsa’, will enrich your understanding of Cuban music, and may also up your ‘game’ on the dance floor.
The next series of posts will focus on some of these other genres of Cuban dance. First up - Son!
Dancing to the Rhythm of Son
Although the Buena Vista Social Club led to a revival and re-popularization of traditional Cuban music in the late 1990s and early 2000s, many salsa dancers, particularly of non-Cuban styles, know little of son. In fact, they may even dance salsa to son music.
What's the big deal? Technically this works, since both styles of music are 4/4 (i.e. eights counts made up of two bars of four), BUT learning to dance son is: a) learning a beautiful and elegant dance b) more appropriate for the music c) likely to draw puzzled expressions from a few spectators, and d) perhaps draw a few smiles from any Cubans around.
So what is son?
Son is a genre of Cuban music and dance that originated in the Orient (the eastern part of Cuba) at the end of the 19th century, and spread to Havana at the beginning the 20th century (Wikipedia, May 2014). Some of the most famous son pieces include: ‘El Manisero' first sung by Rita Montaner, ‘Castellano Que Bueno Baila Usted ‘from Beny Moré, and 'Echale Salsita' by Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro to name a few.
Today, some contemporary salsa groups such as Los Van Van, Pupy y Los Que Son Son, and Habana de Primera incorporate salsa, timba, and son together in their music. It is possible to dance son to this music or switch back and forth between salsa and son, although still not widely done.
Below a video of Onell from Santiago de Cuba dancing at the Patio de Artex. Onell is a pleasure to watch, he loves the dance and he loves teaching it. If you want to take a class with Onell, please send me a message and I will happily share his contact.
For dance geeks, below a few more notes on the tempo and rythym of son:
The Son Tempo
As mentioned above, similar to salsa, son uses an eight count beat, but the emphasis is on the down-beats (2,4,6, and 8) and particularly, on the pauses of 4 and 8. Regular casino is danced on the up-beats (1,3,5, and 7).
For those who dance On-2, dancing son is also somewhat similar because of the timing, but On-2 emphasizes the breaks on 2 and 6, and son emphasizes the pauses on 4 and 8. Visually it looks very different if well-executed, I don't think anyone with a basic understanding of latin dance would get the two confused. The pause of son is drawn out and leads to a unique type of body movement; incorporating an extension of the torso from side to side (please review the video again to see what I mean).
The Son Clave
Depending on whether the piece uses a 3-2 or 2-3 clave, either the fourth or the eight count will hit on the third strike of the third side of the clave. Some people suggest beginning dancing on the third strike because it is the strongest count, but others say you should always begin dancing on the eighth count regardless of the style of clave. I'm still not sure what is more appropriate (comments welcome), but at the end of the day - it's just for fun, right?
Below a photo of me with Luisito in Santiago in 2013. If you go to Santiago de Cuba, you will likely see him and agree that is he one of the craziest dancers you have ever seen. Photo Credit: Magdalena Solé 2013