Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rich Basic? Chunky or Creamy Matches the Music

Is your basic "rich"?

Do you think of your salsa basic that way, being rich or not? I hadn't, but it's an interesting concept, sort of like chunky vs. creamy peanut butter. I'm watching the new Musicality DVD by Edie the Salsa Freak and Peter Fige, and among many subjects, he talks about having a "rich" basic and that term caught my ear and got me thinking.

Well, what is a rich basic?

I'm thinking of a full body, bold Cuban motion basic, where in addition to the footwork, your arms, shoulders, body and hips look like an integrated unit, all bubbling together creating a dynamic, urban, sensual feel, rather than something closer to a "toned down" basic, where the upper body really doesn't move much, but the foot work is still on time and comfortable. There is no absolute "right" basic, so both ends of the spectrum are fine, but they are certainly a different look and feel.

Lately I've been working on upgrading my basic, to add a little more flavor and feel to my dancing. By improving basic, everything else looks better. But I was thinking that I wanted that richer basic to replace my current style. I thought a more cuban, urban, flavorful basic would be a nice upgrade to my standard look and feel.

Now Peter has me thinking, because he was talking about how he uses his rich basic while the vocalist is singing, and his "toned down" basic during other parts of the music. Peter's concept is brilliantly simple, in that he adjusts his basic based on something in the music.

The big "Ah-ha" for me is to have a spectrum of basic, and use it to reflect the mood of the music! Bold, dynamic shoulders and Cuban motion for bold music, and softer, subtle basic for quiet music. And a scalable range in-between. This is one of those things that once I realized it I felt like "duh, that is so simple and makes so much sense..." but I admit my thinking was too narrow.

Most people will benefit greatly from practicing basic again, with an effort to make it look more dynamic; from minimalist to smoking aggressive, from smooth and subtle, to bold and rich. In this context the term "basic" includes side steps, open breaks, and fundamental footwork and the associated appropriate upper body work. Nothing complicated on one hand, but a challenge to have a wide range of feels with the same footwork.

The goal is to take this range, and then apply it based on the contrast in the music. When I watched in the clubs this week, I noticed most people with a rich basic use it almost all the time (I suspect they are proud of that look and feel). If they like lots of shoulders, arms and/or hips, they used it all the time as their concept of salsa is lots of body movement or flavor.

Instead, consider consciously developing a range, from bold, dynamic and sharp, to soft, romantic and minimalist. Then we can match our basic to the feel in the music. Most tunes have a soft quiet part and build to a highlight, and our basic should reflect that same momentum.

The "range" of your basic is important and can be enhanced at both ends. The more subtle and quiet your basic is at one end, the more your bold, rich basic will provide emotion. The full-time, rich basic can be like screaming all the time, and after a while it gets tuned out. If you vary your basic and create the most contrast possible, your rich will be richer and your partners will find you more dynamic and musical, assuming you change between rich and toned-down based on the music.

While Peter talks about how he changes with the vocals, you are free to alter the concept and use it as the band builds and relaxes, with your basic reflecting the flow of the music.

Simply upgrading your basic and matching it to the music will significantly enhance all your dancing and your musicality. We'll expand on this topic as we explore more of the music, but for now you'll want to think about your current basic and what you can do to extend your range in both the more and less intense versions. Your partners will feel the emotion in your dancing and notice your musicality when your basic is reflecting the feel of the music, on both ends of the intensity scale.
Greatness lies not in being strong, but in the right use of strength.
-Sam Carbin


  1. Good one! I've heard this one before but only from one other source. You don't want to dance at level 11 all the time. Things are absolutely more dramatic if you can turn up and down the volume at will and matching the music. In my opinion same could be said about spinning too. A lot of people seem to think spin as fast as you can all the time and as much as possible. I much prefer dancing with people who can spin slow as well as fast with good control.

  2. You're absolutely correct. If I give a lady a free spin and the mood is romantic, I wouldn't expect her to do a triple. A nice stylized single or double OR a very slow sexy single that fits the music is much more fun.

    I also have to say gracefully dancing slow is one mark of a more mature dancer. Slower dancing exposes some of my weaknesses that are not obvious at faster tempos.

    I believe we are saying "all your moves should be in context of the music."

  3. We just got Edies & Peters DVDs, too, and since Peter said one could count any song into basic steps I tried with Susie Hansens 'la salsa nunca acaba'.

    Funny think is, I got the distinct feeling that after 26 or so basics the music got a break or something, like I missed four beats and instead of being on the 1 I'm suddenly on the 5 - not because I messed up, but because the music changed, made a stop?

    Has the song really a break or am I just getting confused on this disctinct spot in the music?

  4. Hmmm... I'm not sure, so I'll check it out and let you know what I find. I'm going to a class this evening, then going dancing so I won't be able to respond until tomorrow.

    I have that tune in my car, and I'll listen on my way to the club tonight.

    I can say I don't remember the time changing in that tune (meaning the 1 & 5 switch at some point), but it's possible.

    Peters comment about when the break happens may not apply to this tune, because it's not normal to have a long introduction, where each instrument is introduced by the singer. While Peter provides a generalization, those darned musicians are free to break any guidelines, just like dancers.

    Let me know if you hear something different as you listen over and over. I'll report what I find.

  5. Good article! You're on the right path. I've been working on my rich basic for the last few years and it's come a long way.

    Enriching the basic is a concept that any good Cuban instructor will teach you. Using a combination of 'variation' in your basic steps that you use, Cuban motion and Rumba (for feet, shoulders, arms and legs) you can create a wide array of effects that reflect the music.

    An LA instructor of mine also used to teach the concept of 'clarity' of basic. Don't put too much noise in your basic or you will drown out what it is you want to say to the music.

    I'm always going through a cycle of enriching my basic then cleaning it up to get the quality there.


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero