the episodes

How this started - the eleven "episodes".

It began in 2008 with an issue I was trying to address: a longstanding frustration with recreational folk dancing. I had trouble learning new material, and often felt awkward. Yet occasionally I also heard people say I was a good dancer. Sure, in the course of life, being hypercritical of oneself is a common pitfall. But I started noticing that beyond the internal conflict, I was also dealing with a contrast of values and esthetics within folk dancing that I had not previously noticed or heard discussed.
At the time, I was using Myspace for miscellaneous blogging. To maintain continuity between posts on this topic, I numbered each one as an "episode". Though I may not be focusing on the original issue, I think I'll keep the name for now. Kef is a good thing. Though you can't necessarily make it happen - when it does, it is always appreciated.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

episode 5 - Santa Monica (MySpace 4/23/2008)

Where’s the kef? - episode 5 - Santa Monica
Subject Where's the kef? - episode 5 - Santa Monica
DateCreated 4/23/2008 1:25:00 AM
PostedDate 4/23/2008 1:03:00 AM
Body So ... I drove down to SF for the event on Friday - which I won't describe much, because I'm not using this blog as a chronicle, o.k.?

Smajko was awesome, but he always is (not to slight the other musicians). Got to see RSS's daughter's family - the tiny granddaughter dancing a small-child Roman style on-stage with the band. Got to dance and hang with a variety of people. Got to help prepare snacks for the musicians.

As usual at these VOR events, SR did pre-party dance teaching. Some of the music that goes with these dances from Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, etc., can be heard in America (e.g., Brass Menazeri), but there are fewer opportunities to learn the dances themselves, because most are not part of the standard "folk dance" repertoire.

But the real reason for this episode is an experience two days later, Sunday, in Santa Monica. Three of us arrived late afternoon, feeling quite pleased after a six hour drive, having immediately found the place, plus an empty parking spot by the back door. A dance class was in progress. But my brain and body were a bit fried, and I mainly just wanted to hang out and soak in the experience - new place, new people. Still, I tried dropping-in now and then. As luck turned out, I got to see a dance from Friday get taught by a different teacher - and then later re-taught by SR. The contrast was an eye-opener.

MT is an older gal, an excellent dancer, with awesome folk dance creds, and who teaches very well. SR is younger, an excellent dancer, it's his culture, and he teaches very differently. She was using the typical folk dance method of breaking a seemingly complex dance into small, easy-to-digest pieces. You can do it. Here's one piece at a time. Here's how we string them together.

I tried to follow along behind the class, figuring that it couldn't be too hard. It was probably something I more-or-less already knew. But, alas, I could not follow her at all! Granted, I was still somewhat fried from the drive.

Then she put on the music - and, hey, I recognized it. My body memory kicked in, and found what seemed like the right balance and timing, and some, but not all of the steps. Whatever I was remembering, whatever I was doing (right or wrong), I had learned by, a) trying to follow the movements of SR and those of his friends and family who - in my eyes - seemed to have "gotten" it, and b) trying to fit those movements to the music, and to the cues that it provides.

The thought occurred to me that maybe her analytical approach was making the dance seem much more complex than necessary, particularly to her beginners. And I wondered whether, by presenting a dance in pieces - perhaps too many pieces - teachers may inadvertently create a different dance in the minds of many of the students - a dance that will continue to be remembered as a series of segments and transitions - whereas, in the real-life dance, your body and the music just carry you along smoothly, with little or no conscious mental or physical sense of switch.

When SR teaches, he sometimes sings parts of the tunes or calls out the drum mnemonics for that rhythm. There are so many cues in the music. Will the students who learn from bona-fide folk dance teachers be able to hear these cues, or will they be too busy trying to remember the procedures taught by their teachers?

Next: episode 6 - New York
Previous: episode 4 - stay or go
Start: episode 1 - the Peninsula

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