Sunday, April 7, 2013

Breaking The Language Barrier - Week 14

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!  This week, One Big Wedo (Guero) the blog, exceeded 1065+ page views!  I am shocked!  That is awesome!  Here we are at week 14 and kicking off the second quarter of the journey.  Before we move forward, let's take a quick moment and review the journey thus far: 

Week 1:  Getting Started - The blogging journey begins!
Week 2:  In The Beginning - How the Big Wedo's dancing journey started!
Week 3:  The United States of Mexico - The motherland of folklorico!
Week 4:  History In The Making - The Big Wedo's lack of dance experience!
Week 5:  What To Wear? - Costumes anyone?
Week 6:  The Miracles of Dancing - Tragedy almost ends the wedo's journey before it begins!
Week 7:  Show Time! - Performances galore - Shake it Big Wedo!
Week 8:  A Personal Introduction - Who is this Big Wedo guy anyway?
Week 9:  Three Challenges - Stand up straight fatty!  Are you paying attention wedo?
Week 10:  What Is Folk Dancing? - A raw look at true folk dancing.
Week 11:  I Believe In Herencia - Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana - dance with the wedo!
Week 12:  The Tale Of Two Chinas - Wedo says, "Help save the chinas everybody!"
Week 13:  Competition Movie Time! - Folklorico competitions and the Big Wedo movie!

There you have it, the journey thus far!  Another way of looking at it could be summed up like this:

"Guero, Wedo, Whetto, Huero, Weddo, Wedoh y folklorico!"  Tada!  That was simple!  Please keep spreading the word around about the blog and lets see how many join the journey with us.

I received a lot of feedback this week on my movie idea.  Wouldn't that be something if it actually happened?  I'm thinking it could be an epic trilogy.  The first movie in the series could be called "Folk Wars".  This would be the original folklorico battle between The Wedos and La Familia.  In a shocking judging decision, The Wedos take the victory!   Part two could be called "La Familia Strikes Back".  This would be a second competition where La Familia returns to take on The Wedos to reclaim their title as folklorico champions.  But don't fear, there's a part three!  "The Return of the Wedi"!  In this final chapter The Wedos return to take on La Familia in a third folklorico battle, only to be both disqualified and in an unexpected turn of events the victory goes to the new Masai Tribe Ballet Folklorico from Kenya & Tanzania!  I love it, let's start production!

Several people chimed in on the casting for the One Big Wedo movie.  In the vote between Vin Diesel and Kevin Spacey, Vin won!  However, a number of you told me that you imagined Will Ferrell in the role of the Big Wedo.  That works for me.  Shave his head and let's role tape!  Other cast recommendations included Danny Trejo, Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz.  Keep those ideas coming!


In a recent conversation someone asked me about the dancing.  Imagine that!  In the course of that discussion they made the comment, "Well that's good, you're learning the language."  In my response back I told them, "No, I still don't speak Spanish.  I just dance."  They replied, "That's what I meant, you're learning the language of dance!" 

There are several universal languages that break barriers.  Music, love and dance are three that come to my mind.  There are several others you could add to the list.  We communicate in many ways others than speaking.  Naturally, one would assume that if you're learning Mexican folk dancing that you would need to know Spanish.  Not so much!  Although it would be beneficial for someone to speak the language, it is not necessary.  I have learned from observing and listening to the sound of the steps as they are broken down.  Plus, it helps when teachers instruct in both Spanish and English.

When I first began in to learn the foundational steps of folklorico at the studio, Richard's assistant was teaching me.  She had me write down the Spanish terminology for the steps she was teaching me.  Some of the basic terms were:  remate, zapateado volado, cruzado, borracho, tornillos, huachapeado, zapateado, caretilla and tortilla.  Have fun trying to pronounce all of those!  Yes, I snuck tortilla in there.  I figure that I've eaten so many of them that I am carrying at least a couple of dozen around my waistline.  Doesn't that make them part of the dancing?  The tortilla jiggle!  How many of you are doing that dance with me?  Can I get a witness?  Now, for my own purposes I interpreted these terms into a type of morse code that I could understand.  For example, caretilla was translated as "flat, heel, flat, heel, flat, heel, flat..." and so on.  I really over simplified it because, as they say, "It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks."  This old dog is determined to learn these new tricks!

Of course, there are Spanish terms for all the different steps in folklorico dancing.  I'm not at the point in my dancing journey where I have the motivation and desire to learn all the technical terms.  Eventually I will get there.  Besides, everyone says I slaughter the language whenever I try to say anything Spanish anyway.  Not only am I trying to kill the "white gene" in my dancing, now I have to worry about my speaking too.  I'm a few weeks away from graduating Bible College, perhaps after that I'll sign up for a Spanish course.  I'll consider it.  Anyone up for the take of taming the wedo's tongue? 

As I started learning dances with choreography, I would sometimes write down the entire dance in my personal wedo-ised morse code.  Below are pictures of two of the dances I wrote out while I was learning them.  Some of my favorite words to use are:  flat, heel, toe, scuff, kick, tap, turn, stomp, left, right, accent, hop, shuffle, moonwalk, and drop it like it's hot.  Now that I have an iPhone with video capability, I prefer to video the dances I'm learning rather than write them out.  Also, I tend to do a lot of mental practicing in the car while driving.  I put on the song we're learning and I go over the steps and choreography in my head as I listen and drive.  Repetition is a good way of imprinting the dance in my brain; however, on occasion I've gotten so involved in my mental rehearsal that I missed my exit and drove half way back to Michigan practically before realizing where I was, or wasn't!  Another technique that works is speaking the code out loud while I'm dancing.  Sounds like another movie idea!  "The Folklorico Code"!


One aspect of the folklorico dance language is timing.  I have learned that Mexican timing is different than a wedo's timing.  Let me explain.  I find that Mexican, and other forms of Spanish, Latin, Hispanic, et cetra, music has a different feel and timing than other forms of music that are more common, perhaps, to white folks.  Therefore, the timing of the dance steps also has this feel to them.  It's unnatural to the wedo's internal clock.  I think you have to be surrounded by it from birth to get that sort of internal rhythm and feel naturally.  This wedo grew up in an environment free of Spanish music and influence, so this wedo is as stiff and uncoordinated as they get.  You have heard me mention before, I am working on "killing the white gene" of lack of coordination and lack of Spanish rhythm.  It has gotten better over time and with experience but that "gene" keeps trying to rear its ugly head from time to time and it has to be overcome and placed in submission.

I suppose I have a bit of an advantage learning these dances because I studied music in college.  However, the tricky syncopated and off beat rhythms can mess with you.  I've tried other forms of dancing like cumbia and salsa and I get all twisted up.  Better just stick with folklorico.  One thing that I've noticed in folklorico is the accent heel that is used almost all the time.  It's like a snap that help keep the tempo.  That's important because when your moving your feet a hundred miles a hour you can quickly get off beat.  Which brings up a good point, why does there have to be so many steps in so few beats?  Sometimes I feel like the it's a game to try to put as many different steps in a dance in as few beats as possible.  Here's 20 steps and movements you need to do in these next four beats that need to be executed crisply and gracefully with everyone in sync with each other!

Four toe taps, a turn to the left, four toe taps, turn to the right, hop, dip, skip three times, sway side to side, kiss the girl, turn twice, heel, hop, heel, hop, stomp, flat, toe, toe, do the splits, bake a cake, six jumping jacks, back flip, juggle, hop scotch, pose and smile!  Got all that?  Now you have 10 seconds to complete them.  On your mark.  Get Set. Go!  Now there's the "WOW" factor for you.  Aren't you impressed?  I counted 41 steps there, so I'll give you 20 seconds instead! Oh, and just one more thing to remember, "Never let them see you sweat!"

I use to watch a lot of those home design shows on television when I had my home decor store.  One show that I liked was a designer's challenge where they provided the designer with a very small space and then brought in a huge truckload of furniture and accessories and told the designer, "Ok, now make this all fit in that itty bitty space over there."  The designer's always met the challenge and came up with these unique and impressive spaces.  They used a technique called "intentional placement".  Everything has a place and everything is organized precisely to fit in its place.  That's how I feel about folklorico dancing. 

The best lesson in timing I learned early on was from a dancer named Jessica Ramos.  Jessica is an accomplished flamenco and folklorico dancer.  I performed Jarabe Tapitio with her for my first time ever.  We danced at Fiesta Mexicana restaurant with live mariachi.  Her timing was sensational and her experience dancing with live mariachi showed.  She danced as though she trusted them and she never stalled for a second.  I learned so much in those few minutes dancing with her.  Perfect timing.  Throwing caution to the wind, she danced with a sense of anticipation, not with aggression, resulting in a fluid movement in perfect unison with the music.  At one point we dance towards each other in a kicking motion.  As she charged towards me I recall thinking to myself, "OMG!  Here she comes!"
Something I've noticed about mariachi musicians is that they tend to play songs quicker when there are folklorico dancers performing.  Personally, I think they like to see the dancers pushed to their limits.  For skilled professional dancers it may not be a problem and it is exciting to see the rapid feet movement.  For me, I prefer consistency.  So when I practice to a particular version of a song at a particular tempo, I like to keep it there.  But all great dancers have to be flexible in both body and performing, so I will continue to kill the gene and step out of my comfort zone.  All I'm saying it's difficult for me to speed up when my internal clock is slowing down.


"Own it," that's some of the best advice I've gotten, "and remember, you are telling the story of the music through dance."  As I have discussed in some of my other posts already, many of the songs are based on folk tales and lore.  The dancing is a visual interpretation or representation of the tale.  These dances are layered.  The longer I dance them, the more details I pick up.  There are nuances and styling that take time to learn and implement.  I don't think you ever stop learning a dance, you just keep improving it and building upon what you've learned. 

Often when you begin to learn a dance, you learn the basic steps in lines and in place.  No, I'm not talking about country line dancing here, I'm talking about practice lines.  Then after the basics are established, you add choreography.  When you add movement to the steps, or travelling, they take on a different feel.  Yes, they are the same steps you were doing in place; however, with movement it sometimes feels like learning something completely new.  So I find that it is better to practice with movement so that the transition to choreography is not as huge of adjustment. 
There are many subtleties and detail I have yet to learn.  One thing I have observed is a particular shoulder action in the dances from the State of Jalisco.  I want to master that.  There is also foot placement.  I have noticed that more experienced skilled dancers place there feet certain ways on particular steps.  I want to learn that too and be consistent in doing it so that I can become a great dancer too.

Recently, I took a couple folklorico workshops that taught the region of Guerrero.  I will be blogging about the workshops in a future post.  But, since we are talking about communication and language, one thing I learned in the workshop is that the use of the bandanna is actually a tool of communication with your partner.  The male can instruct his partner with a flip of the wrist and tell her which way to travel.  No words, just body language.  Next time your at a show, look for the communication and how partners engage.  It adds a whole new level of appreciation. 

In closing, I think it is funny how two people can have a completely different idea or interpretation of the same word.  I've noticed that white folks and Mexicans have many different concepts of words and their meaning also.  So part of my journey has been growing in understanding that difference.  Richard has learned to speak "wedo" and I am learning, or at least attempting, to understand exactly what is meant.  Recently, I was executing a movement too rigidly.  Richard told me to be more "relaxed" with it because I looked like I was marching in a band.  Well, I took that as something other than his intent.  Then he changed his wording and said, "Make it 'softer'" and that got the result he was looking for.  It's all about communication.  Let's keep breaking those barriers and start building some bridges! 

That's all folks!  At least for this week.  If your not busy April 13th, come check out the show!  Until next week, wedo out!

Contact Information for "The Big Wedo":

Google E-mail:
Facebook: One Big Wedo (Guero)
Twitter: Michael Smith @onebigwedo

Contact Information for Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana:

Richard Solorzano, Director: (909) 201-1957
Facebook: Herencia Mexicana

Duarte Studio Practices:
Herencia Mexicana practices on Saturdays from 3:00 to 5:00 pm. Please call before coming!

Note: Looking for your own adventure or journey? Herencia is a great place to find one! Herencia Mexicana practices in Duarte, California. Folklorico lessons and performances are both available. Herencia Mexicana performs for private & public events of all kinds. Book your event today! Herencia Mexicana welcomes new students. No previous folklorico or dance experience required. All are welcome.

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