NY Mambo (Salsa on2)

“1 or 2?” a lead asks me as we start dancing at Salsa in the Park with MetaMovements, a beautiful gathering every Monday night throughout the summer. People from 13-70 years old dancing in the warm summer heat as dusk begins to creep up, unnoticed by the rhythm of feet moving over a gridlock of linoleum outside the Blackstone Community Center. They are asking me succinctly if I would prefer to dance salsa on1 or on2. Though I usually respond “either,” on1 is generally the more popular style here in Boston.

Just down the street, Urbanity Dance is gearing up to launch its first ever NY Mambo (Salsa on2) class.

The difference between the two can seem very subtle or technical. In on1 salsa, the pattern of steps “quick-quick-slow” starts on quick on 1 and 2, and a slower step that encompasses beats 3 and 4, this repeats quick quick on 5 and 6, and slow on 7, 8. With on2, the quick quick steps are on 2 and 3, and 6 and 7, while the slow are across 4-5 and 8-1.

Victoria & Juan - Spring Adult

Instructors Victoria and Juan

According to Victoria Cruz, one of our NY mambo instructors, on2 allows you to, “take charge of a song.” She and Juan Lopez, our second instructor, emphasised that dancing on2 gives you the opportunity to dance more rhythmically rather than with the melody. Dancers must listen carefully and feel the music. The dance utilizes the percussion section greatly, and they focus on hearing the different rhythms within a song. “The overall feel is much smoother, and fully immersed in the musicality.”

To them, practicing on2 gives a greater appreciation for the music. Dancers in their class learn to hear these different rhythm changes in a song, “a song may change rhythms three or four times and you should be able to adapt with and play with it,” Juan explained.

Victoria continued, “He might be dancing to the trumpets, when we are doing a shine, while I might be listening to the piano… however we both remain very rhythmic.” This added variation creates more texture to a dance, a complex conversation between your partner, yourself, and the musicians.


 

When asked what is most important to them that new dancers walked away knowing, the immediate and resounding answer was “the history”. Juan went on to explain how mambo came about in NYC, and the importance of the Palladium Ballroom bringing in Latin music in 1948. The history of mambo will be weaved into the class, having as integral a part of learning as counting beats.

But why Urbanity Dance?

“People want to learn on2… there is a tremendous need, but not enough studios providing it in Boston”. They went on to add that most of places to dance and learn salsa are across the river in Cambridge.

The other unique part of Urbanity Dance is the proximity of very different styles of dance being taught and performed together. Our dance students may dance hip hop or contemporary, and have the opportunity to continue the conversation and share choreography with our community on our Urbanity Dance adult programs Facebook group. Learning these different dances allows a dancer to pull from very different vocabulary and develop their own personal movement. We are thrilled to be able to add NY Mambo to the mix.

You can learn more about Juan and Victoria here, and check out their class and register here.

“Whoa, Man” Arts as Activism

“It was always present in me that I was in the wrong body..” begins the first piece of dialogue in my new piece for Urbanity Dance, “Whoa, mandebuting at Urbanity NeXt. The dialogue is taken from an interview with Cidny Bullens, a singer/songwriter who recently transitioned from female to male. Formerly known as Cindy Bullens, Cidny came to my attention as the voice behind the well known recording ‘Its Rainging on Prom Night’ from the original cast recording of Grease. The song itself offers a dramatized portrait of an anxiety ridden teenage girl’s experience of prom night in which nothing seems to go as planned, leaving her soaking wet in her prom dress with a date that never shows up.

 

The song alone provided my initial inspiration to create an illustration through dance, given that there is ample opportunity for drama and humor, two things that interest me as a choreographer. But it wasn’t until a few days before my residency with Urbanity began that I sat down and did a little research about the voice behind the song. Then BOOM. There it was. Cindy is now Cidny; a goldmine piece of information that not only tied into the vague vision I had began to create, but informed that vision immensely and gave me purpose as a creator.

2017-03-06 (9)

Nicholas Ranauro

Now, of all times, artists have not only a purpose but a responsibility to speak up. A five minute piece of dance illustrating someones gender transition may just flip the switch in an audience member who hasn’t yet accepted or understood what transgender really means. This is true in the case of transgender rights, as well as the rights of any human that identifies as something other than ’normal’, which at this point in history you can’t help but acknowledge exist in masses.

With the recent piece of news revoking transgender people the right to use the bathroom of their choice – the dance I created on Urbanity seems even more relevant than I felt it was during the residency period three weeks ago. Its artists like the dancers of Urbanity and other creative minds that must help the momentum of trans-rights and the rights of all LGBTTQIA+ people to continue moving forward, not backwards. Don’t know what LGBTTQIA+ means? Do your research. Its that simple. Although I’m sure many of us have been hearing this quote left and right in the last couple of months thanks to Meryl Streep via Carrie Fischer, “Take your broken heart, and make it into art.” If you haven’t, take a moment and really think about that. Keep in mind that art is a vast term, and we are all capable of creating a safe and welcoming community for one another. Together, we got this.

Written by Nicholas Ranauro

SAM Eye Am

jp-head-shot-2016

Jennifer Passios (pictured left) is an Boston based dancer and choreograher as well as a dancer in the Urbanity Underground program.  Her piece was selected from the Creative Class showcase to be further developed under the mentorship of established choreographers and presented in Urbanity NeXt.

 

Tell me a little bit about the piece you are creating. What is your inspiration?

“The piece is entitled “SAM Eye Am”

Initially, I entertained visions of a giant laundry pile, plastic bowls with odd faces drawn on them, a sarcastic title, and a score saturated with jazz standards, none of which stuck. Over the last few months, I’ve eliminated the theatrics and instead, turned my attention towards the concept of chiseling someone else’s experience out of infinity. In any instant, there exist innumerable lenses through which to view that instant. The particular lens we choose, or, if you prefer, the lens that chooses us, determines which bits of that moment we observe and reflect upon, and which aspects we miss or discard. I’m chasing the extent to which an outside source (choreographer) can manipulate physicality (the dance) and how the viewing of that circumstantial control (sitting in the audience) results in a particular dissemination of ideas regarding the physicality. Ironically, this led me to Dr. Seuss.

The book Green Eggs and Ham, featuring the narrator Sam-I-Am (from whom I derived the title of my work) consists of just 50 words. Even in the case of this children’s book, we can categorize levels of awareness of the story’s lineage. At the most basic, readers see a story with a charming rhyme scheme ending in a moral about the value of trying new things. Looking a little deeper, you may choose to see the vocabulary lessons, perhaps smiling to yourself when listening to a novice reader deciphering the text because you understand that she is engaging in a learning activity disguised as a silly story. When I look at Green Eggs and Ham, I choose to see beyond the story to the challenge. Instead of beloved cartoon characters, I picture the excitement of solving a narrative with a word limit. SAM Eye AM is based on the same sort of game. The dance only consists of 30 movements. You will see each step or gesture in its original form many times, but we have also altered, deconstructed, and rebuilt them to create phrase work that I hope inspires fresh interest in each item. I’m looking forward to expanding the work and continue playing with how to keep my process accessible in the product.”

Tell me a bit about your process. How do you create?

“Have you ever owned a coloring book? I start with an outline and visualize how to fill it. I have a roughly imagined idea of what I want the saturated picture to feel like rather than look like. From there, I put the colors where they want to go. Odd, perhaps, personifying the elements of creation, but for this work, I have found my choreography emerging in a similar manner. The beginning of my rehearsal process involves a lot of listening. We play improvisation games and I try to absorb ideas about energy and relationships from those. I try out sounds and write a bit and then add those elements into improvisation exercises with a bit more structure. Phrase work and gestures appear and then, as with the coloring, I try to organize the movement into the configuration that it wants to be in. Movement can be kinder than coloring, though. It’s much easier to move elements around when they’re in the wrong spots if your eraser doesn’t smudge.”

 

What do you hope to leave your audience with?

“It’s a “choose your own adventure kind of dance” Since my interest lies in the perception of the physical mechanics, there is a lot of room for audience interpretation. I didn’t make a story line, not intentionally anyways, but a lot of people came up to me after presenting the work in the Urbanity Underground Show postulating that my dance was ABOUT dinosaurs or ABOUT sharks or ABOUT something. I didn’t intend for it to be ABOUT anything but having those talks gave me an indication of the gestures that made an impression. With this work, I’m striving to simply leave audiences with a hunger for curiosity and the opportunity to validate their own narratives. I hope their sense of wit is tickled.”

What do you hope to leave your dancers with?

“PLAY, a willingness to solve puzzles, perhaps a little audacity.”

What excites you about working with Urbanity Dance in Particular?

“In rehearsals, I continuously toss every interesting, potentially contusion inducing, an idea that fits in the context of my work at my dancers. They nod at me, sometimes like I’m crazy, and then go right on and try out what I have proposed or else find an even more satisfying circumlocution of my original proposal. Urbanity is a “yes” factory. I’m grateful to work amongst dancers who are willing to embrace a new “yes” of physicality as I say “yes” to the foreign land of choreography for the first time.”

Where can we learn more about your work?

“Pick a coffee shop- Any coffee shop with espresso. I’m still holding fast to a life where I learn about people in person rather than on a screen. So seriously, e-mail me and let’s find a time to talk (japassios@yahoo.com). I also have a blog where I post my musings from time to time.

-Jen Passios

You can see her piece in our upcoming show, Urbanity NeXt.

A Message of Love

img_5232-final

Levi Marsman

Levi Marsman, boston Choreographer and recipient of Ballet Inc’s EMERGING CHOREOGRAPHER AWARD for 2016, is one of two guest choreographers selected to work with Urbanity Dance for their upcoming show, Urbanity NeXt! We sat down with him to talk about the work he is producing, and what it means for Urbanity and the Boston community.

Tell me a little bit about the piece you are creating. What is your inspiration?

“The piece is entitled “HEADSPACE” and will be using  Philip Glass’ “Einstein on the Beach” (Knee Play 1 & Knee Play 5):

I recently have been confronted with a lot of anxiety and overthinking and a lot of people around me seem to be dealing with that same thing. Someone very close to me, in addition to those things, is also dealing with OCD and is constantly feeling disconnected with people. This music is exactly what I hear in my head if I were to put [OCD] to a score; constant interruption and unsettled thoughts when trying to focus. I want to create an abstract work that really highlights those ideas of overthinking, anxiety and a sense of loneliness.”

Do you follow a certain process when you create? 

“All of my works are often inspired by the music.  I have wanted to create a work to Philip Glass’ “Einstein on the Beach” for quite some time. Besides the obvious beauty, there is a certain chaos and complexity in the music that I love. It is for that reason that I have wanted to wait until I was truly inspired by something that I felt this music connected with. Now that I feel the music is completely in me, I will be able to create movement based on ideas and improv the dancers and I will create in the studio.”

Always a great time teach company class for @urbanitydance!A post shared by Lee M. (@lvmrsmn) on Feb 6, 2017 at 6:27am PST

 

What do you hope to leave your audience with?

“It is my hope that this piece shows us how connected we may actually be in times we feel alone….at times we could all be distracted and unsettled when we aren’t feeling love. In a time like today, we all need to know that we love and care about each other when there are people who intend to divide us.

Hopefully if the audience can see their connection to the senses  of overthinking and loneliness and then later to the sense of love, that perhaps they would be more willing to show more love and empathy to others.”

What do you hope to leave your dancers with?Next.2017.poster.final

“I think that my style is very different from anything I have seen showcased in the beautiful performances I have seen by Urbanity. I tend to fuse a more traditional modern style with ballet and have created my own contemporary style. It is my hope that engage both their intellect and their connection as a company by focusing on their sense of need for another dancer and with this common idea.”

What excites you about working with Urbanity Dance in Particular?

“Having taught the dancers quite a bit I believe I’m learning their strengths and could challenge them as well as highlight their beauty. I am SO thrilled Betsi has chosen me for this year’s NeXt Residency as I feel we’ve become closer and closer over the years. Her passion for Urbanity is my passion for dance and she has put together the perfect group of dancers who are open and enthusiastic for a project like this. The sky is the limit with this bunch!”

-Levi Marsman

For more information about Levi Marsman, classes, or bookings check out his Artist Page by clicking the following link: http://facebook.com/levimarsman He is also premiering a new work for Boston Conservatory at Berkelee Feb. 23, 24 & 25.

More information about Urbanity NeXt and tickets can be found here.

Meet Darnell “Snoopy” Brown

Recently we had the opportunity to sit down with our lead Urban and World Dance teacher at E.W. Brooke Charter School who has helped pioneer this new partnership.  We are kicking off 2017 by reflecting on how much our students have grown as well as Darnell’s hopes and dreams for the future. 
16176762_10206502466079846_49560141_n
 

This is our fist year working with E.W. Brooke Charter School – what’s been your favorite thing about your students?

They make me laugh! Watching them get into a groove, set plan, they are growing. They’re learning to fix things for themselves and they truly want to be in dance class as well as learn respect for themselves and other members of the class.

How have your students grown since the start of dance classes?

Movement wise – they are getting better. They have learned to stop saying “I can’t do it” and have started asking questions like, “how do you do ____.” I can tell they feel more comfortable and confident.

How do you think the skills you’re teaching them in dance class will help them grow through high school, college and beyond?

 

Well – it helps them with homework! They know that if they don’t do their homework they can’t come to my class. They are learning teamwork and responsibility. Even when they miss class, I find out that they practice during lunch and will teach others who may have missed the previous week.
 
If an outsider walked into your class at any point – what could they expect to see?

 

Drilling! 100% of students participating. We go over steps slowly and work on speeding up. It’s also a fun time. Sometimes teachers will take the class. The other day I was playing the song “Ju ju on that beat” and a couple teachers came in and did the dance with us. One time the principal taught warm up. Ms. Mendez the secretary brought in Spanish music and taught a Spanish dance once. Not only are students involved, everyone joins in. We approach dance all together and it’s not like the students are laughing at the teachers. Their reactions are “Oh wow! You can do that?!” We can all do it together and be cool together.

 

You’re also very active in the Boston Dance Community. Do you have any past or current projects you’re excited about?

 

I just won a competition for Hip Hop International hosted by Ja Ja from Phunk Phenomenon. I submitted a 3 minute video doing 3 different dance styles, old school hip hop with a focus on locking, krump and dance hall. I won a free trip to Phoenix, Arizona and will get to take classes and participate in hip hop battles with top dancers and choreographers in the hip hop industry like Nappy Tabs, Paris, Tight Eyes, and more.
 
Any goals for the New Year?

 

My students will be performing in a competition in March – so we are getting prepared for that. Outside of Brooke, I’m currently working on a concept video centered around women empowerment explored through a hip hop dance lens. You might say my students at Brooke played a part in inspiring me. I hope to get my dance hall workshops up and running for the spring. I’m also really excited about my new full-time job at Apple. I want to say yes to everything! However, I’m always taking into consideration my personal limits.

 

We are so thrilled to have Darnell pioneering this program at Brooke! You can check him out here, and be sure to keep an eye out for the incredible work he creates!

Coaching a Chorus to Move

“I want them to choose to be great performers, not be great performers because they may have a natural tendency to be.” – Alexander Davis, interview with Urbanity Dance

This Monday, the Boston Children’s Chorus is putting on its 14th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute Concert: How I got Over – Conducted by Dr. Anthony Trecek-King.

The Boston’s Children’s Chorus is a non-profit organization whose mission is to ” [harness] the power and joy of music to unite our city’s diverse communities and inspire social change”(bostonchildrenschorus.org). The program has 13 different youth choirs, committed to not only a strong music education but developing leadership skills and active and responsible community members. Urbanity Dance’s own instructor and Company dancer, Alexander Davis, is working with the BCC to provide training in movement that compliments their choral education.

Alex works to make the students anatomically aware of their own bodies, focusing on each minute detail. Questions heard in class range from “are my toes curled? how is my weight arranged over my hips?” to “have I collapsed my chest inwards?” Honing in on the smallest details not only ensures that students are at their best to create beautiful and full vocals, allowing full deep breaths and stability, but creates a sense of total awareness and control over the body. Alex hopes this range of self awareness emboldens students, increasing their confidence and self esteem.

One of the songs Alex worked with the chorus on is a rendition of Sojourner Truth’s speech, Ain’t I A Woman. As students rehearsed two things happened, “They were all approaching it with a very clear feminist perspective. Some of them were singing outward and aggressively. Some of them were performing in a very grounded way, their performance energy was going down into the earth.”

Afterwards, they spent time discussing the intention of the work and the narrative that is portrayed. The students decided that it was an arc; “Although the work starts with a very outwards exclamation quality, it moves to a very grounded self proclamation.”

To reflect this narrative in the performance and body, Alex talked the students through their stance, “An even pelvis would reflect a sense of being grounded. The slightest shift of weight can communicate massively different things, and the students wanted to avoid archetypes of what has become used as a caricature of feminism.

If the chest is open and the sternum out, shoulders back, feet planted but weight shifted forwards onto the balls of your feet- you are projecting outwards. This is where the piece starts.

If you shift your weight back, still leave your chest open, but relax the shoulders a bit forwards and down, and shift your weight slightly backwards- you are projecting down. This is where the piece travels.”

The Chorus is set to perform this piece and many others this upcoming Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. By learning to control the body the Boston Children’s Chorus and Urbanity Dance can help to develop performers that are able to make conscious decisions about what they are portraying to the world. With students that are completely aware of themselves, the performance is sure to be breathtaking.

 

written by Michelle Thomas