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Playing for a dance class tonight... - Djembefola - Djembe Forum

For chatting and discussions.
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  • 8 posts
User avatar
By Carl
Meeting up with a new local dance teacher.

She's been teaching for a few months in my area, this is the first time I'm making it over to see the class. There is a good chance that I'll be playing solo (no other drummers can make it!??)

Should be interesting, will report back any fun stories.

User avatar
By Carl

Good idea about the ankle bells, unfortunately I think they are still at my studio. I found out about the drummer-less situation at work, and the studio is too far away to make a round trip before her class... :-(

By bubudi
am sure you will do just fine without ankle bells.

a few tips:
  • try to get a buddy from your group to make it so they can keep accompaniment for you. if you can't get someone this week then maybe they could make it next week. then you can have dunun in your car ready for them to play. if you can get 2 or 3 of them to come, all the better.
  • if soloing, keep it as simple as possible, aim to just mark the steps and nothing too fancy. keep watching the dancers' feet. especially those of the teacher. don't try to play all the licks mahiri taught you for a particular rhythm you're playing. if you're lucky you might find one that corresponds to a dance step the teacher does.
  • if in doubt as to solos, return to accompaniment... can be a third/fourth/solo accompaniment or a first/second accompaniment.
  • when the teacher is developing a particular routine/choreography, you will need to remember the length of each step so you know where to put the calls. take notice when she is breaking down the dance steps for the dancers, until you get the hang of it.
  • remember it's your first dance class and if you keep it simple and be attentive to the dance teacher, you can't really go wrong. as you gain experience, you will keep getting better.
  • above all man, have fun and it will rub off on the dancers and they will all dig the class even if you mess up :lol:
have a blast, man. playing for dance is completely different to just making music. it's another skill that's good to have. one day when you'll be doing a big performance you will be able to take dancers to the gig and mark their steps. then you can pull up members of the audience to dance and mark their steps... it'll be the highlight of your show.
User avatar
By Carl
Post class review...

I definitely had a good time but...

Having even one more player would be nice... I'll be talking to they guy's in the band to see if someone... ANYONE can make it next week...

In reference to Bubudi's good advice...

Yes, starting from parts was key, especially during the warmup where the energy level was lower, but increasing. The philosophy of "play the part till it varies itself" was very handy.

While this was my first West-African dance class, I did accompany a modern dance class for over a year and a half. And I've worked with dancers many times before in different settings. So, much of the pacing and "subservience" to the dance was pretty automatic. However...

I walked into a dance that they had been working on for a while, so no opportunity to fit the techniques to the dance while they were working on it... it was 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 GO! There was some agreement to language, she called the dance "soli" and the first few dance steps matched the traditional solo that I know. However some of the dance steps had strange count lengths that didn't quite make sense. It took a few runs to get the right modification to match the changeups.

Fortunately I only left them hanging in a chauffage once (I really thought there was one more step... really!) Otherwise I was able to match the flow pretty well.

My biggest "take away" for soloing without accompaniment in this setting...

Solo techniques that do not end on or point to the down beat are very tricky! More than once I had to cover for leaving out the pulse on some important beats. (where the dununs would have obviously taken over; sounds great when they are there, not so much when they are not.) It forced me to be a lot "busier" than I would have normally liked. Lots of fill-in touches, extra bases on the pulse and what not.

Another thing that I knew from experience that worked nicely. Stay away from up beat chauf. until near the end of the routine (obvious in the musical pacing, but might not be obvious to all) let the dancers get into the pulse for a while before you mess with it. But by the end, a nice TSS with occasional rolls will make them really happy!

I do not have enough experience with dancers to know how "traditional" the dance was, however I did get the impression that this was more ballet style than traditional. Mostly from talking with the teacher and with one dance that she taught with recorded accompaniment (sounded like soboninkun, but she spelled it differently and her pronunciation was different as well... just slightly) the recording sounded like a 4/4 version of S. but without the swing and less upbeat oriented.

Anyway, in the end I had a great time and made a great contact with a dancer. Hope to work with her more in the future. Thanks for listening.
:dance: :dance2: :dance:
By Garvin
Cool... Sounds like a great learning experience.

I might be speaking waaaaaay out of place here, but I've noticed that the traditional solos that I've learned for Kuku and Soko do not seem to match with the dances that I've played for. I learned Mamady's versions of those solos, and I have no idea who the dance teachers learned from, so there could be some disconnect there. But I kind of decided to abandon the traditional structure of the solos in those cases and instead just to grab a few things from my bag of tricks and try and play the break in the right spot.
User avatar
By Carl

I agree with your call on soloing. Unless you want to make an ass of yourself, you are there to assist the dancers. While I could imagine a situation where you would need to "call the teacher out" on what they are teaching; that would have to be a pretty extreme case.

Generally speaking, if what you are playing does not match what they are dancing, it is your fault. Over time, if there is a disagreement, you can come to an understanding at to who is doing what. Hopefully you are building a relationship with the dancer, and you can start to build a language between the drummers and the dancers. A good starting point would be for both to be learning from a similar source (like the dancers working with Moustapha Bangoura and the drummers working with Mamady Keita). Or better yet, the group goes to Guinea/Mali/wherever and learns together 'in the village'. Mahiri has talked about members of his band (drummers and dancers) going to the Ivory Coast to learn Zaouli they came back with a new break for both!

The worst case scenario would be if you somehow had to play for a teacher from the continent. Their expectations of what you play would be a lot more specific, and unless they were forgiving, it could lead to a very uncomfortable situation. I was dropped into that situation ONCE a long time ago. I ended up playing the warm up when the lead drummer ended up being 30 min. late. No real soloing, just putting the call in the right place. She was VERY forgiving.

By Garvin
That is a great learning experience Carl. The best thing that can happen to any djembe player is to be put on the spot like that (your last story). About the only time I ever like to solo is during warm-up. I agree with you 100% about learning the solos and dances from the same source. It just makes obvious sense.

Definitely be prepared at all times to abandon your assumptions and expectations about what you think you should be playing as a drummer in order to serve the dancers. The music is for them. About 95% of the dance teachers I've played for are forgiving and warm enough to help you find the break, but beware of the stink-eye from the other 5% :doh:
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