Kareli's Guide to Dancing With Live Music

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I have said it before, and I will continue to say that FOLKLORICO DANCERS ARE MUSICIANS.  Our bodies are our instrument because we make music with our feet!  We are part of the rhythm section of a band. 

Dancing with live music is an amazing experience for any folklorico dancer and performer, but you must be aware that it is completely different than dancing to a recording. 

I was a total music kid in middle school and in high school.  I played viola, cello, and trombone for a really long time and was drum major in high school.  I have always appreciated music and believe that because of my musical background, I have been able to teach my dance company the value of dancing with live musicians. 

I was lucky enough to begin dancing with live music at the young age of 15 at La Fonda de Los Camperos in Los Angeles, CA.  Since then,  I have had the great fortune of touring and performing with the best mariachis in the world, such as Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan, and of course, Grammy Award-Winning Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano.  My dance company performs with live music 90 percent of the time.  

With live music,  it is much easier to feel the emotion in the song and music because of the energy that the singers and musicians transmit to each other.  Musicians and dancers should feed off each other and get into a groove.  When the unity between the dancers and musicians is there, the audience can savor and enjoy the performance as much as the performers.  The feeling is amazing!

Sometimes folklorico dancers stress out when dancing to live music, mainly because the music doesn't sound exactly the same as the recording.  Don't freak out if it's not the same!  I promise that if you follow my guide you'll be fabulous!!!

Now here's "Kareli's Guide to Dancing With Live Music."

#1 introduce yourself to the band

Posing with Mariachi Garibaldi de Jaime Cuellar in Guadalupe, CA

Posing with Mariachi Garibaldi de Jaime Cuellar in Guadalupe, CA

If you have the opportunity to introduce yourself to the band before the show, do so.  It is very important that you communicate with the musicians about any possible changes in the music, such as how many "VERSOS" they play in a song (I'll explain later),  at what tempo (speed) they play the music, etc.  Getting to know the band will also create a more friendly and playful atmosphere during the performance.  There's nothing like hearing a musician cheering you on while dancing on the stage.  Feel free to cheer them on as well.  The more you work with a group of musicians the more festive and cohesive your performance with them will become.

#2 BE "ONE" WITH THE MUSIC

Dancing "Bolero" with the Culver City Symphony.

Dancing "Bolero" with the Culver City Symphony.

That's right!  Your footwork should be in sync with the music at all times.  There are several exercises that can help dancers understand "tempo."  When my intermediate dancers fall out of tempo, I have them clap the rhythms to the recording of the song.  I do a lot of other exercises to train their ear, but I will introduce you to them in future.  Most of the time,  a dancer should follow the "bass" (guitarron in mariachi) or the entire rhythm section (Guitarron, vihuela, guitarra). 

#3 WHAT ARE "VERSOS"

A folklorico dancer has to be familiar with the term "versos," which are the verses of a song.  I am approached by musicians very often who ask me "cuantos versos quiere?" (how many verses do you want?). You want to make sure that you tell them the correct amount, and I'll tell you why.  The verse of a song is the part of the song that tells the story.  When two or more parts of the song have almost identical music and different lyrics, each part is considered one verse.   

Example:

EL GAVILAN

Por ahí viene el gavilán                   -------------->  1ST VERSE
Por ahí viene ya volando
No se lo dejen llegar
Pollitas anda buscando.
Por ahí viene el gavilán
Por ahí viene ya volando
No se lo dejen llegar
Pollitas anda buscando.

<Ay! Ay, ay chinita, que maldito gavilán.
Ay! Ay, ay chinita, no te vaya a enamorar.>

Por ahí viene el gavilán                  -------------------> 2ND VERSE
Viene por la nopalera
Le gusta las jovencitas
Las de quince primaveras.
Por ahí viene el gavilán
Viene por la nopalera
Le gusta las jovencitas
Las de quince primaveras.

<Ay! Ay, ay chinita, que maldito gavilán...>

Por ahí viene el gavilán
Con sus alitas plateadas
Pero más bonitas son
Las solteras no casadas.

<Ay! Ay, ay chinita, que maldito gavilán...>

 

THIS VERSION OF "EL GAVILAN" HAS TWO "VERSOS."

A lot of sones that folklorico dancers dance two have a long and short version.  "Las Alazanas" is a good example as well.  Most dancers dance to two versos of the song,  but mariachis will ask you if you want 2 or 3 versos because the complete song has 3. 

#4 BECOME FAMILIAR WITH SEVERAL VERSIONS

With Los Hermanos Herrera at the Ford Amphitheater, Hollywood, CA.

With Los Hermanos Herrera at the Ford Amphitheater, Hollywood, CA.

A good way to practice dancing with live music is by rehearsing to different versions of the same song.  Instead of sticking to the same recording of "La Negra," by Mariachi Vargas,  rehearse to versions by Mariachi Los Camperos and Mariachi Mexico.  Every mariachi plays it at a slightly different tempo. 

#5 BE PREPARED TO IMPROVISE

Dancing with Grupo Bella at LA Plaza de la Cultura y Artes.

Dancing with Grupo Bella at LA Plaza de la Cultura y Artes.

Regardless of how many rehearsals you have with a live band,  you never know what you will have to do to keep the show going.  Musicians are human too, and just like dancers, make mistakes.  At times it's not that they make  mistakes,  but like jazz, some Mexican genres allow for solos and extra counts here and there.  This tends to be the case when it comes to music from Veracruz, and La Huasteca.  If the musicians add a few extra bars,  just keep dancing until you hear the part of the song that you're familiar with.  Here is a personal example:  Chilo and I,  who have been dancing together with live music for about 15 years,  had to improvise to the complete version of "Las Abajenas."  My group was doing a small tour with Grupo Bella in the Santa Barbara area, but I forgot to tell the musicians that we were going to dance "La Negra" at a certain point in the show.  The entire group was ready to come in for "La Negra" when the musicians began playing "Las Abajenas."  So that it wouldn't look so akward, Chilo and I started improvising to the music.  IT WAS THE LONGEST 3 MINUTES OF MY LIFE!  But, if you were to see the video, you wouldn't be able to tell too much. ;)

#6 COMMUNICATE WITH THE BAND

Dancing with Mariachi Los Camperos at the Ford Amphitheater. 

Dancing with Mariachi Los Camperos at the Ford Amphitheater. 

One great thing about dancing folklorico is that you can communicate with the band while you're dancing.  Because we are encouraged to be festive and loud on stage, we can get away with yelling a few things to the band if necessary.  Sometimes when the mariachi plays too fast I yell "bajenle!" (take it down) haha.  If they play too many versos I yell "sale mariachi!"  and if the start playing "El Gusto" in stead of "La Negra" I yell "Esa Negra!" Dancing with live music requires great communication between the dancers and musicians. 

#7  LISTEN TO THE SINGER 

On stage with Lila Downs and her band at the Greek Theatre. 

On stage with Lila Downs and her band at the Greek Theatre. 

This is a little hard for me to explain in writing, but I will do my best.  Always adapt to the singer. There are so many Mariachi songs where the vocalist "shows off" how long he can hold a note.   Some examples of songs where that tends to happen are, "La Charreada," "El Toro Relajo," "Guadalajara," etc.  All you can do when this happens is listen attentively and repeat the step until the vocalists makes the change.  

#8 GIVE THANKS

With Las Cafeteras at the Santa Barbara Bowl.

With Las Cafeteras at the Santa Barbara Bowl.

Something that I learned while working at La Fonda with Mariachi Los Camperos and at the University of Colima, with Meastro Zamarripa,  is that you should always wish your peers and musicians "good luck" before a performance and give thanks to your peers and musicians after a show.  Go up to each musician individually and say "Gracias."  Make them feel appreciated and give them the respect they deserve.  Giving thanks shows professionalism, helps you create a good reputation, and motivates the musicians to play well for you next time. 

#9 RELAX AND ENJOY!

Last but not least, relax and enjoy! Dancing is fun and this needs to come across in your performance. Smile and do not worry too much about making small errors that the audience will not even notice as long as you keep smiling and look relaxed. Also, by relaxing you will be more able to tune in to the music and let your musical intuition take over and translate into movements.

Check out the video below! Now this is dancing with live music!!! We were the first dancers in the history of "El Festival del Mariachi y Charreria" in Guadalajara, to dance at EL TEATRO DEGOLLADO during the festival with Mariachi Los Camperos and Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan.  What an honor!

I want to encourage you to study the basics of music and dance with live music as much as possible.  

I hope that you found this blog post helpful. 

If you haven't done so already, check out my previous blog post "How to Make a Folklorico Flower Headpiece Fast."

Talk soon.

Maestra Kareli =)

 

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