“Dracula” takes over Lookout’s drumming class

This afternoon at Lookout, the drumming class was invaded by the “Dracula System”! The catchy calypso by this year’s calypso and soca monarch, King Baptiste Wallace, was the tune of choice while the students were playing the assiko rhythm. They were moving and grooving to the beat, and spontaneously burst out in song: “I been working night and day…for the same old salary! Although I get paid…it makes me angry! Dracula…take your money! Dracula…suck your money! It is Dracula System…it makes no sense!” Check out the video to hear the boys’ rendition of this most popular song of the year.

This student in particular was having a blast:

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Dance class was small but focused this week. The girls worked on performance choreography, breaking down some of the steps and working on keeping straight lines and round circles. Stay tuned for news on when and where these students will be performing this self-choreographed céili dance!

More outdoor rhythmic exercises with St. Augustine students

This week we were outside at Little Bay field again with the students from St. Augustine, and once again we lucked out with the rain (which is always unpredictable here in Montserrat).

The drummers worked on the same rhythms they’ve been practicing for the past few weeks, including assiko and kassa breaks. This time a few of the girls who usually do the Irish dance class decided to drum instead, so there was some good cross-over!

The dancers worked more on a possible performance piece, this time incorporating the “waves” from the Waves of Tory céíli dance and their own version of the “body wave,” which is different from the Brades students’ “hand wave.” I guess every school has its own flavor!

We also did skip two threes all the way around the track, which was the crazy suggestion of one of the girls. A quarter mile is much longer than it looks! We were all huffing and puffing by the end.

This week one of our students took a long video of the drumming class, and I’m happy to have his unique perspective on the class. It’s always good to have different videographers to look at things through a fresh eye!

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Adults learn sinte rhythm and make right/left stars

In this week’s adult djembe workshop, we learned a new rhythm called “sinte.” This was the most complicated pattern yet, and there were lots of different parts to remember. Here, have a listen:

We sped it up at the end, and it sounded great! A few of us were moving/dancing while playing, and I spied some of the kids outside unable to resist dancing too 🙂

Dance class was more difficult this week as well. First we reviewed our sean-nós steps (including the basic step, heel toe step, and heels/hips step) and I wore my hard shoes (similar to tap shoes, but with fiberglass tips and heels instead of metal) so that everyone could hear the rhythms better.

Our céili dance this week was the Siege of Carrick, which starts with a circle to the left, then has a right and left star, and then a complicated “up and down the center” figure that requires a good sense of space to avoid colliding with your neighbors. We’ll polish up this dance next week before posting videos of it!

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Budding choreographers create their own céili dance at Lookout

This afternoon at Lookout Primary School had its highs and low. The drumming class started off well, and the students seemed to be enjoying the rhythms, and they even started spontaneously singing along while they played! Unfortunately, their behavior got a little out of hand and we had to end the class early. Discipline and respect are an important part of the class, so they’ll have another chance next week to prove that they can focus and follow instructions.

The dancers, however, were wonderful today! When class started, they asked if they could show me a céili dance that they created themselves over the past week. Can you believe it? Just a few weeks, and they’re already choreographers! They took figures that we’ve done in class before and combined them in their own unique way, even adapting the figures for larger numbers of dancers to fit just four people.

This spark of creativity was so thrilling that I was inspired to add on some more difficult movements. We added some complicated arm movements that are common in “2 hand” or “3 hand” Irish dances. We also incorporated the “do-si-do” from American contra dancing or square dancing, and I gave them the option of spinning while do-si-do-ing, so they were introduced to “spotting” to avoid getting dizzy.

One girl was doing a sort of Charleston step during breaks, so we threw that into the mix as well. We’re getting quite eclectic up in Lookout!

At the end of class, I had to take a minute to thank the girls for their attention and creativity. I don’t take it for granted that they have been showing such initiative and interest, and I am truly appreciative. This is very promising for St. Patrick’s Day coming up in a few weeks!

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Kilkenny, er, Little Bay Races

Today we were outside again with St. Augustine School at Little Bay Field. It was a beautiful sunny day, so the drummers set themselves up in the shade, but the dancers had to deal with the hot sun. Luckily there was a sprinkler nearby so we could cool off every once and a while!

We made use of the the track lines this time and had some races across the field doing “skip 23s” (straighten out those legs!) and “over 23s” (jump high and kick your butt!). The “over 23s” were new this week because we’ve never had enough to space to work on them properly. They’re difficult to get the hang of, but lots of fun to fly through the air.

In Irish dance, there is a dance called “Kilkenny Races,” so I’m calling today’s exercise “Little Bay Races” 🙂

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The dancers also worked on another céili dance, incorporating the bridge from last week, as well as the salsa step. But this time, we first did the “Irish” version of the step (with straight hips), and then we spiced it up to do the “salsa” version (with hips).

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At the end of class, the girls wanted to do “real” bridges, so we worked on some back flexibility. Shay-Reese here has a great bridge, and she was even able to kick over with some help!

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The drummers reviewed the assiko rhythms and other breaks from previous weeks. At this point, we’re trying not to add too much because the performances are coming up soon. St. Patrick’s Day is one month from today, so it’s time to start polishing things up!

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Valentine’s Day Céili Dance (with waves and a clap)

Today was a very pink and red class at Brades School, and the color coordination made the dance look even better! The girls are really dancing beautifully now that they are paying more attention to staying in straight lines and coordinating with one another. Look at those lovely waves! That takes teamwork.

The “waves” also inspired the girls to add their own flair to end of the dance–a hand wave with a clap. Again, their creative input is wonderful!

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Before the drumming class, some of the boys were playing some rhythmon the masquerade drums. It was brilliant! I’ve seen them dance, but haven’t heard many of them on the drums. These young kids are really talented!

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Palms, heels, and a lot of swinging in adult classes

Our hands got a workout on the drums as we reviewed the sounou rhythm from last week and then put together a long string of patterns from the kassa rhythm family. A real test of memory! It requires careful listening to the breaks and attention to the subtleties of the rhythm. I know my palms were burning and my wrists were getting tired, but that can only mean progress, right?

Then we gave our hands a rest and focused on our feet in Irish dance class. We reviewed the basic step from sean-nós and then learned a new step with lots of heels and lots of toes. After a short water break, we introduced a new Irish dance style: set dancing, which is a social dance similar to square dancing or quadrilles. We had five couples instead of four, so we adapted a combination of set dance figures to make the dance work with any number of couples.

This was the first time we really got to swing a lot, and I made sure everyone had a chance to feel the momentum by swinging with each student one at a time. At first it can make you really dizzy, but once you master the control (and remember to breathe!), it’s so much fun! Eventually we’ll incorporate this sense of speed and momentum into the “Christmas” figure, when we get into a tight circle and spin around as fast as possible.

After class yesterday, one of our students told us that she always feels happy after drumming and dancing, and that the feeling lasts her the rest of the week. We love that kind of feedback! We’re so happy that people are enjoying the workshops as much as we are 🙂

Dominique provides individual hands-on help on the drums to help with technique, and Kate dances with each student individually so they can experience the thrill of a fast set dance swing:




correction: the video says “assiko,” but we were actually playing kassa breaks

Rhythms and waves at Lookout

Today we continued with some assiko rhythms in drumming class, and there were fewer students now that the Brades kids are back in their usual location (we’re coming to you on Friday!) so everyone was able to focus more. We even had to play the rhythm one at a time! The kids did a great job echoing the rhythm back.

The Irish dance class also worked better with fewer students, and we were able to get through a céili dance with advance/retire, switching places with 7s and 3s, right and left hand turns, and the always difficult “waves” from the Waves of Tory dance. There were some collisions (as expected), but we finally got it!

The important thing to remember is that social dancing is a team activity, so even if someone messes up, we have to keep going and we can fix any problems the next time. There’s no time or space for doing your own individual thing, so it’s important to be considerate of others at all times. And be patient with each other!

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St. Augustine girls find the salsa in sean-nós dancing

Today the girls at St. Augustine were ready for some more advanced steps, building on the toes, heels, and stamps patterns that we’ve been working on. We introduced the basic step of sean-nós (old style) dancing: “and-a heel and heel stamp, and-a heel and heel stamp.” Then we learned a “toe heel toe” step and a “cross in cross out and stamp stamp stamp” step. The girls love saying the words while they dance! But sometimes it takes time and practice for the words to travel down to the feet.

The girls noticed how similar the “cross in cross out” step is to the basic salsa step, so we put a little hip into the sean-nós dance. Irish dance like you’ve never seen it! Each girl got to show off their own personal salsa style one at a time, and then they demonstrated the “hip bump” with a partner.

Their creativity is brilliant!

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