Bridging the Socio-Cultural Evolution of Salsa and Contact Improvisation
By. Noelia Tajes
This article speaks to my investigation of the separation between Salsa dance and Contact Improvisation through the creation of GET ¡n TOUCH, performed on 17 July 2015 at the Laban Theatre in London. This investigation was part of the Master research in Creative Practice at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance in London. I was in search of an innovative way to create and produce Salsa dance performance. By linking Contact Improvisation with Salsa, I discovered that there are similarities in physical communication methods. Specifically, the mindful body approach, used in Contact Improvisation, is an imperative tool to link these two techniques together. Through practice-led research, working in the studio with a multidisciplinary team, I then applied this mindful body approach, granting a holistic experience to Salsa performance. Thus, I redefined Salsa dance as a postmodern dance form, the genre that rules “upon the codes and convention that underpin style” as stated by Sally Gardner.
Salsa is a social dance, which is meant to facilitate contact between opposite genders to get to know each other. Salsa is also a performative standing dance, with a specific walking steps pattern. Now, Salsa has become a buy and sell product, producing performances in the Salsa circuit and Broadway. For that reason, it is considered as a low art for the realm of postmodern dance, and as a performative art with high quality for the realm of Salsa. As a social dance, it reflects and responds to a contemporary type of society. In my research, I was interested in looking beyond its form and aesthetic and focusing on the relationship aspect of Salsa. To do so, Contact Improvisation is a great respondent to the Latin art form with its quality of backspace awareness, touch and communication.
In order to elevate the art of Salsa performances, this research aims to create a bridge between Salsa and Contact. Cynthia J. Novack demonstrated in her book Sharing the Dance: Contact Improvisation and American Culture that in the postmodern dance era, “Contact Improvisation was the dance, which offered access to dance of some kind to amateurs”. Contact Improvisation and Salsa appeared to be similar in their community evolution. Both showing that practitioners who train in the dance, gain more skill, perform, and gradually, a differentiation between amateurs and professionals was felt. In fact, a revolutionary change occurred in each at the same time, the same place; in New York, in the 1960s.
GET ¡n TOUCH finds itself in a gap between two worlds, which do not understand each other. Salsa is considered as entertainment, therefore, often invalid in the realms of postmodern dance. Its creativity stagnates on the web of business. Devising a mindful body approach to a traditional social dance form features the social facet of the Salsa dance in performance. Contact Improvisation liberates the societal gendered form of the social dance and its devices, aided the development of the creative innovation in Salsa performances.
GET ¡n TOUCH highlights such a gap between the Salsa and Contact Improvisation realm that the investigation demonstrates the discovery of the socio-cultural issue that New York was experiencing in the 1960s. As Danielle Goldman - in I want to be ready, improvised Dance as a Practice of Freedom - and David Gere - in Taking by Surprise: A Dance Improvisation Reader - points out. Improvisation was already practiced in West African influenced social dances, as well as in “art” dances, mentioned by Novack. It is only in the 1960s that the word “improvisatory” is generally used at the time of Judson Dance Theatre, defining “art” dance, and differentiating West-African influenced social dances to the new improvisatory postmodern “art” dance.
In sum, using a dance for as a sociocultural subject and artistic creation does not bring this investigation to a finite conclusion, but introduces it open-ended. The evolution of this work will eventually continue by looking into other dance forms such as flamenco and Swiss dance and eventually creating a bridge between multiple social forms. You can find out more in www.cienota.com or follow by us on Facebook by Cie NoTa & Guests.
Noelia Tajes is a Hispanico-Swiss choreographer and choreologist based in Geneva. She is the Artistic Director and Choreographer of the dance company NoTa and Guests. Ms. Tajes holds a MA in Creative Practice from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, UK and a BA in Fine Arts Comminity Development in La Haute Ecole de Travail Social (HETS) in Geneva. Currently, she is specialising her interest in movement with the Specialist Diploma: Choreological Studies derived from the theories of Rudolf Laban. Her choreographic work and choreological research extends from social dances and contemporary dance working with outreach programs and professional dancers. Her choreographic works have been performed in London at Vibe Gallery, Laban Theatre and at Siobhan Davies Dance Studio, as well as in Geneva at L’Étincelle Theatre, Fête de la Danse and Qu’est-ce qui se Tram organised by FBI Prod.
Noelia Tajes is a choreographer and performer in the constant artistic search of creating links between the world of contemporary dance and social concerns. She also worked with The Alchemy Project - Dance United in London that aims to create dance performances with young people with mental health disorders. As well as an expert in dance in two commissions in Switzerland; Commission Intercantonale des Arts de la Scène (CicaS) andCommission Francophone des Affaires Culturelles Générales (CFACG)