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There are some people who are just born
with natural grace and body awareness. There are some who will
never acquire that poise no matter how hard they try. Most
of us, however, fall into the category of regular folks who can
learn to dance and perfect their style; some with more ease than
I used to be a doomsayer thinking you cannot
learn certain things, especially in arts - either you have it or
you don't. But a few people proved me wrong as I watched
their progress over time. On the other hand, even talent
and natural elegance are not enough.
moves look so natural you would think he danced his way out of
his mother's womb. He did not even have any professional dance
training. But did you know he had 17 years experience in
martial arts? That razor sharp precision in every step he takes
cannot be sucked in with mother's milk. Hard work combined
with creativity gave birth to that "cool cat"'s dancing style.
(Not to confuse with Seon's smooth and flirty cattish style).
Frankie's moves are unique. Our Bay Area salsa junkies
seem to be stuck in their attempts to come up with more and more
complicated arm-twisting interchanges forgetting that a simple
shoulder lift or a heel clap might be more effective. Frankie
himself admits that his choreography will look funny
unless it's "danced". What he means is every move,
including the most basic, should be done with a proper
technique - a training that he offers to the members of his
dance troupe Abakua.
What distinguishes Frankie and other
professional dancers from amateurs is the QUALITY of their
movement, HOW it's done, rather than WHAT is done. Most
salsa groups, including Eddie Torres, work only on their
routines. That difference between amateur and professional
dancing was particularly striking during Frankie and Aisha's
performance. The routine was the same for both of them,
but the audience drooled watching every step he made.
To watch him dance, you'd say it's all improvisations,
chaotic and unpredictable. A lot of shines, a lot of moves
reminiscent of hip-hop and other modern styles as well as his
own creations. You might even wonder if it's mambo at all.
But the appeal of Frankie's playfulness is based on years of
rigorous training when he acquired a wide repertoire of moves
and now can mix and match them at will. He is at that
elusive top level of art when your solid technical foundation
allows you to "fly".
Can one learn that?
Theoretically, you can, and Frankie is teaching his patterns at
workshops. However, he constantly reminds students about the
importance of style in his moves.
Frankie Martinez is a performer, his social dancing is not
partner oriented (remember, the lady is the picture and the
leader is the frame?). His lead looked casual and
relaxed, but in fact, was very gentle and precise - something
that was common to all the visiting salsa masters I had a chance
to dance with. They use no force at all; they simply guide
you (in Frankie's case even just point) to the way for you to
However, if we want to dance with somebody like Frankie, we
better develop our own variety of shines if we don't want to
look like a helpless plaything on the dance floor. It
would be even better if we could respond to his playfulness in
kind. (Frankie noticed our mambo aficionados taking their
dancing way too seriously). Do salseros want us to develop
our own creativity to compete with theirs? That's another "can
of worms" I'll keep a lid on…for now…
salsa fans might not find Frankie's style very appealing.
For social dancers it's a lot easier to become smooth repeating
the same patterns and routines than be creative and
improvise. Maybe, just maybe, if we simply relaxed and
started dancing for fun listening to the music and forgetting
about "mistakes" or how we might look on the floor, we might
find ourselves on that euphoric "cloud 9" of improvisation.
Until that happens, we will all be at awe watching Frankie's
performances and thinking: he's a natural.
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