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By Maya


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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.

Frankie Martinez' 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 follow.

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…

Our smooth 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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