## Thursday, 21 August 2014

### Maths in Dance - Joel and Ana Masacote

Dancers are busy people - and no two are busier than Joel and Ana Masacote, legends in the field of Latin Dance. So, it was really great to get a reply from Ana saying that Joel and she would also love to participate in the "Maths in Dance" project. I realise we are a few weeks past the end of August but this was too good an offer to let slip past.

## So, who are Joel and Ana Masacote?

This husband and wife team is one of the most sought after in salsa/mambo. Respected for their artistry and musicality, they have taken the interpretation of Salsa Dance to new heights. Ana and Joel Masacote have taught in 30+ countries, across 5 continents and countless cities throughout the world. They are booked as far as a year in advance and almost every weekend in between to teach and perform around the world.

When not traveling to some exotic country, you can find Ana and Joel in Boston, MA teaching salsa and latin dance to all levels from beginners to advanced master classes, along with their professional dance troupe of instructors in the Masacote School and Dance Company.

Both Joel and Ana gave up some of their precious time to answer 10 questions for me about how mathematics relates to their passion - dance. We will start with Joel and hear what he had to say:

## The questions and answers from Joel:

1. Describe what math lessons were like for you at school.

Math was one of the subjects that I enjoyed! Algebra, Geometry and Music were the only math classes I took in high school.

2. When you left school, did you expect to be using any of the math that you were taught ever again?

I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with Algebra & Geometry, but the math in Music becomes an intuitive feeling of math, and it has always been my life.

3. Do you divide dances or movements into parts or sections that might be expressed as mathematical fractions?

I think of dance and movement in the same light as Music, so putting them into parts and sections are a typical part of the creation. However, I don’t think I’ve ever divided them to be seen as fractions. Interesting viewpoint to explore! ;)

4. How aware are you of angles in dancing technique – angle of body, angle of arms and legs, angle of movements?

This is where my geometry lessons came into play.  I trained in  J.R.O.T.C (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp) in high school for 4 years. I loved formations because I saw the angles of body & angles of movements as geometry. Our steps always had to be synchronized, so my music (time & rhythm) was a huge part of this process as well. Geometry made me fall in love with billiards! I played for the billiards team while I was in college at Howard University for 2 years. So, I see dance mainly in the angles I get out of the geometry.

5. When dancers are moving in a performance, how much is “mathematical thinking and calculating where the space is” and how much is “feel for the space”?

I like to feel the space the body is in. My last year in J.R.O.T.C I became the company commander for the silent drill team and this really started to push my awareness of space and bodies in space. It expanded my love for geometry even more. After high school I did four years in the Army and another four years in the Marine Corps, so my spacial awareness to bodies of people flanking, filing and angling in synchronized motion became a huge part of my life. I loved calling cadence (even though I don’t remember much any more)! The entire interaction with leading a platoon was musical for me and the interaction with the platoon singing cadence was always an amazing and intense experience!

6. Is estimation good enough or do you rely on accurate measurement of distances and times?

With twelve years of military experience in marching and leading formations, and thirty years of musical experience maintaining consistency of time, rhythm and shape of sound,  accurate measurement of distance, duration and time is a huge part of the process in creation for me.

7.  How aware are you of timing and beat in dance?

This is one of my favorite topics. Time is everything and at the same time it’s nothing. It’s a representation of yin and yang… Tension and relaxation. Duality. Time is the primitive place where sound and motion is created, and they happen simultaneously in that moment in time. So, Music and Dance are one in the same. It all starts from intention. The intention to create. The intention to expand. The intention to express. Maintaining the consistency of time... i.e. pulse, rhythm and vibration, we begin to see that the past and the future are only concepts. They aren’t real. Allowing the mind, body and soul to focus on the maintaining of time, treating every moment in time as if it’s the only time, we then witness the past, present and future happening all in the present moment. The past is happening in your reflection of it, and the future is happening in your desire for it, but they are all happening in the present. Music, Dance, Martial Arts or any creative process for that matter allows the mind to practice focusing on the moment in time. The more you evolve with your craft, constantly fine tuning it to please your soul, the stronger you become aware of this illusion.

8. Have you ever used math and physics to explain your technique, movement or choreography?

All the time.

9. Do you look at statistics much to analyse your art?

No. For me, statistics do not define art. Embracing life experiences and channelling it into a pure self expression is how I analyze my work.

10. Do you have any other insights to offer into how you use mathematics in dance?

We as a human race are becoming more aware of ourselves. This is only the beginning. The boundaries and pigeon holds the system has on us from seeing the different illusions, are falling. We are beginning to express ourselves on a whole other dimension. Slowly being introduced to the 4th. The universe is expanding, and the vibrational frequency of the universe is speeding up our perception of time. Earth is going through a frequency shift, and this shift is shaking things up. It’s allowing humanity to see the through self. So, my strongest advice is to allow yourself  to express wholeheartedly without any boundaries or perception blocks of understanding self! We are one! This understanding is from my exploration into Sacred Geometry, the mathematics of all sound and frequency. Everything in existence has it’s own frequency, which is also defined by math and is measured in hertz.  Love is the highest frequency, and living completely in love with self, we heal our planet. So, Love thyself!

## Questions and answers from Ana:

1. Describe what math lessons were like for you at school.

Math was always one of my favorite subjects. With just a bit of problem solving, there was always an answer to every question. In high school, I was skipped up from geometry (later testing out) and placed in a new fast track math program in which you were taught your first two years of math in college (Calculus AB & BC) by the time you graduated. Eventually, my love of math (and computers) led me to study electrical engineering and computer science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

2. When you left school, did you expect to be using any of the math that you were taught ever again?

In college, I switched into business when I decided I didn’t love engineering enough to do it as a living and wanted instead to build my own entertainment company. At that point, I figured I’d be using basic math through the business component of the company but never realized how much I would also be using it in my dance and movement.

3. Do you divide dances or movements into parts or sections that might be expressed as mathematical fractions?

The co-founder of the company is also a musician, and he has helped us develop a musical foundation tied into our dance curriculum so they work hand in hand. We teach dance by breaking down the components of the music, odd timing variations, and notations. We explain the concept of whole notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, etc. We talk about the subdivision of time so dancers can fit steps within such rhythms as half beats and triplets, allowing them to stay better attuned to the music. For our dance company, this becomes even more present when working on choreography and staying in sync with one another.

4. How aware are you of angles in dancing technique – angle of body, angle of arms and legs, angle of movements?

Angles are extremely important and emphasized both for social dance execution and performance presence. For social dancing, dancers must be aware of angles to partners at all times. Half the lead is signaled through the positioning of body in space rather than physically leading a move. Salsa can be both linear and circular. The style we focus on is linear, through which leaders must be aware of how to use the angle of the body to open up space for the followers while followers must be aware of the angle of the frame to the partners so as not to inhibit the lead. We often talk about 90 degree frame positions, 180 degree travel, and even some of our moves are called by names of angles, such as the 360.

Carrying that further into performance, lines become thoroughly emphasized when working on presence and synchronicity. We establish positioning of arm and leg styling by use of angles, body position by symmetry, presence by parallel and perpendicular forms, and other similar uses. In a show, I know exactly at what angle my arm, body, head, leg, etc. need to be.

5. When dancers are moving in a performance, how much is “mathematical thinking and calculating where the space is” and how much is “feel for the space”?

Spatial awareness tends to be more of a feel of the space with set boundaries. For shows, we must decide center stage, stage boundaries, and in which portion of the stage we must begin, end, and dance within. For example, we might have a situation in which spotlight shines center stage, and when lights open fully, we must stay within a 2/3 area of the stage where lights are shining. After setting guidelines, the remainder becomes a “feel for the space” as we perform.

Formations require a really important feel of both the space and people around you. When you are developing shapes as a group, everyone has to be tuned into the distance of one person to the next and placement within the stage.

6. Is estimation good enough or do you rely on accurate measurement of distances and times?

Accurate measurements are important in defining how much space we have to use to make sure choreographies are workable within the limits. Estimation is good enough for everything thereafter, unless we want a particular formation that involves set spotlights/ lighting requiring dancers to lead in an exact area.

7.  How aware are you of timing and beat in dance?

Timing is one of the most important subjects in our school. We actually teach music classes in addition to dance classes to keep people connected to what dancing “in time” really means.

Our style of dance uses syncopated counts in which dancers sometimes step between beats and not always right on top of pulse. This requires one to always be attentive to the present moment at which the count is happening and maintain an internal pulse (think of a ticking clock) while coordinating steps both on and between pulse at any given time. The body is maintaining a separate rhythm, and it is very common to switch from a syncopated time to one right on top of pulse, depending on the step, requiring the dancer to always be attentive to the space and duration of one beat to the next.

8. Have you ever used math and physics to explain your technique, movement or choreography?

Although I loved math, I disliked physics. However, even then, I do use physics terms at times to explain connection to partnering, force applied in lead/follow, and execution of lifts and dips. Math (mostly geometry) terms are often used in explanation of movement, technique, and choreography.

9. Do you look at statistics much to analyse your art?

I actually think statistics might be the one subject I don’t use in the explanation of my art, but then statistics and probability were my least favorite math subjects. J I love spontaneity!

10. Do you have any other insights to offer into how you use mathematics in dance?

One of our company’s most famous choreographies is “Take Five”, danced to Dave Brubeck’s famous jazz song in odd 5/4 timing signature. To choreograph to it, we had to develop a way to dance salsa (normally in 4/4 timing) to it. We took 6 steps over an 8 count and adjusted them to 6 steps over a 10 count, requiring an upswing and tap of the step to fill duration of time. Since, we have experimented with different timing signatures and continue to explore new ways of movement in time.

Back in 2002, I was the Latin Dance Coordinator for a sister city project between the city of Cambridge, MA and Cienfuegos, Cuba. On this trip, I had the opportunity to listen to a kids’ band with a very unique teaching method. In an effort to help at risk kids who were having trouble with math studies, the teacher had developed a program in which he would teach them how to play music through the explanation of math. It was the 5th cycle of the program and had been very successful in getting the youth to become more interested in their studies and more understanding of math subjects. I thought this was a particularly profound and benevolent idea as he was helping them become successful students in a fun and yet systematic way. I hope more programs like this are eventually developed, but it is also a very innovative idea to try to find a similar approach through dance.

Thank you Ana and Joel for such wonderfully detailed and thoughtful responses. I really love the idea of salsa to "Take 5" - see the video above, it is amazing!

#### 1 comment:

1. Nice post on dance. For the new dancer wanting to learn to dance for the first time, Salsa is a great choice. The most popular of the partner dances, it is very welcoming to beginning dancers with plenty of resources available as well.

Any comments you would like to make?