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Clave is the key element to salsa of all varieties, be it from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela or anywhere! Without clave, you do not have salsa music or dancing. It is not enough to read and understand the rhythm from a technical point of view, it is something you must learn to FEEL inside yourself. You must internalize the rhythm before you can really be a good dancer.

Barbara Craddock teaches workshops en clave, dances en clave, lives, breathes and dreams en clave!

Descarga.com defines "Clave" as:
Clave -- A five-note, bi-measure pattern which serves as the foundation for all of the rhythmic styles in salsa music. The clave consists of a "strong" measure containing three notes (also called the tresillo), and a "weak" measure containing two notes, resulting in patterns beginning with either measure, referrred to as "three-two" or two-three." There are two types of clave patterns associated with popular (secular) music: son clave and rumba clave. Another type of clave - 6/8 clave - originated in several styles of West African sacred music.
Claves -- Two round, polished sticks which are used to play the clave patterns.

You can find a very well-written technical definition written by Dr. Clave (David Peñalosa) of Bembé Records HERE.

Dancing On Clave

By: Barbara Craddock

Latin music is a mixture of two distinctly different musical genres -- the hypnotic repetitive syncopation found in African music, and the European or western “square” rhythm. Clave is a syncopated rhythm covering two bars in 4/4 time. It seeded in Cuba in the very early 1800’s. The slaves were fascinated by the chamber orchestras entertaining the plantation owners at their soirees, and the plantation owners were mesmerized by the rhythmic sounds emanating from the slave quarters. Each tinkered with the other’s sound, until in 1803, the first “hint” of clave was heard in a 1-1/2 minute composition, combining chamber instruments in their classic patterns and the African clave sticks, distinctly tapping out da da da, da da. All Latin music is written in clave. All of the instruments in the orchestra play in clave; therefore, dancers in order to be “in rhythm” must learn to step on the clave.

The syncopated rhythm of the clave governs all Latin music. It is its metronome. It is what gives Latin music its swing. A full clave has two halves, a front half, and a back half. For the dancer, the two side of the clave is its strong side, (musically it is the weak side), which is marked on the forward step by the male, and the back step by the female. If one counts the eight beats in two bars of music, the forward clave, called a 3/2 clave, is counted 1, 2-1/2, 4, 6, 7, with the two side being the 6, 7. In a reverse clave called a 2/3 clave, it is counted 2, 3, 5, 6-1/2, 8, with the two side being the 2, 3. Most of today’s music is written as a forward clave or a 3/2 clave. As a dancer, you train your ear to hear the two-side first, and step accordingly, no matter which way it runs. Once you do, you no longer have to count. Clave in Spanish, translated means “key” in English, supporting the fact, that clave is the “key” to the music. Claves are a musical instrument, two wooden sticks, that when tapped together mark the distinct rhythmic clicking sound of the clave. The larger one held in the left hand is the female or the hembra, and the smaller one, the striker, is the male, or the macho, in the right hand.

Depending upon how the music is written, these measures may start on either side. Thus, playing the 2-side first results in 2-3 clave, and beginning on the 3-side produces a 3-2 clave. From there, the clave remains consistent through every measure of the song; you just continue alternating measures. (Infrequently, the orchestra might reverse the clave in the middle of a number. Only the most experienced dancers will change with it.)

Much controversy exists regarding how to dance Salsa. On-1 dancers and On-2 dancers continually bicker about which way is better, each group insisting that their way is correct. However, to achieve greatness, one must dance without counting, not On-1 or On-2, but on the clave, by learning to hear, identify and use it in the dance.

On-1 dancers dance outside the music. On-2 dancers dance on top of the music. Clave dancers dance inside the music, which gives the dance a completely different flavor.

I was an On-2 dancer for years, having graduated from On-1 many years ago. I was hooked On-2, and knew no other way. When I met my partner, the great Cuban Pete, his comment was that I was a very good dancer but I was “off rhythm.” I was shocked. He taught me to pay attention to the clave and use it in my dancing without counting. In turn, it liberated me, and took me to a higher plateau.

Dancing On-2 is a misnomer, and if one looks at the diagram above, you will see that the second beat of the clave, on the 3 side, is 2-1/2 not 2. Dancing On-2 originally meant stepping out on the second beat of the 3 side of the clave . Over time, the concept became bleached to make it easier for the masses to adapt, and the studios began to teach the two as the second beat in the measure not the second beat of the clave, thus westernizing or Americanizing the Latin timing. What happens is that the step-out is too quick, and the dancer is not able to use the ½ beat hesitation to “slide in”. That movement separates ordinary from extraordinary. 1-2-3-5-6-7, and/or 2-3-4-6-7-8, is not clave.

Rock musicians keep time or tap on the 1st and 3rd beats of the 4 beat bar, jazz musicians the 2nd and 4th beat, and Latin musicians the clave; hence, to dance Latin on rhythm, one must dance on the clave.

Many people ask how to achieve this goal. Listen to music in which the orchestra uses claves (sticks) predominately. Train your ear to hear it, and then try stepping on the clave beats. You will feel yourself blending into the music and you will begin to dance on another level. Enjoy it!

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be published, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of the author, Barbara Craddock - cubanpeteent@aol.com 

Photo Courtesy of the Miami HeraldCuban Pete & Barbara Craddock became part of Latin dance history as they danced on canvas for International Latin Music Hall of Fame Artist, Erich Padilla.

Posted on Thu, Jul. 18, 2002

Mambo icon turns dance into fine art


Now is your chance to follow in the footsteps of a master.

Cuban Pete, the dance icon who is widely considered the father of the mambo, is the subject of a new art project that has the 75-year-old literally treading new ground.

On Wednesday night, ''Cuban'' Pete Aguilar and partner Barbara Craddock dipped their feet in paint and boogied on a paper ''canvas'' at the Byron-Carlyle Arts Center in Miami Beach.

Meanwhile, artist Erich Padilla, who works for the International Latin Music Hall of Fame, recorded their motions on another sheet in broad strokes by using a wooden clave dipped in paint.

Padilla will merge the gyrations with realistic portrayals of the pair for an exhibit that will include separate canvases of Aguilar and Craddock's footstep motions in paint.

The exhibit, which will include mambo-inspired floral paintings, footage of Aguilar and a music-listening station, will be held at the arts center later this year.

''People don't know their past,'' said Padilla, who has painted other legends, such as Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. "Ricky Martin and Luis Miguel -- they got their moves from somewhere.''

That past is Aguilar, who still moves with the unreal grace of a cheetah.

He earned his stripes performing at New York City's Palladium theater and was the choreographer for the film The Mambo Kings.

Craddock and Aguilar met in the 1950s, when they danced at North Beach clubs from 7 p.m. until the sun came up. It was then that the roots of modern salsa were born on Aguilar's blurred footsteps.

''North Beach was the Mecca of mambo,'' Craddock, 62, said. "We've adopted it as our home because of its devotion to the mambo.''

It's that fervor that Padilla is looking to capture in paint. While Craddock jokes about being a gringa in a Spanish-speaking scene, she and Aguilar agree that the art project will capture the history of mambo for generations.

All you have to do is follow the footsteps.




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