Friday, 18 October 2013

Playing with Triplets

I've been doing a bit of choreography recently - nothing unusual there, as I usually have several on the go or under revision (lots of choreography UFOs!). I switch between them as the mood takes me.  As I found myself adding triple steps to one, I looked back at a couple of recently completed pieces and I started to wonder: Do I use triple steps too often? Do any of my choreographies not have a triple step somewhere? (Answer: Probably not.) Anyway, why not use them when they are so simple and flexible?

All this set me thinking about triple steps, or triplets as they're often called. Triple step/triplet is a general term for any dance move which involves three steps, alternating the feet. Left right left, right left right. As usual, when I say step, I mean transfer your weight onto that foot. It's simple and pretty much universal. Examples are everywhere: the 'step-ball-change' used in jazz, modern and tap; ballroom dances such as the waltz and cha-cha-cha; the bouncy pas de basque used in ballet and many European folk dances; and ballet's chassé and pas de bourrée.

Triplets are also a basic step in contemporary dance and classes often include an exercise travelling across the floor, exploring the permutations of direction and placement of steps, switching between a flat foot, with or without a bent knee, and the ball of the foot, creating moments of hesitation or suspension; done in place, travelling, changing direction, turning. I used to get lost trying to work out all of the permutations for contemporary triplets and ballet pas de bourrée variations.

In belly dance, triple steps are used as one of the basic travelling steps and are very useful for travelling or changing the leading foot. With triple steps you can fly around, float, tip-toe in place, switch directions, weave to and fro, layer hip accents and shimmies and have endless fun playing around.  Here are some of my favourites:
  • Fly around the space with a 2/4 Malfuf rhythm. Stepping in time with the drum rhythm: Doum-tak-tak, flatfoot-toes-toes.
  • Float around with a 3/4 'Waltz' time, as if you are waltzing.  Pretty and effective with a veil.
  • With 4/4 rhythms, beat 4 can be used to add fluid or accented move, pivot turn, arm/hand gesture, whatever. You can repeat the same triplet on the other side, but use a different accent, or use the 'power of three' and do the same triplet and accent three times, then a completely different triplet and accent (or something completely different) for the fourth bar of four beats. You can travel and create pathways through the space, or stay almost on the spot.  If you want to be on balance for an accent or gesture movement on beat four, be careful not to take a large third step.
Here's a selection of triplets to play with:

Triple step A regular step with alternating feet, often done on the toes and stepping forward, together, in place, with the fourth beat used to swing the leg forward to take the next step. You can chant 'Tri-Ple-Step-And-Tri-Ple-Step-And' as you do it. You can travel backwards with them too, and add hip accents such as lifts/taqs, drops/chonks or twists. Another variation is effectively one and a half rocking steps - forward-back-forward, which can be done travelling forward or to the side, and layered with an undulation/camel so that you are doing two camels leading with one foot, then two with the other.

Side Together Side (faster and with a little jump after the first step, this becomes a chassé). Instead of stepping together (i.e. the second step to bring the foot to rest alongside the other foot), you could step across in front or behind.

Half grapevine/Opening the Gate/Link or Horse-shoe Step Finding a name which everyone agrees on is the most difficult thing about this step! Usually travels side to side with the lower body turning to face the diagonals. You step (alternating feet) across in front, to the side, then behind.

Back-Back-Forward Step back, second step to join the first, then forward again, toes-toes-flat.

Forward-Forward-Back Step forward, second step to join the first, then back again, toes, toes, flat. The tribal style 'double back' move is this triplet with a double hip drop accent at the end, the first drop happening as you step back.

3-Step Turn Is also a triple step and can be done travelling to cover space, or on the spot, sideways, forwards; in any direction you like really, but the trick is to take your first step and look in the direction of travel, and use some turn-out from the hip. Even if you are travelling, there's no need to take huge steps - keeping your feet 'under you' can help with balance.

Arabesque Unlike the ballet pose, standing on one leg with the other extended behind, in Middle Eastern Dance this usually refers to a pattern of steps with a quarter or half pivot turn. E.g. step across front, side, front and a pivot turn, in which the working leg may be extended behind, or just lifted from the knee (or other variations).  Can be done all on the toes, or flat-flat-toes. Be careful not to try to swing the lifted leg round to do the pivot turn.  The leg and foot should stay in place during the turn and then the foot comes down and through to step again. Turning the raised leg out slightly from the hip and pointing the toe creates a more graceful line.

So here's a little something to stimulate your creativity; a spot of homework, if you like. Over 8 bars of 4/4 rhythm, create a 32 beat sequence which uses all of these triplets, including two variations of the triple step. That's 8 counts of 4, 8 triplets with any move you like on count 4.

Want more?  You could double the length by adding some sort of static move in between each triplet, or repeating each triplet on the other side.

Go ahead! Experiment!  I know you'll create some lovely dance and you can show me the next time I see you!

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