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SalsaLand: 2004 West Coast Salsa Congress
SALSALAND: West Coast
SALSA CONGRESS REVIEW
Disneyland for kids, Universal Studios for movie buffs, how ‘bout a Salsaland
for us (or Salsa’R Us)? Wait a minute! We already got one! The West Coast Salsa
Congress. Too bad it’s opened only one long weekend per year. Wouldn’t it be
great to have a permanent Salsaland with humongous (and even) wooden dance
floor, workshops and lessons areas, a film theater showing old and new salsa
clips, a music lounge playing hits in all salsa styles and even “Flash-trash
Corners” for show-offs and “Cliques Quarters” for snobs. One can dream, no?
Anyway, this year’s congress was almost there: we had it all under huge tents
built specifically for that purpose. Responses from seasoned congress goers were
overwhelmingly positive. But what about newcomers to the scene? What do you
think the most famous judges from American Idol Simon, Paula and Randy would
“Paula – Wow, I was a dancer and even I didn’t know salsa was so popular! There
were thousands of people at this event.
Randy – Yeah, dawg! Albert Torres Productions had to build tents to accommodate
everybody. That’s it, now that I’ve lost weight; I’m taking salsa lessons. What
d’you say, Simon? We can practice together like some of these guys who dance
with each other ignoring gorgeous women around them.
Simon – Randy, if you can transform yourself to look and dance like Maya Torres
I’m your man. Before that, I’d rather watch those peacocks on the dance floor.
P – Oh, come on, Simon! They are just good dancers proud of their success.
What’s wrong if they want to display it?
S – That’s what the shows are for, Paula. We watched so many groups in so little
time it’s impossible to absorb it all. We even missed a few due to the
unpredictable bussing schedules. However, I was impressed by some performances,
especially couples. Don’t forget though, it’s much harder to achieve a flawless
R – Nevertheless, groups like Tropical Jam from Italy (simply wow!), Swing
Latino from Colombia (dude, these guys’ footwork was so intricate and effortless
you’d think they came out dancing out of their mothers’ wombs), Bones on 1 from
Liquid Silver Productions, Salsa Dance Squad from Netherlands (showpiece), Salsa
Brava that performed for the last time, Alex da Silva group from LA (smoooooooth
daaaaaawg) and a few others are top notch. Mainstream producers should start
paying attention to these dancers and give them a chance to perform at national
S – It’s a shame that in America even Latin entertainment shows like Latin
Grammys and others never have salsa dancers on stage, even with salsa music.
Salsa congresses attracting thousands of people all over the world still remain
under the American entertainment radar. Just watch that idiotic movie Havana
Nights – what kind of dancing is that?
P – At least, we agree on something, Simon. I’d like to mention these incredible
duos as well: a couple from Tropical Jam blew the audience away. Their technique
and precision are unmatched. These dancers practice 3 hours every day and
they’ve been performing professionally for 8 years. No wonder. Other star
performances included Al and Edie, Jhesus Aponte & Marielys Molina, Rodrigo and
Essenia, Olivia &Hector, Omar Hidalgo & Olaya Muentes to name just a few.
R – One particular performance touched me more than others: Ana & Joel Mazacote
from Boston danced salsa to a jazz classic Take 5 written decades ago by Paul
Desmond and made immortal by the legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck. They did
not even choose a Latin arrangement of this tune. They stuck to the original
composition written in 5/4 beats – uneven number theoretically impossible to
dance to, especially salsa that needs 4 beats. But they did it!
S – I must say that I was getting bored watching so many performances with many
similar moves and tricks. I wanted someone to do something different for a
change, something that can stand out in this sea of arm-twisting patterns,
multiple spins and senseless themes that have no connection to the music. Wild
West Mambo started with a scene reminiscent of Crucifixion accompanied by solemn
music. One would expect something interesting to come out of that one. But then
you hear happy tunes and Roman soldiers (?) dancing salsa. Well, I guess they
were the original Latinos.
I started noting only the very best performances that stood out in any way. Ana
& Joel are certainly on that list not because of their dance originality, but
because of their music choice. Another 3 dancers got on top of my list:
Brazilian Alex Lima who lives in Paris, Edwin and Tony from LA who showed in
their routines amazing originality and connection to the music. Alex’ solo is
nothing less than a musical piece played by his body; Edwin first played congas
and than reflected those rhythms in his choreography; Edwin and Tony (the kid
who brought the house down last year at the SF Salsa Congress with his
imitations of famous salseros) danced to an old Tito Puente arrangement where
even their props reflected the music beats. Superb!
R – There were other interesting ideas as well. Clavekazi Dance Company from
Washington created an unusual routine based on martial arts moves. One can only
imagine the work involved in that choreography. One group (didn’t get their
name) used puppets, Duo Tap from San Francisco tapped to salsa music; Salsa
Passion (?) from Vancouver presented a routine with commercials; Latin Dance
Australia used magic tricks with the help of twin dancers; Tropical Jam couple
mentioned similarity between American plantation slaves and Puerto-Rican
peasants and then danced to an amazing arrangement of Summertime by Cheo
Feliciano incorporating blues and bolero. Now that makes sense!
P – I was also impressed by the general high level of Japanese and South Korean
salseros. However, my personal favorites are San Francisco, Bay Area dancers.
After all they are my homies...Salsamania, PB&G, Ricasalsa, Evolution Latina,
Latin Symbolics, Los Matanceros and salsagangers – a toast to you all guys, you
did great! If I know anything about salsa, it’s thanks to you all!
Too bad we can’t mention all of the deserving dancers in a short revue. The
public often does not realize how much work is required to learn salsa and to
prepare even a short routine. These salseros rehearse for months and most of
them have other jobs. Thanks to congresses like this one they have a chance to
perform in front of their peers and exchange ideas.
R – Yeah, Albert Torres deserves a medal for organizing these events and
popularizing salsa all over the globe, especially in the US where he must
overcome many obstacles. Most folks are not aware of what it takes to get a
congress like this off the ground.
S – Some things need to be ironed out, however. Events, workshops and shows are
scheduled almost back-to-back, but the bussing problem caused many to miss their
planned activities. People like having all under one roof, maybe a different
hotel is in order, or, at least, daytime workshops and performances can be held
at the hotel. Most importantly, sloping linoleum dance floors should be avoided
at all costs. Not all salseros are skillful enough to dance even on sand. Signs
over the workshops areas (A, B, C etc.) wouldn’t hurt either.
P – You know, Albert Torres Productions has a great slogan: Creating Unity
Through Salsa. Many salseros need to pay attention to this. I was warned
beforehand, - and it’s true to some extent, - many dancers from different towns
remain isolated on the dance floor dancing primarily with partners they know.
What is it, shyness, fear of rejection, self-deprecation? All of the above?
R – Well, you know these salseros, Paula, especially dudes. They’re afraid to
look bad. It’s one of the reasons why so many perfect their technique, but are
afraid to improvise, respond to the music. Maybe we can suggest a few ideas to
help them mix and mingle.
P – How about those birthday dances popular among swing devotees. Birthday guys
and gals dance with rotating partners and for the next tune everybody on the
dance floor must pick out a partner from the audience when the master of
ceremonies says “switch partners” It’s repeated several times until everybody is
dancing. That way you avoid asking and you get to know fellow salseros from
outside of your immediate circle. What do you think, Simon?
S - ???? Leave me out of this, Paula!
R – Another idea might be to wear nametags with your city printed on it for
people who would not refuse an invitation. They can be of different colors
designating your dance level: for example, blue for advanced and professionals
(blue bloods), red for intermediates and green for beginners. That way you know
what you’re facing, avoid embarrassment and help socializing and creating ties.
S – OK, in the same vein, a square tag meaning “beware: I’ll step on you and
won’t apologize”. What if I don’t want to wear a tag?
P & R – Then you’re on your own, Simon. Besides, who would want to dance with
you? You could join the snots in the Cliques’ Quarters. Oh, we forgot – you
S – I’d rather listen to the music. This year the band selection was beyond any
salsero’s wildest dreams: Spanish Harlem, Orquesta de la Luz, Africando, El Gran
Combo and others. However, at this congress one could detect increase in
popularity of classic mambo. Thursday night in particular mambo ruled with
Johnny Pacheco band and that DJ that played one classic mambo hit after another
P – Even the popular Mexican couple Victor & Gaby danced on 2.
R – A few groups like Salsational Dancers and others used swing music and
routines. Los Rumberos used even zuit suits from the swing era. Duke Ellington’s
Caravan was the chosen accompaniment for 3 performances – all of them different
arrangements, but all brilliant.
S – What’s still missing though is improvisation in social salsa dancing. I
watched many sensational and technically perfect dancers who ignored the music
completely. Only Al and Edie are actually introducing responses to music accents
on the dance floor. They organize events with swing dancers who have a
long-standing tradition of playing with music. Hopefully it’ll eventually catch
on with other salseros.
P – I’ve talked to many congress attendees who had an overwhelmingly positive
experience. How can they last for 4 days with such intense schedules and only a
few hours of sleep? Nevertheless, you see those dazed smiles on their
faces...People fly from all over the world to be here. That’s what I call
S – I must say, this congress opened my eyes to the exciting world I might have
never known. Simply put it – superb!”
There you have it – couldn’t have said it better myself.
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