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San Francisco Salsa Congress Review 2007:

A Review of the San Francisco Salsa Dance Congress in 2007

By Maya

Numbers don’t lie: the attendance at the most important Bay Area salsa event is growing every year, but are we getting jaded?  It felt like the excitement was subdued this year – little pre-congress hype even though local groups and competitors were better than ever.

As usual, Café Cocomo hosted the congress pre-party and as usual, you would be hard-pressed to find a spot to dance in this popular club with one of the biggest dance floors in the city – 3 of them actually.  Most were Bay Area salseros, many visitors, but not many NY or East Coast dancers, if any (not counting the instructors).  Could it be the music?

This year the opening night featured a new band comprised of Bay Area top salsa musicians.  Problem is, they want to be listened to, not danced to, thus, an inherent conflict:  when each luminary wants a solo, long songs begin testing dancers’ endurance.  In one piece, the rhythm section’s repetitive riff sounded like a broken record behind a barely distinguishable conga (or was it a long pause?). 

New Swing Sextet delivered quality, as they always do, and they alternated between fast salsa and slower mambo to satisfy various tastes.  Fruco y Sus Tesos, however, is primarily a fast salsa band so Sat night DJs should have concentrated on slower pace tunes.   Bay Area has a large number of on2 dancers by now, but our music tastes are still in the fast salsa sphere (or so one would think).  Mambo fans should not stay away or leave, but speak up if they want to hear their faves.

We’re already used to the congress’ smooth sailing: everything being well organized thanks to Ricardo and Michelle’s hard working team of volunteers.  Changes in vendors booths’ layout and bigger seating area for shows were welcome improvements.  There were comments suggesting a dance room opened during performances, but previous years experience showed not too many salseros show up.

Some Fri night performances were quite memorable: Ruby Karen Project from LA, Salsarica trio from Calgary, Martin from LA with his impressive Israeli partner Esti.  PB&G Rising Stars confirmed its reputation of a well-rounded team, but another Bay Area group not getting a lot of attention lately received a warm welcome this time.  Ava Apple, her partner Rodolfo and another female dancer presented a mini-show using non-salsa music and a few interesting lifts.  It was not a technique-laden salsa performance, but it was different and it was well received (maybe because of it).

First Sat. night show started with a bang (and ruined it for all the teams that followed): a long-awaited unveiling of a new Bay Area group with Seon Stylist as the master, the singer and the group’s maestro.  Not to contribute to his already healthy self-respect, but this performance deserved its success.  It was not just a dance, it was a production with props that showcased Seon’s many talents: his original salsa arrangement of one of Ledisi’s songs recorded by the local band Mazacote as well as singing and dancing with his superbly trained group.  Even occasional pitchy notes did not spoil the overall impression.

However, with the Bay Area dancers’ quality improving each year, one would be hard pressed to stay on top.  PB&G showed another head spinning routine; Afinkao did much better than last year; Ricasensacion revived its previous Thriller routine with changed choreography (much of it from the original video) that was cheered by the audience.  Already famous in the salsa world, Junior and Emily demonstrated their spinning and pretzel techniques before adoring fans.

This year, the public’s favorites, Swinguys from Milan, were absent, but another Italian newcomer, Massimo Rea took their place and danced a unique solo number mixing hip-hop and salsa moves and music.  Ricardo and Viviana from Colombia came back and once again demonstrated their high professionalism – impeccable execution, high energy and connection with the spectators.  Their trademark fast footwork reminiscent of samba is so polished it makes you think they came out of their mother’s womb dancing to her heartbeat.

One presentation in particular appealed to everybody.  A young couple from LA, Cesar, 22, and Natasha, 17, danced a retro routine to a classic mambo tune by Perez Prado. They incorporated some old mambo moves, some 20s charleston moves, some tap footwork and put it all together with a perfect response to the music. Even multiple spins were done not to show off their technique, but in response to the “spinning” part of the music: Natasha spinning on every beat and Cezar accentuating the first beat only. It was so creative, so effortless and so in character this routine will become a classic.  (It would also be a great contender for So You Think You Can Dance).  Cesar’s lead in social dancing was also flawless and with his sweet disposition, this young man is a poster kid for salseros everywhere. 

Another number that could match Seon’s elaborate presentation was Gigu’s Show – a Salsamania member and a rising Indian singing star.  Modernized Indian pop with Latin flavor, a gorgeous singer and sexy salseras on his arms – what can possibly go wrong?

Shows are entertaining, but another integral part of the SF congress is its Sunday competitions.  Once again, it’s so gratifying to see how the competitors’ level grows from year to year.  Divided in 5 categories, the competitions determine winners eligible to participate in the World Salsa Competition held in Orlando’s Disney resort in December.  Televised by ESPN in many countries, this year it will be broadcasted in the US as well.  As an added bonus to the prestige, congress winners get free flights and lodging at the competition hotel.

In the Amateurs division, Bay Area favorites Dakin and Kayono took the second place.  To win it, Kayono needs to polish her styling and feel more secure executing the routine.  In Cabaret division there was only one couple – local dancers Alex Lee and Kim Nodora who automatically qualified for the Orlando competition, but a newcomer Kim must work hard to “withstand” Alex’ tricks and look like a dancer, not just a prop – not an easy job J

In Groups division, Son de Mania from Oakland could have taken the first place if not for a few mistakes.  The winning team Majesty in Motion from San Diego had less complicated patterns, but was smoother.  Once again, judges favored quality over intricacy and speed.

In On2 division Enrique and Vero from San Jose were terrific, they almost matched the winners – Bay Area prodigy Luis Antonio and his NY partner Anya, a Russian immigrant who has been dancing ballroom since she was 3.  As good as they were, Luis and Anya’s performance seemed effortless and more refined.

The On1 division had many competing couples that were fairly close on the technical level.  To make matters worse, all of them picked a fast routine putting judges in the difficult position to discern the best ones.  If only one couple dared to be different, at least in some ways, that alone might have attracted the judges’ attention.

Depending on who you ask, the viewers agree or disagree with judges’ choices, but almost everyone thinks that, at the very least,  San Francisco’s Ricardo and Tianne should have placed. If there were a couple capable of being different, they could.  Ricardo is already well known for his musicality and creativity; his rigorous training with professional coaches paid off and Tianne is the only professional dancer in the Bay Area salsa circles who can send most followers packing.  Together, they created an interesting routine - too bad, it was too fast to showcase their abilities.

Last year, the Sunday Jack and Jill competitions for all and for professionals only set a precedent for salsa congresses.  This year, once again, a Bay area dancer, Orlando, won the open J&J with his Mexican partner.

The professional J&J, usually by invitation only, lacked followers and one of the local girls was invited to join.  Masha ( another Russian émigré) danced with Milton Cobo and they won the competition!  This was a breakthrough no one could have predicted.  Her original style and energy charmed the spectators and she could follow the master seemingly without any problems.

If SF congress democratizes its Professionals’ J&J and allows this trend to continue I would bet Sunday afternoons will attract more public than any other day.  Just look at the popularity of Dancing with the Stars.  How about Dancing with the Salsa Stars?  Each pro can invite a local non-professional during social dancing, or watch the open J&J to choose one.  Then pros and amateurs can randomly pick each other before the competition and even have some time to practice.  Wouldn’t that be fun? 

I guess I have to wake up now – how many pro salseros would be willing to do this and risk a bad image? You gotta go social dancing, dance with “nobodies”…, but if they do, think how the increased popularity of the event and  the ability to dance with non-pros would multiply your student population thanks to all the youtube clips that will pop up. Will the SF congress become a pioneer and make its mark in the world of salsa again?  We’ll see…;-)

Maya Salsaloca

San Francisco


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