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2nd International San Francisco Salsa Congress
After the overwhelming success of the first congress last year as well as the
star-studded event this year the Bay Area will sure be placed on the world salsa
map. San Francisco is a prime tourist destination in North America; November is
a dreary month in many parts of the world, but here it'll be sunny (most of the
time); Marriott's location near the airport with a free shuttle to and from and
10 min. drive from the city is convenient for sightseeing; Bay Area has a
thriving salsa community with many dance troupes, instructors and live bands;
salsa clubs such as Cafe Cocomo, The Glas Kat and others are packed with dancers
and social butterflies. Diana Bowen, the beloved salsa promoter and the "high
priestess" of the local dancers' "church", Cafe Cocomo, was honored at the
congress by its organizers for her dedication and hard work. The club's primary
goal to keep its patrons happy made it the center of salsa life in the Bay Area.
The popularity of salsa congresses is growing; new ones are popping up all over
the place. They're becoming a unique opportunity for all aspiring salseros to
meet their idols in person, to learn new stuff, exchange ideas, perform on
stage, hear great bands, dance with visiting performers and instructors, observe
them "in action" etc. etc.
This year we had the pleasure of hearing the legendary Spanish Harlem orchestra
with world-renowned musicians such as Ray de la Paz and Jimmy Bosch. The DJs'
selections were also a vast improvement from last year's "speedy Gonzalez"
salsa. Only the dance floor remains a "law suite waiting to happen" with its
Even the quality of dance performances and competitors improved overall. I
wouldn't want to be part of the jury faced with a difficult task of choosing the
best. There were no clear-cut choices. Why not make judging criteria and
individual judges' scores public? It would help understand how the judges
arrived at their decisions, prevent favoritism and clear doubts in their
Amateur competitors were particularly impressive this year. Their polished
performances rivaled those of professionals. Alex and Lisbeth from LA who took
the first place are definitely ready to challenge professionals. So do second
place winners Sheila and Billy from SF. Another couple from the Bay Area Sandy
and Bryan presented a simple but original routine with an interesting music
choice. Although they did not place, it will be worthwhile to watch their
Professionals on one and two (should there be a distinction?) presented a
particular challenge to the judges. Most were equally strong so the panel sided
with the public. Mexican couple Victor and Gaby's flawless performance combining
Mexican dance moves with salsa received most cheers and got the first place in
"on 1" category. Second place winners, San Francisco's own muscular Alex and
tiny Chi wowed the audience with a series of complicated lifts. World-renowned
pros Salomon Rivera Liz Lira presented a polished routine, but were placed
"On 2" winners Junior and his sister 14-year old Emily are the darlings of SF
salsa community. Who could resist their charm? Ana and Orville from Toronto
who brought the house down with their innovative routine and won the first place
last year had only 3 points difference with the second place winners Edwin and
Stephanie and placed third this time around. However, this couple's potential is
limitless. Each of their performances is a spectacle. You want to sit close to
the stage when you watch them perform, - you wouldn't want to miss Orville's
priceless funny facial expressions. Move over Juan Matos and Frankie Martinez.
Orville's control of every muscle in his body is amazing. Too bad he reserves it
only for shows.
Another simple but interesting presentation by Raul and Yuri is worth noting.
Dance shows were a blast this year. The above-mentioned competing couples
Orville and Ana, Raul and Yuri, Victor and Gaby were just as impressive in their
The legend himself, Alex "Mr. Smooth" da Silva presented a routine combining
tango with salsa. His new partner Nina kept her cool in spite of his usual
choreographic "advances". Son De Kali, a group from Colombia, incorporated
swing and samba steps in closed position. Salsa with little if any footwork in
partner patterns would benefit from such innovations. These 4 dancers looked
truly professional with their relaxed but polished technique and amazing
footwork that looked effortless.
The reigning kings and queens of LA's spectacular salsa style, Salsa Brava, once
again upheld their reputation as a top-notch group. However, they are facing
serious competition in the newly created Al's Liquid Silver Dancers. Al and Edie
could always be counted on to bring something unusual, often with a touch of
humor, to the salsa community that sometimes takes itself too seriously. As
always, their own performance was technically flawless, artistically inspiring
and, perhaps most importantly, connected to the music. These talented salseros
are ready to break out of the Latin circles into the mainstream America and make
salsa a double-meaning word. It's time for a decisive effort to close the gap.
Did you notice lately how many commercials are using Latin music?
Caribbean Soul from New Jersey incorporated music accents by "playing" bass and
guitar drawn on the backs of the followers' costumes. Hopefully, playing with
music will eventually spread beyond choreographed routines onto the dance floor.
(Read an excellent article by Edie Focus on the Music
I've also written
Music Connection 101
with some practical suggestions and
Feeling the Music by Donna Goode
is also worth reading!
We also heard an unexpected singing performance from one of the Caribbean Soul
dancers. There's a singer waiting to happen. She stayed on pitch even without
musical accompaniment. From one singer to another: don't waist this amazing
voice, girl! (Something that cannot be said about Seaon's Happy Birthday. You're
always in key with your feet so stick to dancing, Seaon)
Speaking of unexpected performances, a special present from the event promoter
Albert Torres was a 14-year old from LA who imitated the footwork of two salsa
greats: Felipe Polanco and Frankie Martinez. Remember this kid's name - Tony
Calles. He's on his way to stardom.
Out of dozens of performers I circled the most impressive ones - the majority.
It's impossible to render justice to all of them in a short review. However,
one group deserves a particular mention. It burst on the Bay Area salsa scene
with a blast: shortly after its creation it took second place in the Bay Area
salsa competition. PB&G and their leaders Ricardo and Michelle host this
congress. They're faced with enormous challenges getting ready for the big
event, working at the congress AND rehearsing their routines. In spite of this
huge workload their performance was impeccable, full of energy and spunk.
Ricardo and Michelle also train two other groups: Rising Stars and their
students whose progress is noticeable with every performance. How do they do it?
The SF congress will undoubtedly become one of the most popular salsa events in
the world. One word of caution, however. Lets not forget that salsa is a social
dance first and foremost. It's great that aspiring dancers are striving for
excellence and recognition by performing on stage, but their busy rehearsing
schedule is taking them away from the clubs where they can and should dance with
other dancers of all levels. This will assure their flexibility and ability to
lead and follow a variety of styles, not just their own.
Even at the congress many salseros were often seen dancing with their own group
members or someone they knew. Is it shyness, snobbism or fear of not being able
to dance with someone with a different set of patterns? Perhaps all three?
Another potentially harmful effect of advanced dancers' absence from salsa
clubs: they are part of clubs' appeal and entertainment. Their dancing is
inspiring to patrons who will want to learn salsa thus assuring its survival. It
is especially paramount to instructors whose livelihood depends on the influx of
new blood. The most popular and successful instructors know that their
accessibility to amateurs will insure their good reputation.
Some instructors and group leaders repeatedly remind their dancers and students
to dance with partners of all levels; however, we all know the unspoken truth
about some salseros' snobbish attitudes. Yes, dancing with someone below your
level is not much fun and if your tolerance expired refuse if you must, but, at
least, be polite about it. Don't just walk away or pretend you didn't hear an
invitation. Remember that your superficial judgment may be wrong and your
unknown potential partner may turn out to be better than you, especially at
congresses where the vast majority of dancers are above the intermediate level.
Having said that, I'd like to acknowledge those generous souls who are always
willing to dance with anybody regardless of their skill level. Some are even
smiling. They don't aspire to be in a "flash-trash" crowd; they are good enough
and confident enough in their leading and following not to be afraid to look
bad; they simply enjoy the dancing and the music. You know who you are and we
thank you all. Here's an idea. Perhaps each town should choose by dancers' vote
the most generous partner in their salsa community and reward him or her with a
free ticket to a salsa congress where they in turn could somehow be recognized.
We need to encourage generosity and good will in out midst.
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