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2nd International San Francisco Salsa Congress


By Maya, Return to SalsaCrazy.Com Features

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 splitting sections.

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 objectivity.

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 progress.

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 third.

"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 performances. 

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 my own
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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