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What a Good Dancer Makes?
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Ever thought about it? No, not just "oh yeah, that's a good dancer, cause
he/she looks good on the floor. Am I milling dance sweat here? Perhaps, but
here are some grains of thought for you to do your own brain milling.
Recently we had 2 competitive events: a Jack&Jill "professional" contest at
Cocomo and a group competition at Roccapulco.
First of all, how do you define the word "professional"? Having a linguistic
education and a non-native English, I was diligent, I sank my teeth in a
dictionary and dug up one of several definitions of the word:" Engaging in an
occupation as one's profession or life work for gain". Given the sorry
situation where powers that be are reluctant to pay for salsa performances,
local salsa devotees define SOCIAL DANCE INSTRUCTORS as professionals. In
that case, we should look at the "professional" contest at another angle.
Should we judge the couples' performance skills, social dance skills or
teaching skills? As a performer, you need some kind of stage presence, that
elusive je ne sais quoi that is obvious in every step you take, even in the
way you walk out on stage. It makes you stand out in a group and comes only
with years of professional training. As an instructor, you need to teach
your students to lead and follow any partner and that presumes that
instructors themselves can dance and look good with everyone (at least,
In those Jack&Jill pairings most dancers did not look too happy with each
other. (Rodney The Salsagang Man, the organizer of this successful event and
one of the judges, had his own very private fun watching them) Oh sure, it's
easy to dance with your partner who knows your moves, your style, your
leading and following habits etc. etc. Plus you spent months and years
practicing together. But when you're pitted against another dancer (in this
case it was even easier - your partner was another professional) that's when
you expose your skills (or lack thereof) as a social dancer as opposed to a
You can learn a routine, practice it for hours and even look good doing it,
but in social dancing that pesky leading and following thing gets in the way
and needs different set of skills in order to adapt to different partners.
In the group competition where the music is chosen, the choreography is
created and the training are done well in advance, we can determine a variety
of things including the originality of choreography, the performing
technique, the energy and, most importantly, the passion of salsa which
resonates most with the audience. If these categories were not grouped
together we would most certainly have different winners in each one of them.
The group leaders' role is crucial here. They do most of the work including
the biggest part of all - training dancers. Obviously, if you're lucky to
lure advanced dancers your work is almost done. But to start with beginners
or even intermediates and train them to become performers - that's a true
accomplishment for an instructor and a group leader.
So far (at least in the recent years), Bay Area did not produce salsa groups
winning international competitions. But each one of our local talents
deserves an award for dedication. Most dancers work or go to school full
time. Even so, they find time and effort not only to dance in clubs for fun,
but also to spend hours practicing their routines; they pay for their
costumes as well as group fees for their privilege to be a dance group
member. What do they get out of it? A chance to improve their dancing, to
perform in front of an audience, friendship with other group members and just
plain old fun.
What is it that makes a dance troupe a winner? Professional judges might have
different answers from audience members. What's more important to you?
Smoothness, flashy moves, technique, musicality, choreography, innovative
patterns, sexy costumes, passion? Whether you thought about it or not, it's
probably all of the above. Your choice of a winner would depend on which of
these are more important to you personally.
Our groups collectively have it all. Mambo Romero's most experienced dancers
with their smooth style and "eye candy" appeal took the first place 2 years
in a row. New group Tribu Nueva, created by a former member of Ricasalsa,
continued that group's dedication to innovative ideas and choreography
reflecting the music at hand. Ricasalsa deserves recognition for many
innovative moves and musicality. Its leader Ricardo Tellez can often be
spotted dancing with beginners, and it's amazing what he can do with
PB&G dancers are full of energy. When they polish their routine presented at
the last competition, they just might bump Mambo Romero off their pedestal.
"SuperSexy" Salsamania demonstrated what dedication and persistence could
accomplish. This group never shies away from any chance to perform and if
you watched their progress you witnessed tremendous improvement thanks to
John and Liz' efforts who transformed their dancers from beginners to
second-place winners. (Some of their students are now members of Mambo
Romero). John and his partner won the above-mentioned Jack&Jill contest.
In a couples competition not so long ago all 3 top prizes went to Salsamania
members and the first place was awarded to Jairo and his pregnant wife for
their spunk and playful reflection of music accents. In that competition
even judges, including salsa luminaries Felipe Polanco and Albert Torres,
made it clear that dancing is not a sport, that "music and passion are
always in fashion at the Copa" and hopefully beyond.
So, to answer that duplicitous question in the title
1. Bay Area salsa performers - nada, zilch
2. Read the above and decide for yourself
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