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By Dakin Ferris, Sleep-Deprived-But-Still Raving Independent Correspondent for SalsaCrazy

After five hours of sleep, a quick bite to eat on the way into a two hour Eddie Torres workshop, I started my day wondering, am I having fun here? More pointedly, the question on my mind since I first heard about the World Salsa Championships was whether this would be a fun event for your average dancer (and how many of the seats are filled with just the competitors and their family and close friends). By dinner time, however, that question no longer seemed relevant because quite unexpectedly I found myself more excited about the evenings completion than a 7-year old on Christmas eve. Here is what happened:

Top Line News:

-Thursday Night was the first round of the semi-finals. Competitors were randomly split into two groups with half going tonight and half Friday. Results of the final top 10 for each category will not be posted until Saturday morning.

-Due to a stricter interpretation of one of this years new rules than apparently expected -- only three "tricks" per couple for on1 and on2 -- a large number of competitors franticly reworked their routines today...possibly up to half of the competitors by my random sampling. Billy Fajardo made the point quite clearly that the goal of the new rule was to stop the on1 and on2 competition from evolving into "cabaret-light", which I actually think is a good thing, but it clearly caught a large number of competitors by surprise and that could have a big effect on what happens in the next two days.

-While the sound quality in the audience was excellent, a number of the competitors said they sound on stage was challenging at best, with some of their music almost inaudible at times. I expect that will be tweaked for tomorrow night's event, but may have had a real impact for some who competed tonight.

-After the competition, El Gran Combo rocked the house in their trademark fashion. You gotta love these guys. At one point there were probably twenty of the Colombian performing dancing on stage with them to the delight of the crowd.

-I put the crowd easily in the 2000 attendees range, more than double of Wednesday night's and on-target to hit 3000+ on Saturday night for the finals.

Semi-Finals Competition Info for Round 1:

-On1 (the most crowded field) had 16 couples competing. Jorge and Lupita put in a very strong routine and should be in the hunt for a top finish on Saturday (but I would sooooo love to see them both smile and connect more with the audience). Ricardo and Tianne also had a very good showing. My scoring has them in the too-hard-to-call middle zone, depending on what happens tomorrow night. Rounding out the bay area people, I was delighted to find out that the bay area couple who were thought to have not qualified on Wednesday night as I reported yesterday (David and Carla) had in fact qualified.....but weren't told until noon today! Though I don't expect them to make it to the finals, they should be quite proud of what they did here and I look forward to bigger things from them in the coming year.

-On2 had 14 couples competing. With the top three competitors for the last two years returning (leaving really only seven slots in dispute), the on2 top ten is going to be incredibly tough to crack into this year. While the on1 group had a number of couples that clearly need to step it up some before expecting to make it to the finals, the on2 group tonight had no-one that you could easily dismiss. Still, there was some obvious cream that rose to the top. John and Liz demonstrated their world-class talents with the precision and the calm poise that only comes from experience. I expect them in the finals as well as Louis Antonio and Anya who were spot on in their routine. Enrique and Veronica are in the middle ground by my book. I loved their performance and thought it was one of their strongest, so it will all depend on who shows tomorrow (other than Junior and Emily and Oliver and Luda, the obvious odds on favorites). This is going to be a nail-biter for all of us.

-Team Competition. If the energy wasn't high enough going into tonight, it got cranked up to absolutely KINETIC when the team competition began. I counted 12 teams that competed tonight, three being from Colombia and two from the SF Bay Area. With PB&G not competing this year and their absence clearly felt, SalsaMania and Son de Mania both represented strongly. While I don't count Son de Mania out at this point (and ok, I'll admit it--I had hoped for another surprise from them like this years Roccapulco competition, because I have seen them pull off some incredibly strong performances this year), but SalsaMania was right on their game and one can only marvel at how John and Liz do it, having just finished their on2 competition minutes earlier. SalsaMania should easily make the finals....but make no mistake, the Colombians were in the house and based on audience response, they blew the lid off.

Unlike all the other teams who had three to four couples, the Colombians each had from eight to eleven and I hate to say it, but the numbers alone are just overwhelming and hard to compare. One of the Colombian teams did a particularly creative routine with two guys and one woman dancing in trios, but all three of the Colombian teams had an incredibly high-degree of difficulty and attendant excitement. (To my mind, the Colombians have single-handled redefined all prior notions of team performance and will be the ones to beat. Just to give you and idea of how intense they are, Albert told us tonight the qualifying event in Colombia had 32 teams, 29 couples....and 20,000 spectators!) I expect all three Colombian groups and SalsaMania in top positions. Depending on what teams show tomorrow, I think the Korean "All-Stars" and Majesty-in-Motion also have great shots at being in the top ten.

-Cabaret Division. I didn't get a final count on how many couples competed because I had to keep picking my jaw up off the ground. By far the most exciting category, the Colombians were incredibly strong here too, as expected. Juan and Suzy from San Diego (big supporters of last year's Hawaii Salsa Festival, an event close to my heart) had a solid showing as well, with perennial Bay Area favorites Alex and Kimberly scheduled to be on tomorrow night. Stay tuned!

Random Notes:

So far the World Salsa Championships have been pretty darn exciting. With only one workshop per time slot and in general, a very understandable focus on the competition and not as much social dancing, I had been prepared to not feel the love.....but it took me all of 24 hours to find that wasn't the case. This may not be a social dancers event per se, but the energy here is completely infectous. I see Albert Torres and his hardworking team (with special notes to Jose and head DJ extraordinare, DJ Frank) putting their all into this in a way the you have to respect. Albert brought Cuban Pete to the stage for a short dance demonstration that was quite fun as well, but especially moving was the story Albert told tonight about one competitor from Puerto Rico who has been trying over and over to qualify, finally qualifying with Wednesdays night's showing and having maybe the greatest night of his life....only to wake up and find out his dad had passed away that very night and so had to leave straight away for home. One has to wonder if he (the dad) had been waiting for that last bit of good news he maybe craved as badly as his son before leaving.

Anyway, its 5am here so I need to rest a little before tomorrow. Hmmm.....I think I will take Eddie's workshop again.


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