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Salsa In Paradise . . . No, Really, I mean it!

By SalsaCrazy

Summary: The First Hawaii Salsa Festival is a huge success for everyone, taking pace at the Queen Kapiolani hotel,  Feb. 2-4th, 2007. San Francisco Bay Area salsa was extremely well represented there with Salsa Puente, Jr. and Emily, Alex and Kim, Rumbacha, Hong Kwon, Lalo and Viry, Dakin and Kayono. Albert Torres was in the house and MC'd on Saturday night. DJs Rod and Ray from Hawaii and Michelle from Hong Kong spun excellent music all weekend when we weren't being entertained by two great local bands, notably Son Caribe. It was a great weekend, and one we're hoping to see you at, next year!

On Wednesday I hopped Hawaiian Airlines for the quick 5 hour flight from San Francisco to Oahu for the first ever Hawaiian Salsa Festival After months of planning, deliberating, and executing our feverish plans, like all things in life, the time of the event was upon us far too quickly. 

It seems like yesterday that I had sat at the Moana Surfrider in Waikiki, under the huge tree on the terrace, and talked about a Salsa Festival in Hawaii with Angel, while simultaneously calling Dakin every five minutes on the cel phone.  The memory of the, perhaps, Pina Colada driven decision based on passion and the love of salsa, seems all too clear, as I get nervously off the plane in Oahu.  ďLetís do a Salsa Festival in Hawaii!Ē. Anyone who wonders how these events get started, itís usually simply a passion that drives certain people to do insane things.  Anyone whom wonders how these passion driven plans turn into an enormously fun and successful event, need only look at the trail of blood, tears, and enormous hours of hard work that nearly everyone involved has to put in.

As I get off the plane, itís almost an immediate feeling of calm. Hawaii is just that beautiful.  As I look out from my deck, onto Diamondhead, and the beautiful, gorgeous beach that stretches into the distance, any trepidation I had slowly dissolves. I realize there is nowhere like Hawaii, and simply being here is an amazing rejuvenating experience. The sheer beauty of it melts tension away.

I meet with Dakin and Kayono at the Tiki bar, a great little outdoor cafť, and we have lunch (and a copious amount of fruity drinks, including Patron shots, at 3 in the afternoon). Hmmm . . . Hawaii.  We meet some random people, and the promotion machine is in high gear as we tell anyone whoíll listen about the amazing festival happening mere blocks away. Lunch turns into dinner with Angel where we hear of all the plans, go over schedules, and slowly realize just how great an event this is actually going to be.

I text Michelle Tanmizi, visiting DJ from Hong, and her plane just got in.  A lot of people are arriving on Thursday and Friday, but Iím happy to be here early!  We visit the ballroom . . . the old, old, ballroom, and we take a close look at things like the floor, sound, and food/bar preparations. Everything looks great, although that floor is worrisome, as Dakin and Kayono practice their routine, and actually bend down on hands and knees to wipe it clean.  Perhaps itís a foreshadowing of whatís to come . . . 

Before you know it, the beaches, food, and libations mixed with just being in Hawaii, is putting an incredibly happy haze over the expected problems that happen just moments before an event goes live.  Obstacles and challenges in Hawaii are just a little easier to deal with, simply because you ARE in Hawaii.  That being said, Iím a worrier. Iíve been knee deep in Salsa for over 10 years (thatís all Iíll admit too), and still never been able to overcome my worry/excitement prior to an event.  I have to admit though, life is really good in Hawaii. I don't think I did a bit of work the entire time I was there, and that's simply a rarity for me.

Before I know it, itís time for the Hawaii Salsa Festival Kick off party at Rumors nightclub, and my first taste of how successful and fun an event this was actually going to be. I had only been to Oahu that once, seven months earlier, and loved my time there. Great dancers, and extremely friendly and open people, make the salsa scene a unique and fun place to dance. Throw into that dancers visiting from all over the Hawaiian Islands, a huge contingent of dancers from San Francisco, and a few dancers from all over the world, and you really have quite a melting of salsa dance madness to dip your feet into.

And so it was, as I entered Rumors nightclub to say hello and Happy Birthday to Nancy Ortiz, the club owner, and one of, if not the first, promoter of Salsa on the islands.  She greets us with a smile, and complete buffet, and a welcome drink to the club. The music is good, the class is full, and people are streaming in. Dakin orders a bottle of Dom, and things are again off to a festive, festive start.  Everyone is so happy!

The club is filled, and I do a fair amount of dancing, asking everyone if they are coming to the festival. Almost everyone is coming, and tremendously excited about it.  I canít even name all the dancers Iíve danced with, and I wonít try in this article. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of women, they are all very fun, and I had a great time, as did everyone I saw at the party. It was wildly successful, and there wasnít a frown to be seen. But still, I wondered, what would happen at the actual event? Pre-parties aside, Iíd have to wait until tomorrow to find out.

Luckily, upon awaking in Hawaii, I am treated to one of the most beautiful days I have ever seen in my life. Truly! Magnificent vistas abound from my deck, and I find it hard to motivate out of my hotel room, as I am bathed in sunlight and tropical beauty. Wow Ė I really canít do it justice with words. I realize that perhaps Hawaii itself is the main event, and this ďsalsa thingĒ is really just icing on the cake? ;) 

As we all set out to find the best breakfast in Oahu, a daily ritual  that would last each day through the trip, the air is as peaceful and clear as you can imagine.  Breakfast, beach time, and of course, my favorite cup of coffee from the Moana Surfrider hotel (no Starbucks for me, thank you very much), and I am raring to go. That fifteen minute walk for coffee, down the strip, would also become a daily ritual, although Iíll admit there were a few times where I submitted to the easy lure of the coffee shot right next door.

Itís opening night!  I arrive to find the SalsaCrazy booth setup, t-shirts and DVDs out, and registration already under way. There were so many fantastic and warm people helping Angel out, and truly vested in the success of the event, that I knew we were in for quite a well managed weekend.

When I arrived, a little early, and I peer into the ballroom, there are already people dancing!  Wow, there only must be 10 people in there, and they are all dancing.  The event hasn't event started yet! That bodes well for the ďcrazyĒ nature of the dancers here, and the love of the dance that ran through the entire event. Friday night was a blur. Totally packed with dancers, and nonstop dancing until 2am.  It was absolutely great! 

A great set of shows at 10, break up sets of the band, whom played a very eclectic mix of latin dance tunes.  Probably could have just had one set of the band, as people were very hungry for salsa music. The shows were really great, on both nights. On Saturday night, Son Caribe played, and they were really excellent.  Very tight, very together, and rockiní salsa music all night long!  Really enjoyed them . . .

The workshops on Saturday were very well attended. Iíll admit, I strolled in rather late (after my morning coffee, breakfast and beach rituals), and they were absolutely packed! I mean, totally packed . . . and with a great energy too. This is no small task when the beaches of Hawaii are calling you just a few hundred feet away.   Super cool. 

Lots and lots of people, although, I will admit, a few extra women (ok, perhaps a few dozen (hundreds) of extra women . . .), which will certainly be remedied next year after every guy within 3 continents decides to come to the Hawaii Salsa Fest after reading this article.  I also have to say, for the record, it was a really good looking crowd . . . (I know Iíll catch heat for that one . . .).

Albert Torres, the largest salsa promoter in the world, joined us for the entire extravaganza, and even took the mic on Saturday night to do a great job MCíing the event.  Thanks Albert, it was really great having you there! 

My favorite night, by far, was Sunday night.  It was less crowded (although huge crowds were never too much of a problem, we seemed to fit in the space just about perfectly), and the performances were really amazing.  It was a closer-knit group, where people already had met each other, become friends, and were there to dance, dance and dance. I have to say, the belly dance performance was really cool (look for that on a future SalsaCrazy DVD), and there was some other performances that were on one end hysterical, and on another end technically amazing. I canít do them justice with words, so I will not try. Whatever you do, donít miss next year! Sign up on our mailing list to be notified. This is one event, each and every year, that you will want to plan for well in advance.

Sunday was the perfect end to a perfect weekend.  As I sat on my deck at 4am, and prepared to see yet another perfect Hawaiian sunrise, I was so happy for all of us to have pulled this off. And by all of us, I mean every DJ, every volunteer, every intern, every MC, everyone whom worked on the event and of course each and every one of the attendees. What a stellar event. It exceeded all my expectations and then some, and will most certainly become a mainstay of Hawaiian salsa, and a meeting place for the most talented, passionate, and fun salseros in the world. Congratulations one and all, and Iíll see yaí next year, in paradise . . .

If you haven't joined the mailing list yet, do it now! Visit,, and Join that Mailing List. This is an event you will NOT want to miss next year.

Afterward: SalsaCrazy wants to send a special THANK YOU to Angel Archangel, the organizer who made this event happen! It was memorable for everyone there. Most importantly, we want to thank all of the volunteers who worked so hard behind the scene with you to make this event happen. We don't even know all your names, but Eriko, Keiko, Noriko, Miki, Rika....and so many were the backbone of this event. WOW!! We also want to thank the following people: Albert Torres--Thank you for coming all the way to support this event and make it very exciting. Your presence helped make this a world class event! DJs Rod and Ray Cruz--There aren't enough words to thank you for all you did to keep the music flowing and the feet moving. You are truly masters of your craft and you now have new fans from all over the world! DJ Michelle--Girl, you came all the way from Hong Kong and ROCKED! Thank you for your great selection of music. Nancy Ortiz --Thank you for hosting the pre-party and being so supportive all weekend! We loved your great hospitality and hope it was a memorable birthday for you. Thank you to all my students, whom came from San Francisco to have a great vacation. We'll be doing this every year! Finally, thank you those of you come from all over Hawaii, the Bay Area and Japan! We really had fun hanging out with you all.

SC (SalsaCrazy), email:

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