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New York City Salsa Dance Congress Rocks the House

By Dakin Ferris, independent field correspondent
On assignment for
(Sept. 8, 2006) 

David Melendez had a running joke at this year's New York Salsa Congress that all of his events were “Da Bomb”--even if they hadn’t happened yet!  It was a pretty funny routine actually, but unfortunately David was wrong.  NYC 2006 wasn't Da Bomb at all. 

It was Da Atom Bomb.  It was Da Mother Of All Bombs.  It was, well…simply awesome.  It exceeded my expectations in almost every respect, and for the first time since my first Congress four years ago, I had no complaints and left with a huge smile on my face.  Seriously.  Zero, zip, nada.  You even had to forgive David’s joyful gloating over the demise of the Red Sox.  (Next year, David, next year!)

It wasn’t just that he had all the critical basics down….like that the registration lines moved quickly…. that everything started and ended on time…. that there was always free water (not the case, for example, at the Puerto Rico Congress)…. and that despite a huge turn-out (3000-4000 dancers on Saturday night?) that there was always plenty of dance floor space. 

It wasn’t just that the event featured some of the best musicians and dancers in the world.  Or that I was allowed to video tape moves and shines at the end of each workshop (an old pet peeve of mine).  Or even that this Congress featured the first ever Salsa Congress Dominos Championship.  (It’s ok, I said “huh?” too, but it turns out David is a fan of the dominos!)

No, the thing that David Melendez did better than anyone else was the performances.  Let me start by saying, I love watching salsa performances at all levels.   I love going to Congresses and seeing people from all over the world bring the best of what they got, because in the end it’s usually more about their spirit than their talent, and there are always delightful surprises.  But when the trade-off is between watching performances and having dance time with the best dancers in the world, well, it’s not too long before my legs start twitching. 

Most Congresses, in fact, seem to have three shows a night….something like 5, 8 and 11.  And in most cases, they seem to start late, end even later, and the social dance time gets shredded in the twain.  At some of these 3-show events, you even see some of the same performers over and over (and over), making it all the more frustrating.  The most common complaint of Congress goers I hear is that there are too many performances with way too much talking in between (not to mention, an endless array of awards).

David Melendez is the first promoter I know with the vision to put the dancers first by limiting the shows and emphasizing quality over quantity.  He had a 5pm show and a 9pm show, the later of which ended promptly at 11.  The social dancing was then on by 11:20 and Friday and Saturday went until 5am.  David gave out only one award all weekend (making it much more special I think), and otherwise kept us entertained between performances with his endearing and often self-deprecating humor.  Beautiful David, simply awesome.  This was a dancer’s event from start to finish, and it happened because of you.

In fact, I would argue there is no better Congress for on2 dancers in this hemisphere than the New York Salsa Congress.  Ok, so that’s not such a big surprise given that NYC is ground zero for mambo, but biased or not, SF has been my favorite Congress for the last three years simply because it was the best run Congress around—bar none.  But where the SF Congress actually gets a fairly ideal split between on1 and on2 dancers, if you are looking for an “on2 only” event, NYC is probably as close as it gets!  (Speaking of SF, that Congress is coming again soon…go to SF Salsa Congress and sign up asap if you haven’t already!) 

The bands in NYC this year – El Canario on Friday, Chino Nunez and Friends Satuday and 8+ y Mas Sunday -- were all in top form, especially Chino Nunez.  I loved his interaction with the audience.  On Friday and Saturday, the bands wore their Sunday-Goin-To-Church suits and ties, giving it that classic old-school mambo feel which I love as well.  Classy, classy, classy, I say.  Nelson Torres and guest DJs spun the house in grand fashion when the bands weren’t on, and the hallway dancers (merengue/ reggaeton/ bachata) were a blast to watch and hang out with when I needed a break from the main dance floors.

NOTABLE EVENTS:  Junior & Emily rocked the house twice with a stunning performance Saturday and then a slamming hip-hop/reggaeton routine performed with the Edwin Rivera Project on Sunday.... then there was a kids salsa group of 15-girls and one-boy from Long Island performing Saturday night that may have been the weekend’s favorite show and largest standing ovation....  San Francisco’s “RicaDiva-Ana” performed (and taught) with Miami Reuedero Henry Herrera --another stunning routine…. Ashley from the TV show So You Think You Can Dance performed with Duplessey Walker's group.... there were also breath-taking routines by Santo Rico, and Sekou McMiller’s and Shaka’s groups, as well a great new Popeye routine by Al “Liquid Silver” Espinoza!  Workshop standouts included Amaryllis’ spin class, Sekou’s body motion class, and watching April Genovese six-months pregnant and having a blast teaching ladies styling.  Wow!

The NYC Congress happens every year over Labor Day weekend on Manhattan at a huge Hilton perfectly situated about six blocks from Central Park, Times Square/Theatre District and the Hudson River.  This year, for the 2006 New York Salsa Congress, David Melendez hit one out of the park.  The (damned) Yankees would be proud of him.

Dakin Ferris is a freelance writer, promoter, and dancer


If you’ve read this far, I hope you don’t mind me putting in a few off-topic plugs:

Commit now to voting November 7th.  Set the intention and it will happen.  Before voting, go see An Inconvenient Truth and decide for yourself if this isn’t the most important issue facing our planet.

And….while we still have a planet to celebrate, think about the HAWAII SALSA FESTIVAL February 2-4, 2006 ( with World Famous Junior and Emily, and (providing salsa dance and travel services for Japanese).  The Hawaii Salsa Festival is the week after the Sydney Congress, and the week before the Pro Bowl and/or the Hong Kong Congress—you decide...

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