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A casualty of the West Coast Salsa Congress


I was very eager to get to the 2002 World Salsa Congress in LA. All the necessary elements were going to be present for a great dance weekend: Hot, hot music, Salsa legends performing, and great dancers. I was starving for my next great dance. If you’re a dancer you understand what I mean….the kind of dance that fuels your fire and keeps you in motion looking for similar experience in every corner of the dance club. When you and your partner are so much in-sync in your dancing styles, energy and creativity, you both are having a great time. When I got off the airport shuttle and stepped into the hotel lobby, it was obvious to me, a diehard Salsera, that the foyer, lobby and hallways were brimming with people ready to hit the dance floor and create  real d-a-n-c-e magic. As I rolled my luggage across the tiled entry floor, I knew the weekend was going to be big fun. It was also great to see friends I’d met at other Congresso’s.

The three Congresso’s I’d previously attended had attracted dancers and performers from literally every part of the world. Everyone was so hyped up at those events that they were especially welcoming and friendly to the other attendees. This spirit of unity was what I was looking forward to experiencing again. I really needed a special weekend of great camaraderie, friendship and great dance experiences.

 Sadly, disappointment washed over me the moment I stepped onto the floor of the main ballroom at the Hollywood Park Casino in LA. The room was void of tables. There was no place to sit down and cool-out between dances and no coat check either. Coats and shoe bags were lying about in deserted, crumpled heaps around the floor. That night and all weekend the dancers had to spend hours standing up. The experience was particularly grueling on our legs and feet. To dance all day, stand and dance all night just wasn’t working my idea of a good time.

As a last resort there were people who decided to sit on the floor to watch the dance team performances on the big screen TV’s. Was it really in your plan to get dressed up to sit on the floor? Not enough consideration was given to the comfort of those who paid to be there. It would not have taken much effort to line some chairs up against the walls of the ballroom so weary dancers could sit and rest. Everyone I spoke to (young, old and in between) were unhappy about the situation. It was a challenge to hang in there late enough on Friday night to see the main attraction. The featured band, Sonora Carruseles started performing at 2 AM. But I "hung" just long enough to see them perform. Sonora Carruseles was excellent and their music gave my spirit a badly needed boost.

Inspite of the challenges Friday night was fun even with my sore feet and tired legs. I left tired and happy with an eye towards Saturday when I would see Jose "El Canario" Alberto. I also decided buy more comfortable shoes. Saturday evening arrived to find me with new dance shoes on my feet and ready to get my dance groove on. I had several great dances "On 2" (New York style Mambo). A little later on another friend of mine asked me to dance. We started dancing and were having a good time doing inside turns, openwork and outside turns. As my partner lead me into an outside turn I felt something really hard whack me in the middle of my forehead. The blow landed just a little above my left eye. It stopped me cold. I saw something shiny and metal moving away from my forehead. It was a watch, a big one similar to the kind the skin divers wear. Instinctively my hand found its way to the throbbing pain in my head. I could not believe that the knot on my forehead was swelling so quickly. Almost immediately it ballooned into an enormous lump. This disaster happened in just one moment. The knot kept getting larger, and larger and in about 30 seconds was about one and one half inches or so in the size. Aye, Aye, Aye! Have I mentioned this knot produced piercing pain through my forehead and eyes? The pain had totally sidetracked me and kept me from directly confronting the person who hit me. My partner and I became completely focused on finding more ice for my head to try to keep the pain and swelling down. Strangely enough the culprits never even stopped to acknowledge they hit me or to apologize. Doesn’t common decency demand if that you hit someone that you acknowledge your error and apologize? There’s no way they didn’t realize what had happened.

Meanwhile my partner and I were in survival mode trying to keep the swelling down by using the ice from my glass of club soda. I have to mention my dance partner was wonderful and very apologetic throughout my whole ordeal. He took on the role of a caretaker by searching for first-aid. There were no medical or nursing personnel or supplies in the ballroom. We spoke to several men working at the event entrance. They did not know of any first aid provisions and suggested we check in the Casino downstairs. My partner went down to the Casino Security but still didn’t find any medical assistance. When he returned to the ballroom, someone at the entrance sent us to the kitchen suggesting we might find some ice in there. This whole thing was crazy and it felt like a dream turned into a nightmare.


We found the kitchen but the small kitchen crew wasn’t much help—they weren’t even sure if the ice machine was on! Fortunately the ice machine was turned on, thank God, and a crewmember gave me some more ice to care for my pounding, throbbing head wound which was growing larger as the minutes passed. The situation was almost turning out to be a comedy of errors. But for me the woman whose face which was protruding, throbbing and swollen it was not funny at all.

As we entered the hallway where the vendors were located, we passed a fireman who was standing around checking out the ‘eye candy’. He took one look at me and said I had a "nice hematoma going there!". Unfortunately, he was not a paramedic and couldn’t offer me first aid. His comment prompted me to ask for if he knew anything about treating a hematoma. He told me to just keep applying the ice on my forehead.

So, picture yourself with this really, a really big bump on your forehead, a bad headache and no medical help onsite. I decided it was best to go back to the hotel and take care of myself. In my heart I hoped that I’d be able to return on Sunday to dance another day. I had no idea how seriously I’d been injured and later I learned I had suffered a mild concussion. If I’d known that, I would have demanded that the paramedics be called.  Obviously, the injury impaired my ability to think clearly and make good decisions.  It was shocking  learn that with a crowd of over 2600 dancers at this event there was no paramedic on duty. What if a flip or acrobatic stunt went wrong? It’s frightening to think what could have happened.

Meanwhile the injuries I sustained were serious. On Sunday in addition to an aching head and two black eyes, I had a huge swollen lump in the middle of my forehead. The ER doctor I saw put me on bed rest for 4 days and gave me some heavy medication for the pain. My best thing I could do for myself was to leave the Congresso early, fly home and attend to my injuries. On the plane ride home I kept getting the sidelong looks and stares from other passengers. It was really embarrassing. I can only imagine what thoughts were going thru their heads.

How does a promoter have a big event   where people are physically active, jumping, sliding, twisting, turning, flipping and not have a paramedic on the premises? Although we think of dancing as art, it is as physically demanding as a football or basketball. The fact that the casino had no paramedic on duty was another rude awakening. Are you thinking how dangerous and unsafe it was to have an event of this kind with no first aid on duty? I wonder what would have happened if someone had broken a leg or an arm or worse? It really makes me shutter.

My injuries caused me to also suffer financial losses. The remainder of the weekend was lost to me and I was forced to take a week's leave from work due to my injuries. There was also the expensive makeup I needed to  purchase to cover the pair of black eyes that lingered on for weeks. What if this had happened to you? Do you ever think about your safety on the dance floor? How many times have you had a close call where you were almost hit by someone dancing wildly?  It has occurred probably occured too many times for you to even rememberl. Do you know that this could have happened to you?

Two inconsiderate people who didn’t have the human decency or common sense to apologize had caused me to suffer great pain and financial loss. It is now more than 25 days later and the healing continues on my forehead where there is still a small hard knot. Like I said before there’s no way the dancer who injured me didn’t feel his/her wrist smack against my forehead! It’s very likely this couple was not taught proper dance etiquette by their instructors. The culprits also didn’t know how to observe their dance space (that means to dance smaller in a tighter space) and to avoid invading the space of those around you. My point is that new dancers should be taught these essential aspects of dance etiquette by their Salsa instructors.

If you are a Salsa teacher, please teach the complete dance experience (including etiquette and floorcraft) not just steps and patterns. The dance community at large would appreciate it—We’re getting beat up out on the dance floor! Your students need to understand here’s a difference between Salsa dancing and slam dancing. Your students should be taught to have consideration for other dancers. Let’s not promote the theme of "Dancing at your Own Risk". Teach your students dance etiquette and include information on the culture and history of salsa music and dance. If you are a promoter, it is your responsibility to arrange for on-site medical services to provide for the safety, comfort, and well being of those attending your events. Gracias.

Sindy Thomas