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SF MAMBO NUMBER 5
2006 SF Salsa Congress Review
Maya (Nov. 25, 2006)
The 5th annual San
Francisco congress that runs in November is over and, as usual, many
dancers’ week of rest that follows is accompanied by a depressive
void – no more shows to see, workshops to attend, people to watch
and, most importantly, dance with accomplished masters from all over
the globe (or at least dream about it).
Organized by PB&G Dance Company the
SF in association with Albert Torres Productions this salsa event of
the year is quickly becoming a deserving competitor to its more
prominent counterpart in LA: visiting salsa luminaries, quality
bands, varied workshops etc. Even more importantly, thanks to
Ricardo and Michelle’s PB&G and its volunteers the event runs
without a hitch. Plus, it’s all self-contained in a beautiful
Marriott hotel in Oakland.
The opening night party in the most
popular salsa club in the Bay Area (voted best in the city and 2d
best in the country) Café Cocomo was overflowing with locals and
guests who could use free shuttles to and from the hotel. All 3
available dance floors were packed and the huge fans running in
several corners were struggling to alleviate sauna-like atmosphere.
Popular local band Avance was not making it any easier playing
“speedy Gonzalez” songs. Nevertheless, at 2 am everyone was leaving
with a big smile on the face.
The first congress shows during the
evening were promising. White Boy Wonders from San Diego teased the
female audience and Rumba Cha from San Jose charmed everyone with
their creative rendition of a delightful old cha-cha. Their repeat
performance in the Friday night show line-up got a standing
ovation. The cha-cha was superb; choreography was responsive to the
music and simple, but imaginative and the execution was smooth.
This number was great, but it would have been a gem if costumes and
presentation reflected the humorous side of the music and
One group that burst on the salsa
scene a few yeas ago captured the magic of a successful performance
– Swinguys from Milan, Italy. Last year it was Americano, voted the
best performance at the London congress; this year it was a 7 min.
routine Tutti Frutti. Swinguys get a standing ovation every time
they perform even though at least half of their routine has nothing
to do with salsa. What’s their secret? The right, and tight, mix of
catchy music, unconventional moves, just the right amount of tricks
spiced up with humor and all of it presented with showmanship
This is not the only road to
ovation. Some salsa performers rely on their superb technique, some
prefer acrobatic tricks, some choose intricate group formations.
Stage routines that combine them all with any degree of success are
not that frequent so audiences are usually very appreciative of
them. One great example is a passionate and impeccably executed
number by a couple from Venezuela who took the 2nd place
in the Cabaret Division. The song was so dramatic and their
expressive performance was so perfect that judges made an exception
and let them perform in the upcoming World Salsa Competition in Las
Vegas. They deserved to tie with the first place winners – an
incredible couple from Puerto Rico.
Humor especially is lacking in
salsa performances. (I’m not talking about hilarious
spur-of-the-moment spoofs by Ismael Otero & Co). This year only
one group besides Swinguys incorporated it in their routine. Los
Callejeros from Salt Lake City dressed up and danced as chickens to
reflect the music they chose. It was not a technically perfect
performance, but they too got a stand-up applause from the
audience. What does it tell ya? Salseros should relax and stop
taking themselves too seriously.
And finally, the most important
ingredient of all, whatever you call it – energy, the joy emanating
from the performers (either true or very believable fake). Proven
on every dance show we know and repeated by the judges like a
mantra: if you’re having fun so will the audience.
The choice of music alone can make or break a performance. A
great danceable song perfect for a club might not be good enough for
a stage. An engaging tune that makes the audience clap and stomp
their feet even before you start dancing can be half of your success
right there. Ricasalsa nailed it with their cha-cha intro a few
years ago and Swinguys pick a winning song every time. Mambo Romero
chose one of my favorites La Lucha by Mamborama, but its multiple
accents and strong percussion were a stark contrast to the group’s
smooth gliding style they’re famous for. When MR picks the right
music like they did for one of their past winning routines (Caravan)
they can truly shine.
Many other memorable performances,
primarily by local talents, wowed the audience: 2 boys from
Sacramento, Salsamania, Son de Mania, PB&G, Junior & Emily and
others. Lalo and Viri of Rumba Cha took 1st place in
Amateurs, Dakin and Kayono got 2d and Isidro and Sheila placed
third in Professional division. Former Salsamania member Carlitos
(now in Las Vegas) and Margo tied with Hector and partner for the
first place in Jack&Jill open. Naturally, they all had a lot of
support from the audience, but that does not mean they didn’t
deserve high marks. The level of dancing in the Bay Area improved
tremendously and visitors and judges took notice. PB&G won the title
of World Salsa Dance Championship 2005-2006, Team Division, in Las
Vegas. Salsamania took the second place. Junior and Emily placed 2nd
in on 2 division and are known all over the world.
However, here’s one comment I
received from a congress participant:
“I was delighted to see that the Canadians (Salsarica from
Calgary) won in the Professionals. Their routine had plenty of
classic salsa moves …footwork and isolations, working the shoulders
and hips. I felt that others, especially the San Francisco
competitors, were just doing spins and what I call "flips and dips",
and I can watch figure skating competitions for that experience. I
feel like the salsa style is getting lost in favor of gymnastics.
But, then, they are very young and, I guess favor athletic prowess
over intricate footwork and moving the body sensually to music
(which was so enjoyable about the Canadians).”
Many of us would dispute this
view. However, it comes from an audience member and diligent
performers should take notice of all the opinions whether they like
them or not. After all, it’s the viewers, not the judges, that have
the final say.
Nice additions to the congress this
year were Jack & Jill competitions for Masters (instructors) and
everybody else. Only a small number of spectators showed up to see
the general competition, but the seats were full when the pros took
the floor. Wouldn’t it be fun to mix them up and see what happens?
I bet folks would buy congress passes just to see that competition.
Winners determined by judges (and
the audience’s applause) were mostly Bay Area dancers. In Master’s
division, Salsamania’s John Narvaez placed third leaving behind such
renowned luminaries like Cobo Brothers, Ismael Otero and Jason
Molina. The winners, Victor from Mexico and his partner Jessica,
charmed everybody with their quebradita moves he’s famous for. Even
his switch from on 2 to on1 in the middle of the song did not
influence the judges’ decision who went along with the audience’s
San Francisco’s newest transplant
from LA Seaon Stylist made a brief appearance on the dance floor to
showcase his incomparable follower’s style and promised that his
local group will wow everyone at the next year’s congress.
Another pleasant congress surprise was a music video showcasing
multiple talents of Giju, a Salsamania’s dancer, who is also an
accomplished singer. (http://www.beyonddreamz.com/)
Featuring several local dancers, this professionally filmed video
incorporated salsa music and dance into Indian-style pop. With its
future release in India and other countries, it will help popularize
Bay Area salsa beyond the US borders.
A word about the bands and DJs.
New Swing Sextet from NY and Sonora Carruseles from Colombia are
magnificent professional bands. However, judging from the forum and
DJ comments most dancers would prefer New Swing Sextet. As mambo
gradually spreads in the Bay Area, fast tempo and long songs annoy
many dancers. A night of DJ music was a welcome relief and we had a
chance to enjoy a variety of songs and meet a new DJ, a superb
dancer and the friendliest partner Shaan who is known as “London’s
best kept secret”.
I finally discovered the secret to
an enjoyable social dancing experience: hoping to partner with great
visiting leaders, but being just as happy with folks you already
know. I’m delighted to say that here in the Bay Area we have
nothing to feel inferior about. However, it is still a fussy market
based on looks and skills. Maybe congresses should revive “taxi
dancers” from the past who will join the rank of volunteers to dance
with the “unknowns”?
The general after-congress buzz was
overwhelmingly positive. Too bad, we’ll have to wait another year
to repeat the experience.
To dance is good, but to dance good
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