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SALSA DANCING IN PARADISE: A TRAVEL DIARY!

 

1-22-2003 - By Stephanie Palmieri!

 

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Salsa in Paradise was hosted by Salsa Brava and Albert Torres Productions, and paradise it was indeed.  The event took place at the Waikiki Marriott Resort on the island of Oahu in Hawaii from January 16th through 23rd and consisted of daily workshops, events and dances.  Instructors and performers included three couples from Salsa Brava, Nelson Flores and Maribel Maldonado from Descarga Latina, Frankie Martinez from New York, Super Mario from the UK, and more.  The event and location more than surpassed my expectations.  It was one of the best salsa vacations I have taken.

            I had always wanted to visit Hawaii but never had, so I really looked forward to getting there just as a travel destination.  When vacation time came around I always chose different locations in Mexico for their proximity and affordability.  Salsa in Paradise was a great excuse to finally visit our 50th state.  It was also a great opportunity for family and friends to make the trip with me.  And the price was very reasonable.  I paid under $1000 for a 6-day, 5-night package that included airfare, hotel (the Marriott), shuttles to and from the hotel and the full event package.  For $300 less I could’ve stayed at a more affordable hotel a few blocks from the event, but chose convenience over savings.

Thursday

            I arrived at the Honolulu Airport with a group of family members, friends and salsa students to moderately warm weather.  I was hoping for a hotter climate, and was unprepared for the sometimes chilly breeze throughout the time we were there.  This was no Puerto Rico, that’s for sure!  But that was my only disappointment during the whole vacation. 

            We arrived at the hotel and registered for the event.  We grabbed the event schedule and began planning how we would spend each day.  At the end of the week, when I asked people what they liked about the event, one of the comments that came up repeatedly was that the workshops were scheduled early and the night events late, which left the rest of the day open for sight-seeing.  One friend said that she would have felt guilty missing workshops to do touristy activities.  The event schedule offered the ability to fit in both.   While I was happy to have the opportunity to take workshops and attend events with all the salseros, I still wanted to experience the island and all it had to offer.

            The event scheduled for the first night was a party at one of the local salsa hot spots called Rumors, located at one of the nearby hotels.  The sunken dance floor was too small for the amount of people there, but there was plenty of space to dance up on the carpet.  There seemed to be a mix of locals hanging out and others who were there specifically for the salsa event.  I didn’t do a lot of social dancing that night, but spent most of the time socializing with friends from around the country and world who I always run into at these kind of events.  Once you start hitting the different congresses and other salsa events, you begin to see many of the same people over and over again. 

            The biggest surprise of the night came after the salsa professionals were introduced and each danced for the crowd.  Albert Torres announced that there was a special guest there who was one of the biggest names in salsa music.  Well, who do think stepped forward?  Marc Anthony!  Yes, Marc Anthony, right there, hanging out with us.  Of course, after it was announced that he was there, the poor guy was mobbed the rest of the night and had to escape to the VIP area.

Friday

            The next morning we woke up early and took some of the workshops.  There were three hour-long sessions every morning, with two workshops to choose from at a time.  I heard people comment that they actually preferred having a more limited choice.  When you have too much to choose from, sometimes you don’t know what to do.  And it’s vacation time, you don’t want to think too hard.  That first day I took an intermediate on 2 footwork class with Frankie Martinez, an intermediate partnering workshop on 1 with Super Mario and a timing and musicality workshop on 2 with Nelson Flores.  All three were excellent.  The workshops were well-attended but not over-crowded.  Frankie has amazing, jazz-infused moves and weaves in plenty of tips on technique.  He is also quite humorous.  Super Mario, the “man of a million moves,” lives up to his name and is excellent at breaking things down.  Nelson is down-to-earth and explains timing in really easy to understand terms.  I used to think that most dance instructors became teachers only because it is the best way to make money if you’re a great dancer.  But more and more, I am impressed with the quality of the teaching that is out there in the salsa scene.

            That evening, Albert arranged a luau for those who were willing to pay an additional $30.  It was well worth it.  The menu consisted of the traditional Kalua pig (the kind they cook in the pit), Macadamia nut crusted mahi-mahi (my personal favorite) and many other local delicacies.  All of the salseros attended in Hawaiian wear.  Frankie showed up wearing only a Hawaiian wrap skirt!   The best part of the luau, however, was the hour-long performance that followed.  A group of local musicians and dancers performed everything from the Hawaiian hula, the fast hip-shaking Tahitian dance, a New Zealand war chant, and an amazing fire-knife dance. 

            That night, a local salsa band, Son Caribe, played in the main ballroom of the hotel.  Albert and Luis entertained the audience during a break by performing a “traditional hula” in grass skirts and those silly T-shirts that make you look like you have a voluptuous women’s body in a bikini thong.  Oh, those silly salseros.  Most of the instructors and professionals attended the events each night and danced with the attendees.

Saturday

            The next morning we skipped the workshops to be able to spend the whole day sight-seeing.  We started our day with a visit to the swap meet in the parking lot of the Aloha Stadium, where the Pro-Bowl is held every year.  We were able to buy affordable souvenirs, including tons of shell jewelry and belts, bathing suits and wraps.  They even sold T-shirts at only 10 for $20.  And the admission is only $.50 per person.  From there we went to Pearl Harbor to visit the Arizona Memorial and take a tour of the Missouri battle ship.  There were no long lines, and both were affordable and educational.  I felt less guilty about my daughter missing three days of school knowing that I was providing her with activities like these.

            One of the things that impressed me about Waikiki, was the community activities organized for the locals and tourists.  Every Saturday and Sunday night they show a free movie on a big screen right on the beach in front of the hotel.  The sand was packed with mostly families and teens.  And the quality of the sound and projection was outstanding.  That evening we saw “Blue Crush,” which was filmed right on the North Shore of Oahu.

            Saturday night was the Gala Night of the event, and the most crowded.  Johnny Polanco y su Conjunto Amistad  played to a crowd almost double the size of the night before.  There were many locals who showed up just for that night, and many more attendees arrived from Japan.  The night also included an amateur dance competition and performances by the instructors, locals and other professionals.  One of the highlights of the night was an amazing  footwork performance by Frankie Martinez and his partner, Lori, formerly of Young Ambition.  That man does not have his bones connected the same way we mere mortals do.  And he exudes sexuality.  I heard married women screaming like little girls as he danced.  He makes an incredible connection with the audience. 

Sunday

            The next day we continued with our touring of the island.  We started out by attending the monthly “Brunch on the Beach” just a block from the hotel.  All of the local hotels and restaurants set out tents and serve their special at reasonable prices.  We ate Kalua pig egg scramble, mango French toast, Kona coffee mile high ice cream pie with macadamia nuts and drank plantation pineapple iced tea.  From there, we went to Hanauma Bay for the best snorkeling I’ve ever done.  The water was cold, but the fish were plentiful and very used to human visitors.  We even saw an eel, closer than I would’ve liked.  We paid only $3 to get in and $6 for the rental of the equipment.  Hanauma Bay is actually a sunken volcano crater filled with a coral reef that is home to many species of fish, sea turtles and other creatures.

            We arrived back at Waikiki just in time to do some dancing on the beach to a free performance by Johnny Polanco.  The locals and tourists hovered around as the best instructors and dancers danced in flip flops and bathing suits.  I had my first social dance with Super Mario, but my daughter stole the show by dancing the next two songs with him. 

            That night was my favorite of all the events.  Some participants had left, so they moved the dance to one of the smaller ballrooms and it was DJ only.  It was also Pajama night and almost everyone came in PJs.  You know us salseros, though, always willing to call attention to ourselves.  This time Luis, Nelson and Mario showed up in the voluptuous bikini thong shirts with shower caps on their heads and night cream on their faces.  Later that night there  was a special celebration for Joby and Luis’ wedding anniversary and a sexy and funny PJ contest.  The winner in the sexy category was an older gentleman who started off in some silk pajamas and stripped down to a sequined Speedo.  Oh boy, we were all rolling.

Monday

            The next day we took our longest journey of the vacation.  We traveled to the other side of the island, only about an hour away, to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center.  On our way we stopped at the Dole Plantation for some pineapple ice cream and lots of island goodies to bring home:  coconut coffee, mango macadamia pancake mix, etc.  The Polynesian Cultural Center is a must see if you’re on the island.  It’s an all-day adventure and well worth the $55 entrance fee that includes a buffet dinner.  The PCC is like a zoo with people instead of animals.  You journey around to seven different “mock islands” representing Polynesia to see presentations and participate in activities.  Just to name a few… In the island of Samoa, you learn men do all the cooking and how to husk a coconut.  In the island of New Zealand, you watch a war chant and learn to swing poi balls.  In the island of Tonga, you watch a drum performance and learn spear-throwing and weaving.  It was really great.  The night ends with a buffet or luau and a night performance by all the dancers and musicians.  It’s interesting to know that BYU has a campus there and that they recruit actual natives from the islands to attend the university on full scholarship on the condition that they work or perform at the Cultural Center. 

            By the time we got back to the hotel that night, it was very late.  We intended to go to the salsa party that night at Planet Hollywood, but passed out from sheer exhaustion.  We did hear it was fun.  We woke up the next morning, packed and had one last meal before heading to the airport.  

            I had one of the greatest times of my life on this vacation.  The combination of a fabulous location, great events, wonderful dancers and friends and family made it paradise indeed.   Joby and Luis of Salsa Brava, Albert and Maya of ATP and Tom of Pleasant Holidays did an outstanding job of organizing and running the event.   I’m glad that the event was successful and hope to attend again next year. 


About the author:  Stephanie Palmeri is the assistant director of Son Bravisimo of Salsa Brava Productions.  Check out the website at www.sonbravisimo.com.  She and her dance partner, Danny Zepeda, have been performing, competing and choreographing together for almost three years.  They have also judged amateur and professional salsa competitions.  They currently teach all levels of salsa dancing at the Mexican Heritage Plaza and Club Miami, both in San Jose.  Stephanie is a regular feature contributor for the Salsacrazy website.  Contact her at (408) 806-0787 or salsa_queen_25@yahoo.com

           

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