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San Francisco Salsa Congress Review 2007:
A Review of the San
Francisco Salsa Dance Congress in 2007
Numbers don’t lie: the attendance at the most important
Bay Area salsa event is growing every year, but are we getting jaded?
It felt like the excitement was subdued this year – little pre-congress
hype even though local groups and competitors were better than ever.
As usual, Café Cocomo hosted the congress pre-party and
as usual, you would be hard-pressed to find a spot to dance in this
popular club with one of the biggest dance floors in the city – 3 of
them actually. Most were Bay Area salseros, many visitors, but not many
NY or East Coast dancers, if any (not counting the instructors). Could
it be the music?
This year the opening night featured a new band
comprised of Bay Area top salsa musicians. Problem is, they want to be
listened to, not danced to, thus, an inherent conflict: when each
luminary wants a solo, long songs begin testing dancers’ endurance. In
one piece, the rhythm section’s repetitive riff sounded like a broken
record behind a barely distinguishable conga (or was it a long pause?).
New Swing Sextet delivered quality, as they always do,
and they alternated between fast salsa and slower mambo to satisfy
various tastes. Fruco y Sus Tesos, however, is primarily a fast salsa
band so Sat night DJs should have concentrated on slower pace tunes.
Bay Area has a large number of on2 dancers by now, but our music tastes
are still in the fast salsa sphere (or so one would think). Mambo fans
should not stay away or leave, but speak up if they want to hear their
We’re already used to the congress’ smooth sailing:
everything being well organized thanks to Ricardo and Michelle’s hard
working team of volunteers. Changes in vendors booths’ layout and
bigger seating area for shows were welcome improvements. There were
comments suggesting a dance room opened during performances, but
previous years experience showed not too many salseros show up.
Some Fri night performances were quite memorable: Ruby
Karen Project from LA, Salsarica trio from Calgary, Martin from LA with
his impressive Israeli partner Esti. PB&G Rising Stars confirmed its
reputation of a well-rounded team, but another Bay Area group not
getting a lot of attention lately received a warm welcome this time.
Ava Apple, her partner Rodolfo and another female dancer presented a
mini-show using non-salsa music and a few interesting lifts. It was not
a technique-laden salsa performance, but it was different and it was
well received (maybe because of it).
First Sat. night show started with a bang (and ruined it
for all the teams that followed): a long-awaited unveiling of a new Bay
Area group with Seon Stylist as the master, the singer and the group’s
maestro. Not to contribute to his already healthy self-respect, but
this performance deserved its success. It was not just a dance, it was
a production with props that showcased Seon’s many talents: his original
salsa arrangement of one of Ledisi’s songs recorded by the local band
Mazacote as well as singing and dancing with his superbly trained
group. Even occasional pitchy notes did not spoil the overall
However, with the Bay Area dancers’ quality improving
each year, one would be hard pressed to stay on top. PB&G showed
another head spinning routine; Afinkao did much better than last year;
Ricasensacion revived its previous Thriller routine with changed
choreography (much of it from the original video) that was cheered by
the audience. Already famous in the salsa world, Junior and Emily
demonstrated their spinning and pretzel techniques before adoring fans.
This year, the public’s favorites, Swinguys from Milan,
were absent, but another Italian newcomer, Massimo Rea took their place
and danced a unique solo number mixing hip-hop and salsa moves and
music. Ricardo and Viviana from Colombia came back and once again
demonstrated their high professionalism – impeccable execution, high
energy and connection with the spectators. Their trademark fast
footwork reminiscent of samba is so polished it makes you think they
came out of their mother’s womb dancing to her heartbeat.
One presentation in particular appealed to everybody. A
young couple from LA, Cesar, 22, and Natasha, 17, danced a retro routine
to a classic mambo tune by Perez Prado. They incorporated some old mambo
moves, some 20s charleston moves, some tap footwork and put it all
together with a perfect response to the music. Even multiple spins were
done not to show off their technique, but in response to the “spinning”
part of the music: Natasha spinning on every beat and Cezar accentuating
the first beat only. It was so creative, so effortless and so in
character this routine will become a classic. (It would also be a great
contender for So You Think You Can Dance). Cesar’s lead in social
dancing was also flawless and with his sweet disposition, this young man
is a poster kid for salseros everywhere.
Another number that could match Seon’s elaborate
presentation was Gigu’s Show – a Salsamania member and a rising Indian
singing star. Modernized Indian pop with Latin flavor, a gorgeous
singer and sexy salseras on his arms – what can possibly go wrong?
Shows are entertaining, but another integral part of the
SF congress is its Sunday competitions. Once again, it’s so gratifying
to see how the competitors’ level grows from year to year. Divided in 5
categories, the competitions determine winners eligible to participate
in the World Salsa Competition held in Orlando’s Disney resort in
December. Televised by ESPN in many countries, this year it will be
broadcasted in the US as well. As an added bonus to the prestige,
congress winners get free flights and lodging at the competition hotel.
In the Amateurs division, Bay Area favorites Dakin and
Kayono took the second place. To win it, Kayono needs to polish her
styling and feel more secure executing the routine. In Cabaret division
there was only one couple – local dancers Alex Lee and Kim Nodora who
automatically qualified for the Orlando competition, but a newcomer Kim
must work hard to “withstand” Alex’ tricks and look like a dancer, not
just a prop – not an easy job J
In Groups division, Son de Mania from Oakland could have
taken the first place if not for a few mistakes. The winning team
Majesty in Motion from San Diego had less complicated patterns, but was
smoother. Once again, judges favored quality over intricacy and speed.
In On2 division Enrique and Vero from San Jose were
terrific, they almost matched the winners – Bay Area prodigy Luis
Antonio and his NY partner Anya, a Russian immigrant who has been
dancing ballroom since she was 3. As good as they were, Luis and Anya’s
performance seemed effortless and more refined.
The On1 division had many competing couples that were
fairly close on the technical level. To make matters worse, all of them
picked a fast routine putting judges in the difficult position to
discern the best ones. If only one couple dared to be different, at
least in some ways, that alone might have attracted the judges’
Depending on who you ask, the viewers agree or disagree
with judges’ choices, but almost everyone thinks that, at the very
least, San Francisco’s Ricardo and Tianne should have placed. If there
were a couple capable of being different, they could. Ricardo is
already well known for his musicality and creativity; his rigorous
training with professional coaches paid off and Tianne is the only
professional dancer in the Bay Area salsa circles who can send most
followers packing. Together, they created an interesting routine - too
bad, it was too fast to showcase their abilities.
Last year, the Sunday Jack and Jill competitions for all
and for professionals only set a precedent for salsa congresses. This
year, once again, a Bay area dancer, Orlando, won the open J&J with his
The professional J&J, usually by invitation only, lacked
followers and one of the local girls was invited to join. Masha (
another Russian émigré) danced with Milton Cobo and they won the
competition! This was a breakthrough no one could have predicted. Her
original style and energy charmed the spectators and she could follow
the master seemingly without any problems.
If SF congress democratizes its Professionals’ J&J and
allows this trend to continue I would bet Sunday afternoons will attract
more public than any other day. Just look at the popularity of Dancing
with the Stars. How about Dancing with the Salsa Stars? Each pro can
invite a local non-professional during social dancing, or watch
the open J&J to choose one. Then pros and amateurs can randomly pick
each other before the competition and even have some time to practice.
Wouldn’t that be fun?
I guess I have to wake up now – how many pro salseros
would be willing to do this and risk a bad image? You gotta go social
dancing, dance with “nobodies”…, but if they do, think how the increased
popularity of the event and the ability to dance with non-pros would
multiply your student population thanks to all the youtube clips that
will pop up. Will the SF congress become a pioneer and make its mark in
the world of salsa again? We’ll see…;-)
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