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West Coast Salsa Congress 2003 Review

 

By Stephanie Palmieri!

 

 Return to SalsaCrazy.Com Features

 

Review of the 2003 West Coast Salsa Congress in Los Angeles

 

The West Coast Salsa Congress is organized and hosted by Albert and Maya Torres of Albert Torres Productions at the Hollywood Park Casino in Los Angeles every Memorial Day weekend.  This year was the 5th year of the event, and Albert promised it would be bigger and better than ever:  over 3,000 attendees from over 40 countries,  three nights performances by over 120 dance companies, four workshops at a time for 6 hour a day on Saturday and Sunday, more dance floors, the best bands, more seats for performances, and more.

I have attended all five of the West Coast Salsa Congresses, and I have to say that this was the best one yet.  The first year felt the most “intimate” because there weren’t so many attendees and made much more of an impression on me being my first big salsa event.  But, this year’s Congress offered a better opportunity to take workshops, social dance and enjoy the performances, and really, that’s what it’s all about.

 

  I wasn’t able to participate in any of the pre-Congress activities, but heard that Latin Madness was an outstanding show.  I arrived early Friday to attend the “tech rehearsal” because my troupe, Son Bravisimo, would be performing Friday night.  My fiancé, daughter and I went immediately to the Hilton for early registration.  I don’t know how it was for attendees, but there was a special place for performers to register and it was a very smooth process.  Albert Torres’ wife, Maya, has really helped by bringing her hotel management experience to ATP Events.  She really works hard, and I can’t believe how she handles her role in organizing the event with such grace, even as she has to prepare to be a performer also (Maya dances with the Seaon Stylist Dance Company). 

 

We had chosen not to stay at the Hilton to keep our expenses down.  We went through priceline.com and booked the Westin, only a block away from the Hilton, for $45 per night.  This bargain, along with having to pay only $50 total for the full Congress event as a performer, really made it an affordable experience.  Well folks, there are benefits to being in a dance company!  It’s really great of Albert to keep if affordable for the performers.  Performers didn’t have to pay anything if they didn’t want to attend workshops.

 

When we got to the tech rehearsal, I was really impressed by the new tent.  Granted, it was out in the parking lot, but it really did look nice inside.  The stage was surrounded by beautiful artwork created especially to decorate the tent.  There was a mix of more comfortable hotel chairs (closest to the stage), white folding chairs and bleachers (in the back).  Every seat really was a good seat.  Well, so far so good.  But then I took the stage for our rehearsal.  Albert had bragged that the stage was a super-expensive “Magic Dance Floor,” extra springy and light.  Well, I would describe it more as “extra-slippery and too bouncy.”  Most dance companies practice on regular old gym or dance studio floors, and this was just too different.  I’ve performed on some horrible surfaces, like asphalt and carpeting,  and of course this was better.  But Albert could’ve saved some money and gone with a regular and cheaper stage.  I hope he goes back to a regular stage next year.

 

Each night (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) there would be two sets of performances, plus the day-time performances at the Hilton.  Our troupe was assigned to perform in the 2nd set that night.  Because of that, I wasn’t able to really watch any of the Friday performances.  We spent most of the night getting ready backstage.  The dressing rooms were a little to small and without any lockers or shelves like in past years, but the whole back-stage process went smoothly.  And here I have to put in a word about how nice and helpful Maria Torres is.  Maria is the wife of Eddie Torres, the king of salsa and mambo dancing himself.  Even though her daughter performed that night, Maria was backstage with her sewing machine and other “tools” helping out EVERYONE with costume issues.

 

Now, here’s where I get to one of the glitches of the Congress.  Even though the tent was big enough to seat over 2,500 people, it was not big enough.  After my performance Friday night, my fiancé and I walked out to our car because we didn’t want to leave our things in the dressing room.  When we tried to walk back into the tent to see the rest of the performances, we were informed by the security people at the gate that the tent was over capacity and that we could not go back inside.  Even when we pleaded that we had already been inside all night and just gone out to the car after our performance, the guards would not budge.  But luckily, I am resourceful.  I informed the guard that my 10-year-old daughter was inside watching the shows by herself, which was the truth.  I asked, “Do you plan on taking responsibility for her and getting her back to our hotel?”  Well, he had remembered seeing us walk in with her and he let us right on through without any further questions.  But others were not so lucky. 

 

Each night, there were many people not allowed into the tent because it was already at capacity.  We made sure to get in early on Saturday and Sunday and stay inside the tent for both sets of performances, but many did not.  I can imagine that there were some very upset people.  If I would have come a long way and paid over $300 for the full event, without getting to see the shows, I would have been outraged.  You could watch the performances on monitor inside the Casino, but it’s just not the same.  And, you couldn’t risk leaving between sets to go do some dancing.  If you left, there were people on line to getting in to take your place.  Some people tried dancing in the aisles of the tents during the break, but Albert had to put a stop to that on orders from the Fire Marshall.  Albert did, on several occasions, mention that he would have to make the tent bigger the next year because of all of the people not able to get inside.  He continues to stay with the Hollywood Park Casino, because it’s the only venue that allows the party to go until 4am.

 

Those who did get to see the performances were not disappointed.  With better and more comfortable seating you could really enjoy the show.  And the troupes and couples who performed were more amazing than ever.  It’s just amazing how the overall level of dancing and performing continues to improve each year.  All of the performances were enjoyable, but there definitely were some stand-outs.  The Royalty Salsa Kids from LA had everyone standing on their seats and screaming on Friday night.  The same goes for the Jr. Heartbreak Boys from NY on Sunday night.  And don’t think it’s just because they are children.  These kids can dance!  Caribbean Soul and Salsa Brava were other stand-outs for me.

 

Because the stage and seating for the performances were moved to the outdoor tent, there was plenty more room for social dancing in the Casino area where the bands performed.  There were also more dance floors in the “outdoor” area where the stage and seating were in previous years.  Even though it was still crowded, it was nothing like last year.  There was more space to dance, more cooler outdoor dance space, it was less hot and crowded on the indoor dance floors, and it was easier to see the performers.  And boy, there were some great singers and bands.  By popular demand Albert brought back Oscar D’Leon.  Also performing were the legendary Ray Barreto and Adalberto Santiago and Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, as well as others. 

 

The workshops were great too.  Because during most time slots there were four workshops being offered at one time, they were less crowded than in past years.  Plus, I think that many people are just too tired during the day to make it to the workshops after social dancing until 4am, or they don’t want to pay more for the full event.  At it’s most expensive, the cost for the full event for non-performers was $340, versus $110 for the evenings only.  I would guess that many of those attending the workshops were performers like me who paid only $50 for the full event.  I do think that the workshops are worth the money if you make sure you actually get yourself out of your hotel bed and get to them.  I personally attended workshops by Joby and Luis Vazquez of Salsa Brava, Jai and Candy from New Jersey, and Victor and Gaby of Salsa con Clava from Mexico and really learned a lot.  My fiancé also attended workshops by Francisco Vazquez, Frankie Martinez and Eddie Torres (OK so I went back to the hotel to nap) and had nothing but good things to say about all of them.

 

If you haven’t been to the West Coast Salsa Congress or were disappointed in the past, I think you should give it another try next year.  Albert promises to have a bigger tent and it seems like he really does try to listen to what people say to make improvements.  And having Maya helping seems to be another assurance that it’ll only get better.  It is the biggest salsa event on the West Coast, and who doesn’t want to support an event whose theme is “Creating Unity Through Salsa.”  As Albert and Maya state in the welcome of the printed program, “During these difficult times of war, diseases and problems world wide, we have been able to find a common bond that crosses racial and religious barriers and has no age limit.”  It really is true.  You really do experience how diverse the salsa community is.  But before you sign up for next year, here are my recommendations:

 

1) If possible, try to attend as a performer.  If you’re not already in a salsa troupe, there are so many around, and now many troupes have training groups for less experienced performers.  It’s an amazing experience to perform at the Congress, and you get a HUGE discount.

 

2)If you’re trying to save money, there is a lot you can do.  If you’re in driving distance, carpool.  This year we drove from the Bay Area and didn’t encounter hardly and traffic on Friday or Monday.  Or check out advanced low airfare deals on-line.  And go to priceline.com to get a hotel.  You could always just attend the evening event if you can’t afford workshops.  And pay for the event in advance.  There was a $40 savings if you paid for the full event as late as March 15th.

 

3)If you have kids, make it a family event.  There are so many children’s and teen troupes that perform, so there are plenty of kids everywhere.  Prices for children are A LOT cheaper, and may even be free..  My 10-year-old daughter has attended the past three years and had a blast. 

 

4)Be prepared to be exhausted.  There is something going on from 9am in the morning until 4am in the middle of the night.  That leaves about two or three hours only for sleep.  Thus you must choose what is important to you or you will just be burnt out and cranky.  If seeing all of the performances is important to you, for example, realize that you will have to cut something else out.  You really will have to manage your time well if you want to add any non-salsa activities like shopping or swimming.

 

5)Have a positive attitude.  Of course, you could always find something to be disillusioned by or disappointed with.  You could complain about things like not being able to video tape the workshops or become frustrated by the attitudes of some of the employees, attendees and even performers.  Or, you could just focus on the good and make the best out of the experience.  I choose to do the latter and recommend that you do too.    

    

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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