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What a Good Dancer Makes?

 

By Maya

 

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Ever thought about it? No, not just "oh yeah, that's a good dancer, cause he/she looks good on the floor.  Am I milling dance sweat here? Perhaps, but here are some grains of thought for you to do your own brain milling. Recently we had 2 competitive events: a Jack&Jill "professional" contest at Cocomo and a group competition at Roccapulco. 

First of all, how do you define the word "professional"?  Having a linguistic education and a non-native English, I was diligent, I sank my teeth in a dictionary and dug up one of several definitions of the word:" Engaging in an  occupation as one's profession or life work for gain".  Given the sorry situation where powers that be are reluctant to pay for salsa performances, local salsa devotees define SOCIAL DANCE INSTRUCTORS as professionals.  In that case, we should look at the "professional" contest at another angle. Should we judge the couples' performance skills, social dance skills or teaching skills? As a performer, you need some kind of stage presence, that elusive je ne sais quoi that is obvious in every step you take, even in the way you walk out on stage.  It makes you stand out in a group and comes only with years of professional training.  As an instructor, you need to teach  your students to lead and follow any partner and that presumes that instructors themselves can dance and look good with everyone (at least, theoretically).

In those  Jack&Jill pairings most dancers did not look too happy with each other.  (Rodney The Salsagang Man, the organizer of this successful event and one of the judges, had his own very private fun watching them) Oh sure, it's easy to dance with your partner who knows your moves, your style, your leading and following habits etc. etc. Plus you spent months and years practicing together.  But when you're pitted against another dancer (in this  case it was even easier - your partner was another professional) that's when you expose your skills (or lack thereof) as a social dancer as opposed to a performer. 

You can learn a routine, practice it for hours and even look good doing it, but in social dancing that pesky leading and following thing gets in the way and needs different set of skills in order to adapt to different partners. In the group competition where the music is chosen, the choreography is created and the training are done well in advance, we can determine a variety of things including the originality of choreography, the performing  technique, the energy and, most importantly, the passion of salsa which resonates most with the audience.  If these categories were not grouped together we would most certainly have different winners in each one of them.

The group leaders' role is crucial here. They do most of the work including the biggest part of all - training dancers.  Obviously, if you're lucky to lure advanced dancers your work is almost done.  But to start with beginners or even intermediates and train them to become  performers - that's a true accomplishment for an instructor and a group leader.

So far (at least in the recent years), Bay Area did not produce salsa groups winning international competitions.  But each one of our local talents deserves an award for dedication. Most dancers work or go to school full time.  Even so, they find time and effort not only to dance in clubs for fun, but also to spend hours practicing their routines; they  pay for their costumes as well as group fees for their privilege to be a dance group member.  What do they get out of it? A chance to improve their dancing, to perform in front of an audience, friendship with other group members and just plain old fun.

What is it that makes a dance troupe a winner? Professional judges might have different answers from audience members.  What's more important to you? Smoothness, flashy moves, technique, musicality, choreography, innovative patterns, sexy costumes, passion?  Whether you thought about it or not, it's probably all of the above.  Your choice of a winner would depend on which of these are more important to you personally. 

Our groups collectively have it all.  Mambo Romero's most experienced dancers with their smooth style and "eye candy" appeal took the first place 2 years in a row.  New group Tribu Nueva, created by a former member of Ricasalsa, continued that group's dedication to innovative ideas and choreography reflecting the music at hand. Ricasalsa deserves recognition for many innovative moves and musicality. Its leader Ricardo Tellez can often be  spotted dancing with beginners, and it's amazing what he can do with inexperienced followers.

PB&G dancers are full of energy. When they polish their routine presented at the last competition, they just might bump Mambo Romero off their pedestal.  "SuperSexy" Salsamania demonstrated what dedication and persistence could accomplish.  This group never shies away from any chance to perform and if you watched their progress you witnessed tremendous improvement thanks to John and Liz' efforts who transformed their dancers from beginners to second-place winners. (Some of their students are now members of Mambo Romero). John and his partner won the above-mentioned Jack&Jill contest.

In a couples competition not so long ago all 3 top prizes went to Salsamania members and the first place was awarded to Jairo and his pregnant wife for their spunk and playful reflection  of music accents. In that competition even judges, including  salsa luminaries Felipe Polanco and Albert Torres, made it clear  that dancing is not a sport, that "music and passion are always in fashion at the Copa" and hopefully beyond.


So, to answer that duplicitous question in the title
1.  Bay Area salsa performers - nada, zilch
2.  Read the above and decide for yourself

Maya/Salsaloca

 

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