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By Dakin Ferris, Bleary-Eyed Correspondent for

Arriving on Saturday night for the Finals of the 2007 World Salsa Championships, Kayono and I are delighted to find ourselves sitting right behind Jai Catalano, Billy Fajardo, Maya Torres (five months pregnant and beaming), the ever-dapper Eddie Torres, Japan's scion of salsa George Watabe, and Korea's ambassador, Spin.  We chat with Maria Torres sensing the tense excitement that has already filled every corner of the room.  Flags flying everywhere — especially Colombian and Puerto Rican flags — and most folks wearing their Sunday best, the scene was set.

And then, in the blink of an eye, it was over.  It wasn't pretty for the SF Bay Area compared to year's past, but there was a lot to be proud of.  The most signifant structural difference from the last two years tonight was that instead of combining scores from the finals with the semi-finals, each of the contestants tonight would be judged solely on that nights performance….winner take all. 

Here is what happened:




9.  JAPAN'S TETSU AND EMI – Japan's Tetsu and Emi, possibly the funniest couple in salsa (Tetsu being the brother of Ryu, who, with his wife Ryoko was in the top 10 just two years earlier) opened the evening with an elegant and smooth performance.  I love their relaxed style and creative flow.  In the end, they were able to jump up a spot from 10th to 9th, and were clearly delighted with their results.  If they decide to come back next year, look for them to place and maybe take it all.


7.  SF'S RICARDO AND TIANNE – Ricardo and Tianne's peformance was technically right in line with their semi-final performance, but, as many of the performers in the finals, I sensed a little tentativeness which I attributed to the pressure of the finals.  It was only afterwards that I found out that they were distracted by the potential for an imminent wardrobe failure (which never happened but was quite understandably distracting).  Despite this, they still pulled off a very clean and elegant performance.  I thought their seventh place finish was the biggest stunner on the upside for the Bay Area as I don't think anyone expected them to crack the top 10 (not due to the skill levels, to be clear, but merely because of a perception that ESPN is not looking for elegance and artistry, and would favor faster action and more spins).


6.  SF'S ISIDRO AND SHEILA — On the edge of our seats, Kayono and I gripped each other praying for Isidro and Sheila to get something so many of us have thought was long over due.  In the beginning, perfection.  We held our breath afraid to move…..and then it happened.  First, what seemed like an almost imprecptable bobble, and then tragedy, as they completely lost connection, and then it was over.  Kayono and I choked back our tears and then they we just couldn't hold them in.  The final results placed them 6th.  Kayono and I sat speachless, knowing they were likely inconsolable at that point, unable to see beyond their own disappointment and likely needing some healing time with their friends before returning to their bodies and appreciating their incredible skills and all they have accomplished.  Yes, I am biased, but their semi-finals routine and Jr. and Emilie's finals routines were, in my humble opinion, the two most spectacular On1 and On2 routines of the week.


1.  L.A.'S ABEL AND ZUMARA  – Swapping places with Isidro and Sheila, L.A.'s pride and joy Abel and Zumara had a nearly-flawless performance.  Their trademark "Tornado" spin sequence just makes you gasp at the speed of their spins and Zumara's tremendous grace.  Indeed, Zumara seemed calm and poised through-out as Abel demonstrated ferocious mastery in his lead.  These two-time champions absolutely deserved their three-peat…..and with that victory, cemented their history as the first of two dynasties to be established this night.




5.  OAKLAND/SF'S JOHN AND LIZ – There was nothing tentative about John and Liz when they hit the stage.  I could see the fire in John's eyes as the moved into their starting position like a couple on a mission.  As possibly the most consistent of the Bay Area performers, they executed very cleanly and were well-received by the audience.  I thought they might edge up a place or two, but in the end, they remained in fifth.


4.  NEW YORK'S (AND FORMERLY SF'S) LOUIS ANTONIO AND ANYA – Bursting onto the competition scene this year, Louis Antonio and Anya, for me, embody exactly what modern mambo should be.  Formerly with SalsaMania and now teaching at DanceSport in New York, Louis and his partner Anya made their mark tonight in two categories (see Team results below), and finally gave New York representation in a category they should own!


3.  SF'S JUNIOR AND EMILY – What can you say about this amazing brother-sister due that hasn't already been said.  Junior and Emily do things on the stage that simply no-one else can do…..and tonight, when they hit their final pose, Kayono and I screamed with delight.  To my mind, there was nothing anyone could do to beat their routine.  Finally, after two years in second place, they would get the victory they so richly deserved.  When the judges announced them in third place, the audience was stunned and immediately the booing started that did not die down for two minutes (and then was followed by a large chorus of people chanting "JUNIOR" "JUNIOR").  Rumor has it the judges had issue with their timing…..and wanted at least one or two tempo changes/traditional mambo type moves.  I can't even speak to this, you will simply have to get the video and judge for yourself.  For the second time that night, Kayono and I fought back the tears and then cried for a couple we love. 


2.  NEW YORK'S JHESUS APONTE AND  MARIELYS MOLINA – Speaking of New York, maybe the biggest place change of the evening was Jhesus and Marielys coming from 10th place in the semi-finals to second place in the finals.   There were times in the semi-finals I thought it almost looked like they were social dancing, but I had no doubt about it that after their performance in the finals they would be top 5.  This was the Jhesus Aponte that I only knew from legend, Marielys  was stunning, and together they pulled out their best performance when it was needed most.  


1.  SYDNEY'S OLIVER AND LUDA — It seems like Oliver and Luda are favorites everywhere in the world.  Luda is currently on Australia's dancing with the stars and their energy seems boundless.  I love their style and everything they do…..and tonight was no exception.  But for the fact that I simply found Junior and Emilie's routine this year more exciting, I would have surely thought Oliver and Luda were a lock for first.  If it wasn't going to be Junior and Emily, I was delight to see these two-time prior champions have their three-peat as well….and another dynasty is down for the record books.


I have to mention here something I will write about in my out-take reports.  When first place was announced, many in the crowd boo'd.  Obviously they were booing the results and not Oliver and Luda themselves, but I found this unforgivable.  I saw what I thought was shock on Luda's face when this happened and felt horrible that they were not be received in the style they completely deserved. 




To be honest, my heart was so heavy with the results from the semis and the finals that I wasn't able to focus very intently on the cabaret or the team competitions.  In third from Puerto Rico and Venezuela were last year's champions Kelvin and Lisa.  The had a moderate mistake/hand disconnection that I think probably knocked them out of the running for first.  Houston and Daisy and John and Judy from Colombia took second and first respectively.  They were riveting and completely-exciting, but my heart wasn't there anymore.  I could only think about how my friends were taking their results, as the reality of the evening set in on them.





5.  SYDNEY'S MODUS VIVENDI – One of two performances I missed in the four days here, Kayono reported that they were clean and very well synced.  But for the Colombian's, they would be an easy lock for a top-three spot.


4.  NEW YORK'S DANCESPORT ALL-STARS – In the same way Louis Antonio and Anya represent the embodiment of what I like about modern mambo, so too did their team.  While I won't go into it in detail here, but for the Colombian teams doing something that is COMPLETELY different than anyone else (with the sole similarity being the music), this team would have placed first.


3. 2. 1. ALL FROM COLOMBIA – I don't have the team names, but last years first place team repeated, and the other two were right there with them.  I like to watch the Colombian groups.  I am not positive, but I think almost everyone in all three of these groups is 18 or under, and for these kids, the experience must have been like none other.  When first place was announced the crowd erupted for the biggest celebration of the night with audience members mobbing the stage.  I was happy truly for the kids.  They had accomplished something quite impressive and which hopefully creates a foundation for them to see what is possible if you live life following your dreams.  Colombia has a lot to be proud of tonight.


This wasn't the ending any of the Bay Area folks had scripted, but sometimes it doesn't turn out the way it does in the song.  I have many thoughts and observations on this whole event and will write more from Ponce, Puerto Rico in the next few days.  Congratulations to all the Bay Area competitors for representing us so strongly.  Your final place at the worlds changes nothing about your place with us.  You are heros and role models all.  Congratulations also to Giju John and the "SalsaMania Dancers" as well as PB&G for their entertaining "demonstration" routines at the finals as well.


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