RUN-UP TO THE WORLD SALSA CHAMPIONSHIPS 2009: Pre Event Coverage of the WORLD SALSA CHAMPIONSHIPS 2009

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By Dakin Ferris, traveling Salsero on assignment for www.SalsaCrazy.com.

Watching the first three years of the Salsa Seven's "World Salsa Championships", and the run-up to each of those events, has been genuinely exciting. Seeded with reputable partners and substantial up front money, the WSC burst onto the scene in 2005 with a very bold promise: to hold a world-class event, in a top-tier venue, with significant prize money, and international media coverage. If they could pull it off—and many of us had our doubts—it would be the first of a kind in the club salsa dance world, a genre which up until now had very little structure, let alone a prestigious international event. Other events have called themselves “World Championships”, but for usually fairly obvious reasons, those events never seemed to live up to their billing, except maybe in name only. This was the potential dawning of a new day in the club-Salsa world.

The Salsa Seven’s run-up to the first event in 2005 promised more than had even been accomplished before in the world of club Salsa–and by all accounts, they lived up to their promises and blazed new territory. It had all the glitz anyone could ask for: a huge Las Vegas venue, an ESPN-connected producer, regional qualifiers that created a buzz and exciting run-up, and the winners of those competitions flown in to Las Vegas from all over the world and put up in a nice hotel. Throw in some real prize money–$10,000 (I think) for the first place finishers—along with ESPN coverage around the globe, and for the first time in the history of club salsa, an event which claimed the title of "World Championship", seemed worthy of its name.

If there was any problem at all with the first year’s event, it was the fairly anemic audience attendance that had to have been expected, and maybe for all but the promoters went almost unnoticed. Clearly year two would be better, and in fact, it was. Also held in Las Vegas, year two witnessed a growing competitor base and enough of an increase in the size of the overall event to suggest it was actually getting traction in the popular consciousness of the salsa world and that it was well on its way to established itself as the pre-eminent competition in our genre of dance world-wide. If everything simply kept growing apace, the long-term prospects of the event didn’t seem in question. So for year three’s event in 2007, the Salsa Seven struck what seemed to be a massive coup with Disney (the parent of ESPN) and moved the event to Disney’s resort hotel in Orlando Florida. Even ESPN was stepping up for bigger global coverage.

By all outward appearances, year three of the World Salsa Championships was a huge success. The best of the best in club salsa came from all over the world to be seen inside a prestigious venue by a well-attended (2/3rds full) audience of screaming salsa fanatics. The president of Disney was even in attendance at the finals. ESPN was getting ready for the results. It seemed that everything was moving along perfectly.

After the event in 2007, however, rumors began to circulate that all was not well: The winners had not been paid for that (or even prior) years, and there was only one reason for this—the promoters were out of cash. In retrospect that might have been a key signal about what was to come, but none of the competitors went public with their story. Club salsa is rife with a history of promoters being unable to come up with performance and prize money. Its just the nature of the beast.

Flash forward to the Fall of 2008 and things seemed be to falling apart even more for the World Salsa Championships, maybe this time for good. Late in the 2008, after people had been devoting huge portions of that year’s time and energy to this seminal event — training relentlessly, flying to qualifiers, and otherwise organizing their lives completely around this event, the announcement came: the World Salsa Championships for 2008 were CANCELLED.

Though the economy was blamed as the reason, everyone knew the Salsa Seven’s financial troubles were surfacing as early as December 2007 when the economy was still on sound footing but the winners had not been paid. Among the dancers, the cancellation was widely heralded with disappointment and for many who spent so much time and effort and money working toward the 2008 event, anger.

Still, though the cancellation in 2008 did not bode well for the future of the event, the Salsa Seven continued to promise it would be back in 2009. They continued to hold qualifiers, and everyone waited for a formal announcement. Then, finally, the announcement of the 2009 event arrived on our doors, and though it was made very late in the year (in September — so late for a December event that some would not be able to attend as a result), it came with videos of the deluxe 5000+ person venue where it would happen, and seemed to herald a new day for the event. The World Salsa Championships were back!! I was delighted.

But almost as soon as the announcement was made there were more signs that finances were still a major problem. Winners from prior years were promised they would be paid on the first day of the upcoming event, and that announcement itself revealed what many had feared — the Salsa Seven didn't have a lot of new funding to pay these folks off immediately, and probably meant they were hoping to use advance ticket sales as a way to do this.

Still, the potential of the return of the first three glory years of this event was enough of a lure to mobilize the world-wide salsa army, and teams and couples from all over the world geared up. They trained hard, traveled to regional qualifiers, bought their airplane tickets to Florida, cancelled their classes (some for the entire month of December, since that’s the way classes are sold in some parts of the world) and got ready to lay it all on the line for the chance at a moment of fame.

And then, in the blink of an eye, everything seemed to collapse – again. First there came a rumor that the Salsa Seven no longer had a license to use the “Fania” music catalogue used for the prior Championships. While this might seem like a small issue to some, it actually caused a real panic among a lot of the competitors. Many teams and partners had been working on routines for over a year which had been choreographed at great effort to specific songs. Having to change their music at the last minute (now one month before the event) seemed beyond belief, especially because the effect of this change would not hurt people equally. Specifically, it would hurt the musical routines the most.

The musical routines are those routines that respond and react to the hits and nuances of a particular song, in essence the routines that really interpret and give life to a specific song–as contrasted with other routines that are more “by the numbers” and can be performed to almost any song with a consistent beat. This change then, would give a very significant advantage to the routines that could be performed to any song, since they would not have to be re-worked in any substantial way, if not completely re-written like many of the musical routines.

Sure enough, notice came out in Mid-November – just one month before the event — that this is exactly what was happening. Moreover the alternative music label that they announced was going to be used turned out to be a much smaller, lesser known and more contemporary catalogue. It would mean instead of having dancers compete using the classics that everyone knows, competitors were now forced to choose from a very small number of songs which, for the most part, aren't as universally adored.

While this announcement was potentially game-changing for some groups, once again everyone swallowed hard and did their best to politely adjust to this major last-minute change-up. The Salsa Seven’s press release claimed the situation was not their fault, as the story is that Fania was in the process of being sold and would not do business with anyone during that period of time, which I’m sure is true, but its also hard for me to believe that in this day and age of dying music labels, anyone in the industry would reject cold hard cash—adding a second piece of information to me suggesting there were real finance issues going on.

Still, with so many of our friends competing in this event…and just to help promote an event I believe in and want to see succeed, I bought my tickets. I should note, however, that as I went to buy my tickets, I remember thinking the prices were ridiculously high–$80 for one night, with no social dancing or workshops to boot! I also remember being surprised at the venue, a Hardrock Casino in Hollywood Florida, where major acts like Eric Clapton perform. I noted that the venue seated over 5000 people, and wondered aloud to some friends the next day if the Salsa Seven hadn't once again put the cart before the horse. It was Thanksgiving after all and tickets had just gone on sale for an event that was happening only one month later.

You might not have thought this even possible, but things since then have continued to get worse. Out of the blue in the first days of December—less than three short weeks before the event–people who had already bought their tickets received notification from Ticketmaster that their tickets (less Ticketmaster’s non-refundable “scalping” fee I might add), had been refunded and that the event was cancelled. The WSC website had no news, but the venue’s website and Tickmaster listed the event as cancelled. For a few days there was radio silence from the Salsa Seven, and it appeared all was lost…….again.

Finally the Salsa Seven put out a news release announcing that so few tickets to the event had been sold that the Hardrock cancelled the event on them. The Salsa Seven scrambled for a venue and decided since people had already purchased their airline tickets, to hold the event at the Hollywood Florida Sheraton where the competitors were already staying. Disaster averted?

As the details of what was to be now slowly came out, it became clear that the size, scope and potential quality of the event had changed dramatically. The ballroom where the event was to be held was fairly small, holding only 200 audience members — and they couldn’t even use it on Friday night, the second night of the semi-finals. The event was no longer being filmed for ESPN but instead only for a “potential” DVD release, like any other salsa congress. And prior winners would only be paid 50% on the first night and the balance over the next 6 months–and even that, implicitly, was now subject to change. Indeed, the next announcement from the Salsa Seven was actually encouraging the competitors themselves – the people who had already spent so much of their hard-earned money just to get to the event — to buy their own spectator seats in the audience since they would only be permitted to watch it on a monitor back stage if they didn't purchase seats. I had to presume that meant the Salsa Seven were having trouble even selling 200 seats!

—————-

As I fly over mid-Florida shortly before descending into Ft. Lauderdale, I cannot even image what is going to unfold here over the next few days. I know for a fact some of the best dancers in the world will be here. Many of our prior top 10 competitors are returning, and competitors from Korea, Australia, Japan, Spain, Colombia and as seemingly unlikely a place as Bulgaria will be in the house. But what else? Did some of the stars expected to be here cancel at the last minute in light of all the problems? Will people be angry at all the changes, feeling like they were the victims of a “bait and switch” scheme? Do the cash flow problems mean that most of the judges will be fellow promoters? I wrote about this after the 2007 event. Many of the judges on the panel were promoters of specific teams or partners who were competing, which to me impaired the credibility of the event, but at least that was counter-balanced by judges of unquestionable impartiality like Eddie Torres and Billy Fajardo.

We will all know the answer to these questions shortly. Kayono and I are on our way toward ground. She will be covering as much of the Asia-based competitors as she can. I will cover the rest of the world. I have no idea what we will find…..but I can predict one thing. Salseros always rise to the challenges presented. At the end of the day, it’s not about the prize money, but the bragging rights. I just hope the event is worthy of the caliber of the contestants.

Dakin Ferris has been dancing salsa for 8 years, has competed internationally, and currently dances with Couture Dance Alliance.  The opinions expressed herein are completely my own and not those of SalsaCrazy.com or anyone else.  Any matters stated factually should be read as being just my opinion.   And I am frequently wrong.


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  • http://www.SalsawithTomaj.com Tomaj Trenda

    Excellent article Dakin. Thnak you for the very entertaining read! This is an event I have cared very little about, for some reason…just never was that interested in it…and you made me interested, by your excellent coverage…

    Tomaj Trenda

  • Zain Khandwala

    I love the no-punches-pulled coverage and penetrating behind-the-scenes insight. Looking forward to more… Z.

  • http://www.kristenfitness.com Kristen Nolan

    Nice one Dakin! I am glad I can follow such a thorough reporter for this event! Thank you for your run down of the last few years. Looking forward to seeing what happens now…

  • Jessica Jones

    Informative and entertaining! Its refreshing to see an in-depth story on this topic – thank you Dakin. Looking forward to more.

  • Bryce Dechert

    Great article amigo! As an avid WSC fan since taking the first trek to Vegas in 2005 I've always been a huge supporter of the event.

    It's a shame that the "Salsa Seven/Six" have been unable to procure funding for subsequent years -2005 was great, people got paid, competition went awesome, salseros all around the world wanted a piece. Lets hope that the financial difficulties can be worked out to make next years event awesome.

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