Salsa Story - Rita
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How did Afro-Cuban and Afro-Puerto Rican music, mambo,
rueda and Salsa dancing take over my life? Well, the story begins many years
ago. As part of my mother’s tireless efforts to purge me of my tomboyish ways,
she sent me to ballet classes at age 5. Maybe she thought I would get a little
poise, style and refinement. (The jury is still out on whether this worked) But
more importantly I developed a lifelong love affair with dance and performing in
general. By the time I had finished high school I had studied ballet for 12
years, went on to try my hand at tap and modern dance and performed in local
ballet companies, high school musicals and regional theater. I was fortunate
enough to grow up in Washington DC where numerous theaters showcased dance and
theater companies from New York, Los Angeles and all over the world. At that
time multi-cultural dance companies such as Alvin Ailey and Dance Theater of
Harlem were just beginning to explode on the scene. They began an exciting
process of changing the face and rhythm of ballet and modern dance with their
infusion of African American and African inspired music and choreography. of
I continued my involvement in dance and theater in college,
both as a dancer, choreographer and director. I even managed to go to attend
biology and sciences classes. I also had my first real exposure to popular
dance and music and own of my great passions—house parties. Most of the time, I
was dancing free style to Motown and other R+B favorites. But no formal dancing
with a partner. In my dance classes I had usually alone or performed a
choreographed routine with a partner. But at a party, I had a terrible time
understanding my partner’s lead and staying on the beat. So for many years I
avoided partner dancing.
When I first moved to California, there were tons of house
parties---usually populated with people from back East socializing and trying to
get adjusted to the California life style. It was a fun time and my free style
dancing and I grew more comfortable with improvising and responding
spontaneously to the music. But time passed and as my friends got married,
pursued careers; there were fewer and fewer opportunities to dance.
In 1994, I took a trip that helped revitalize my dance
passion. I went to Brazil, specifically Bahia in the northeastern region,
during Carnival time. THOSE PEOPLE KNOW HOW TO PARTY. Two weeks of non-stop
music and dancing. I felt like my whole trip had seductive, joyful soundtrack.
Finally I came back to San Francisco from Brazil on a rainy, cold Tuesday
morning after 16 hours of flying. Boy was I tired and very depressed. While I
was waiting at luggage carousel at SFO (we all know how long that wait can be),
I knew that I had to find a way to put music and dance back into my life.
Several months later I was watching the Grammy Awards of TV
and I saw Gloria Estefan’s performance of her award winning CD, “Mi Terra”. She
has assembled a spectacular band that included Sheila Escovedo and Tito Puente.
Then the dancers appeared. I could not take my eyes of the Salsa Dancers—so
fluid, rhythmic and sexy. I said right then and there—I’ve got to learn that
dance. Pretty soon once a week I was taking classes at the old Kimball’s
Carnival from the legendary (or maybe infamous) Alex Da Silva. Later I found
the established Salsa community at Caribee exuded a very special love of Latin
music, dance and culture. Caribee was not just a place for dancers but also a
place to meet friends and family—a real community. People would sit in groups
and exchange pictures of weddings, graduations and trips, trade recipes and chat
about all kinds of gossip. Les, the elder statesman of Bay Area Salsa (you’ve
probably seen him—he is the older gentleman who always wears a hat and is
surrounded by women) would give away fruits and vegetables from his garden.
All this and some amazing Salsa dancers. You could see couples that had been
dancing together for 20-30 years that were so amazingly in tune with each other
that they were a pleasure to watch.
Like all Salsa addicts, the addiction has slowly taken over
my life. My experience of Salsa was been the inspiration for my participation in
intensive dance workshops in Cuba (See my articles on www.salsacrazy.com),
dancing in Puerto Rico and Spain. Thanks to the generosity of Mr. SalsaCrazy I
have been an active contributor to
www.salsacrazy.com and last year launched my website
www.salsaroots.com devoted to the history of Salsa. Though my dance pursuits have expanded to include mambo, rueda, tango and Lindy Hop—my heart will always belong to hard-core Salsa.
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