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A Magical Time in San Juan.

 Two days before the trip, I had all but decided to call it off. Far too much work, impending deadlines, and way too much money all were dictating the fact that I shouldn't travel. If that weren't enough, speaking to one women who attended the previous year, revealed tales of never being asked to dance, a dance floor filled with "show", an unprofessional setup and a not-too-friendly environment. After about a day of going back and forth, under the never failing rationalization of "you only live once", I decided to plunk down the cash and take the risk. This was two days before the Congress started. It was a great decision!

I quickly hopped a plane, ready, from San Francisco through Miami, to San Juan. I arrived in San Juan on Thursday morning, the conference start day. I hailed a cab from the airport to the hotel. I was pretty happy, the cabdriver played salsa the entire way. First impressions were, "hey, now this is a nice hotel". From the moment I arrived, the service at the hotel was fantastic. Salsa music played everywhere, it was like some dream city. I wandered out to the beach while my room was prepared, and ran into a friend from San Francisco almost immediately (which is impressive, since there were very few of us there).

 I learned of the huge Salsaweb party, which I had missed the night before. I really wished I had been able to make it. I could have met and therefore been able to dance, with more people. I worried that since I didn't know anyone, AND I missed the party, that it might be tough finding people to dance with (now that was needless worrying for you). It's true, I didn't know anyone, and I was in a new place, where I didn't really speak the language (although everyone spoke English just fine), but as I'll tell you that was part of the allure for me, and it was also part of the fun.

 My room had a stereo (which led to salsa music in the room as well). The rooms in the hotel are very nice, and the sushi bar (where I had dinner) was fantastic. A quick bit of sun out by the pool, a shower, and a nap, and I was raring to go. Time passed quickly, and before I knew it, the first night of the Congress had begun. I had picked up my badge earlier that day.

Upon entering the congress for the first time, I immediately knew I had made the right decision. It was held in a huge ballroom, with a nice sized dance floor on one side, and a raised stage (with seats and tables in front of it) on the other side. The band had already started when I had arrived, and there was a crowd of people around the dance floor. Surprising (at least to me), they were mostly women. I decided to dive right in. Walking up to someone, I glanced sideways at the name tag, New York. Don't they dance on two? Damn that two. What the hell, I ask her to dance, and before long we were out on the floor. Oh my god! She was fantastic. An amazing dancer. One thing I learned at the Congress is that it didn't matter what beat (1,2,3 or 4) people danced on. It was challenging at times, but everyone there seemed to be able to dance with each other just fine (most people with stunning results).

By the time I got off the floor, I was on a high that wasn't going to stop for the next three days. Next up, I found Edie, beat my way through the line of guys around her, and had another fantastic dance. After the dance, Edie introduced me to the dancers from Curacao, and it just continued to get better and better. It was incredible. After maybe six or seven dances, the first set of shows (performances) were starting.

The dancing stops when the shows start, and people perform on a nicely lit, heightened stage. I wasn't prepared for the quality of the shows. Every country, every city, was absolutely magnificent. Some of these routines were obviously labors of love, with many months (many, many months) of practice going into them. They were, in a word, spectacular. My congratulations to all the troupes and dancers who performed in this years Congress. You were absolutely exceptional.

After each round of shows, a new band takes the stage and dancing continues. The music was fantastic, from Tito Rojas, to Andy Montanez, to Son by Four, to TMC, everyone was just mindblowingly great! Between the shows, and the dancing, I never left the conference before 3 am, and sometimes, much later.

 Dancing partners were plentiful. There were always people waiting by the floor to dance (mostly women, but certainly not all). The entire trip I was never turned down a single dance, and often approached (which I don't mind at all). It's strange, but it did seem like there were more women than men (I almost feel like I shouldn't be saying this, next year they'll be 5000 guys), and I did notice not many of them got asked to dance. The strange thing is, I never had a "bad" dance. Everyone there knew how to dance, and most were exceptional. It seemed like many guys just wouldn't ask women to dance. I should point out (and in guy's defense), that the dance floor could be daunting. When you look out there and see so many fantastic dancers, you could think to yourself, if only for a moment, "no way am I going out there". The dancers were incredible, and there was several times where I just wanted to sit and watch some of these dancers dance. But then, the music got to me, and before long, I was back out on the floor. This continued, every night, for the next four days. I wouldn't have minded if it had continued for the rest of my life. It was really that good. Of course, staying in a five star hotel, and lazing on the beach, walking through Old San Juan, eating great food etc . . . didn't hurt the overall experience at all either.

 I'll make brief note of the workshops that are held during the day. I didn't make it to as many as I would have liked, but I found them professionally run, and mostly in English (since my Spanish is not that great). Some instructors were Spanish only, but most did a mix that was easily followable. The workshops were good, but not a highlight for me.

 On a separate, but related note, What I would like to have seen is at least one workshop that encourages you to change partners and meet people (that you will later dance with in the evening). I think the conference could work to help people from different countries talk (and meet) each other, a little easier. This would be a perfect time to learn different styles, and meet different people during the day. Next year, this would really help people (especially women who have rightfully complained of not being asked to dance).

This Congress felt like it was all about the love of the dance. I didn't run into one single person who wasn't friendly, open, and entirely head-over-heels in love with Salsa dancing. And that was the beauty of it. It wasn't about competition, it wasn't about who, or what style, was better. It was just people sharing their love and interpretation of the dance, and it was awesome. The congress is made up of people from all over the world who come to San Juan, like me, to appreciate the dance, the spirit, the history and the music.

There were very few other people from San Francisco, and we eventually found each other (all four or five of us). I remember clearly Albert (the MC) going through all the places people were visiting from. L.A and New York and even Japan had huge crowds of people cheering when he mentioned their cities. I tried to manage a yell when San Francisco came up, but I'm afraid one guy yelling in a crowd of 100's didn't sound too strong. I vowed next year we'd pack the house.

Thanks to Edie, for just being you. Dancing, Introducing me to other dancers, and inspiring. . . Thank Albert Torres, who did a fantastic job MC'ing (and performing in) the Congress. You are tireless!

Thanks to Paco for being the perfect host in Israel. He inspired me to welcome people to San Francisco with the same friendliness and hospitality. Another thanks go out to Paco for his great work on the Salsaweb City Guides.

 Thanks to Holming (Mike), Bridget, Isabel, Vera, Mark and Victor (the rest of the San Francisco crew) for hanging out and having fun.

Thanks to everyone I danced with. I really tried to "make it around the world", dancing with people from every country and every nationality. It was an absolutely fabulous experience and one that I'll treasure for quite some time (and it was also pretty darn challenging at times). The last thing I'll say about the trip is how it affected me upon my return. Returning from San Juan I felt rejuvenated (tired), alive (a bit tired), inspired (ok, maybe not THAT tired), and totally ready to dance!

Can't wait until next year - July 1st through 4th. Mark it on your calendars . . .

Evan Margolin (evan@margolin.org)

 Salsa Web Page: www.salsacrazy.com

 

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