Second Chances: Auditioning for Salsa Soleil

A salsera in training tumbles again

By Hyun Joo Chung
Published on LatinoLA: August 4, 2003

Second Chances: Auditioning for Salsa Soleil

I chugged the energy sodas with extra caffeine, slurping to increase the hop in my steps. I hugged my new best friend, a huge bottle for water. I wore my ?lucky? pants made of the lightest materials.

I prepared myself with extra calcium milk for strength, grape juice with antioxidants, and chewy granola bar with one-hundred percents of vitamins and minerals for breakfast. I drank a river of water like the health magazines say to do. I did sit ups in the living next to the TV and hip exercises while walking to the refrigerator.

A good salsera has strength and endurance, not to be confused as masculine qualities. Competition as a salsera is far stiffer even though in salsa clubs the men have the difficult lead.

I heard about the audition when I went to Liz Lira?s website. I wrote the information down immediately, even though I was on the way to audition for the L.A. Salsa Kids, a group highly endorsed by a said kingpin of salsa dancing.

I had never met Liz Lira, even though I occasionally went to her Ladies Styling class on Sunday afternoons at the Millennium Dance Studio in North Hollywood. I had heard buzz about her, including her resume highlights as Mayan and Conga Room Champion, positions I coveted.

Salsa shoes cost at least one hundred dollars, which I still did not have. I used my flat heels, which I bought for twenty dollars at a store in New York City. I stumbled on the triple spins as I warmed up. I thought she was going to ask for dozens of turns but I turned out to be wrong.

?Breathe in,? the ballerina/salsera demonstrated a flawless with a triple spin with her black-heeled boots in my memory.

With the flashback playing, I expected more triple spins but it was ?optional.?

A few minutes later after I pranced around some more, I saw women greet Liz Lira with familiarity. The women had the ?Salsa Soleil? logo on their black T-shirts.

Already I was anxious. What was so ?new? about something established, I wondered? Furthermore, the company dancers did not really move or extend arms like Liz. Just how much room was there in this company?

My friend and I were the first ones to arrive. Not even the dance company members beat us on punctuality.

So when I stepped inside of Club Euphoria, I was ready with?

?So could we please try the dance floor??

?Sure? Liz beamed.

?You?re so cute,? she told me, more than once.

?Where?s the bathroom?? I timidly asked.

?Oh,? she pointed. ?Over there.? This great goddess of a salsera pointed to the hallway near the shadowed, unoccupied bar. I got the feeling children got when they went to Disneyland and saw a three-dimensional version of Mickey Mouse. I mean, I saw her smiling pictures at the Mayan with her hair neatly swooped away like a ballertina. I saw her in all sorts of ads offering private and group lessons. I heard so much about her. And here she was in the flesh and talking to me!

I couldn?t wait but I noticed that my shoes were sticking to the floor.

?Liz, my shoes stick to the floor. Should I dance in my socks?? I approached her.

?Um,? her amber-brown eyes twinkled. Her bright voice was high-pitched and goes at a rapid pace. She had a habit of calling everyone: ?Hon.?

?You could wash them or clean them, hon.? she suggested. Only two seconds later I was scrubbing the flats of my shoes on the bathroom sink.

Not only did I have the wrong shoes for the floor, I was hyper and full of caffeine. My eyes were wild and raunchy. My hair was raunchy. I hopped like a kangaroo around the tables with chairs to get rid of the excess energy. I skipped. I hopped. I jumped. I was crazy.

?You?re so cute,? said the 2002 Mayan Champion.

I melted to the wooden floor.

Never mind I never got to see her legendary dance with salsa instructor A.D.S., I only heard of her through secondary sources. I immediately jumped to the bathroom for the fortieth time to diligently wash the bottoms of my twenty dollars shoes. I dried them like a baby?s bottom. I crouched to the floor and proceeded to swipe the wooden floor with a paper napkin. No matter if onlookers already determined my insanity.

I was a kangaroo and a janitor wiping the wooden floor with paper towels.

I still ran more in place. But who cared? Here, in this moment, my only lover was salsa. Just me and salsa. The rest of the world revolved around us.

By twelve-thirty, I had hopped enough to rival a seven-year old. I was wiping my damp face smeared with nervous sweat. The tips of my ears only felt the increasing heat from my nervous energy.

I pasted a silly grin to my face: smile was so crucial in auditions. I grabbed the waist of my pants. My pants were expanding or my thorax was shrinking.

For the fifth pilgrimage to the ladies room, I then sang a crazy tune. ?Da la la la? is the misty memory of it. I smiled at another auditionee. Never mind that in college I belonged to a singing group called ?Crapapella.?

"Hi,? I sang to the lady who arrived. She placed her bag on the tables to retrieve her shoes. I waved wildly to her. ?Hi, hi, hi!? I repeated. She was a woman in a black tank top taller than I was. She said something like ?Calm down? which merely evaporated before her advice reached my ears.

?Hehehehe!? I hopped away like the imp I had become.

In the Saturday afternoon, Club Euphoria looked dead with only women arriving with gym bags and typing the straps of their heeled dancing shoes. There was a bar in the glimmering bottles and unused. Next to the bar counter were the wooden floor and a carpeted stage with a DJ area.

The auditionees nearly packed the small wooden floor in three rows. A lot went to the bathroom and tied the expensive straps on their ankles with ribbons or cross heart patterns. Some shoes were glittered and ruby. Some were the basic black. And others silver and gold. One looked like a real muscular ballerina with a proper-gelled bun on her head. Who was the salsera now?

The audition first taught two lady styling combinations. The group of auditionees were divided into two: the first one moved to the right, the second moved to the left, making sure the two groups did not crash. The first one had about eight counts of jazz walks to the left. The arms went were extending and lots of hip exaggerations.

Then in a move similar to jazz hands, you twinkled your fingers into a ?rain? top to the bottom. The real tricky part of the first combination was the count. And there were small but crucial details like hip rolling at the right counts and the arm movements to synchronize and then a variation in which the body face the rear.

?Count out loud? instructed Liz. She had her assistant already in Soleil demonstrate on top of the stage. Three people.

The second combination involved a sort of Suzy Q steps, in which the legs do a diagonal walk, crossing each other, rotating your shoulders to the eight beats of salsa. Then, there was a box step. A quick ball change with the extending leg to the left known as ?LA Style.? The final step was a spin.

First, I did the first combination. Then, ladies came to be taped in groups of three. Each person had to say her name and phone number to the camera. Then, she did the combination with two other women. The second combination was taught and each woman was taped again. Finally, everyone did the second combination in front of Liz and the three Soleil who would huddle together and whisper. This time, the lines were divided into two. Each line performed several times. Three Soleil stared at you. ?Smile!? sounded more than an order. ?Pretend like you?re performing.?

I smiled wide enough for my teeth for the audience to be count each one. My eyes widen. The sockets couldn?t hold back my jolly eyes. My happy smile froze clenching my teeth. I tumbled on the last spin twice. Should I blame the fate on shoes? ?You, you, you,? she pointed, were selected from the first line. I was in line two and I performed for the Soleil.

?Could you please step forward??

I was in! In, I tell you. I proudly stepped forward. I was going to the student of Mayan Champion.

?Those of you who were called up are part of Group B.? Was B for better?

One Soleil explained: Group A was the performing group. And Group B was the alternate group. Understudy, eh?

I had already let down my hair. I was singing off the nervous energy. I played with the click of the cyan blue hair clip between my fingers: click, clack, click, clack.

I breathed but I was afraid disappointment rose to the surface of my face. I tried to not show. Don?t let them look at you weak, I told myself.

It was like ?Being in Miss America? said one auditionee. I stumbled to sit: ?I don?t care? I inhaled for more air. ?I just don?t want to dance again.?

The result: I was in Group B.

The supposed good news: ?You guys are all in!? Liz sweetly beamed.

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