Salseros Unite!

Feeling the international influence at the Salsa Congress

By Susana Sanchez
Published on LatinoLA: May 30, 2002

Salseros Unite!

Thrusting their every dance step while vying for five minutes of fame, 112 dance
teams and more than 3,000 salseros from more than 40 countries and 700 U.S. cities donned their dancing shoes and glitziest outfits for the 4th Annual West Coast Salsa Congress at Hollywood Park and Casino and LAX Hilton in Inglewood over Memorial Day weekend.

Produced by Albert Torres Production, this three-day event is dubbed as the
largest salsa convention of its kind, offering international salsa dance
performances, more than 40 dance workshops from beginner to advanced, international salsa bands and international DJs spinning tropical flavors and Latin beats until 4 a.m.

"What drives me to this Congress is the music and love for salsa dancing,'' said
Annie Hernandez from West Covina, a second-year attendee and Congress volunteer. "I love the high energy and the social part of salsa dancing.''

Local dance team Salsational, from Let's Dance L.A. Studio in Alhambra, performed an interpretation of the musical ``West Side Story.'' The group was among the few to receive a standing ovation for its clean choreography and well-executed lifts, jumps and technique.

"I've lost my voice because of the Congress,'' said Salsational member Hector
Llama, 21. "I'm really excited because we have been working very hard as a team,
but I'll be relieved when it's all over.''

Although the team practices year-round, director and choreographer Enio Cordoba finalized the dance only a month ago. At a practice performance at its monthly studio party a week before the Congress, Cordoba explained the need to change some moves because he had seen another teams use the same moves.

Consisting of eight couples between age 12 and about 40, the team's comical and dramatic take on the classic musical combined advanced levels of salsa and swing steps in a fun, fast and vivacious five-minute piece.

"We're like a family,'' said Salsational member Wendi Mangiagli, 20, a USC

For some of the Salsational team members, this was their first experience at the

"I'm excited to be here,'' said Salsational member Kevin Orellan, 25. "It's my first time here, I find it challenging but the point is to have fun.''

Dance teams from all over the world presented their pieces with all sorts of
themes such as an Egyptian King Tut hip-hop/salsa, a spoof on "Crouching Tiger
Hidden Dragon;'' Michael Jackon's "Thriller;'' and more. Some incorporated Mexican banda dance steps to grandmas in their retirement home dancing when no one was looking. Movies such as the "Matrix,'' James Bond and "Zorro'' were also interpreted with a salsa dance twist.

Teams as far as Malaysia, Australia, China, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic,
Switzerland, Japan, London and Greensboro, S.C. also strutted their interpretations
of salsa.

"Who would of thought they salsa in Greensboro!" said Torres.

Season Bristol, 27, a Los Angeles-based choreographer, paid a tribute to America and to those who lost their lives and loved ones on Sept. 11 in his piece, which also received a standing ovation.

"I was terribly affected by Sept. 11 and I decided to make a tribute to America
in salsa,'' said Bristol.

The piece featured a carnival atmosphere of red, white and blue dressed salseros with dancers on stilts with a graceful duet by Gregory Day and Tommye Giachino, two Chicago-based dancers. The duet elegantly executed a high lift while Giachino draped an American flag, making the audience hit a patriotic climax. A percentage of the Congress fee will be donated to a Sept. 11 Fund.

With provocative pelvic thrusts, gyrating couples sometimes gave impromptu
performances on and off the dance floor, the hotel lobby or danced their latest
choreographed piece, tricks, jumps and spins while crowds gathered. Salsa
aficionados from all backgrounds, ages and races were "Creating Unity Through
Salsa,'' Albert Torres' motto and theme of his production.

"It's all about having fun,'' said Torres, a native New Yorker and a

An outstanding performance by Oscar D?Leon and his Orchestra from Venezuela closed out the Congress. Bandleader, bassist and showman D'Leon, known as the greatest living vocal salsa performer from Latin America, brought the house down with songs like "Lloraras'' and "Yo me voy pa Cali'' while women waited in line to dance with him on stage.

Other musical performers included New York City's Jose Alberto "El Canario'' and his orchestra, singer Ray De La Paz and Colombia's top salsa band Sonora Carruseles.

Some of L.A.'s top salsa bands that played included Johnny Polanco y su Conjunto Amistad, Freddy Crespo y su Mambo Revue and Orchestra Son Mayor.

Mitsue Kikuta, 23, of Japan who danced with Detroit partner Bobie Dickerson
expressed joy and content at the embrace of culture at the Congress. "I think it's
great everyone is here for salsa. It's unity and it makes me feel good.''

While some might think the salsa dancing professionally is just for people in
their 20s, L.A.-based and worldwide dance instructor Edie ``the Salsa Freak''
contend its not.

At the age of 30, Edie became exposed to salsa dancing during a night out and has been hooked ever since. She quit her "boring'' office job and now, at 38, is an
international instructor and editor-in-chief of a salsa overload Web site,
http://www.salsaweb.com. Her advice for women who feel a passion for dance is to pursue their dreams.

"Go for it!,'' she said proudly, before teaching beginning and advanced-level
salsa classes. "Don't grow old regretting you never followed your dream.''

As waterfalls of sweat dropped down Congress attendees' foreheads around 3:30 a.m. on a Memorial Day morning, some salseros were seen resting in corners with their dancing shoes off.

"I'm all salsaed out!'' said Duane Butler of Los Angeles as he wiped his
glistening forehead with a towel and decided to call it a night.

About Susana Sanchez:
Susana Sanchez love to dance and write about it.

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