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New York Salsa Congress

by Robert Abrams
August 29, 2003
New York, NY

New York Salsa Congress

Robert Abrams
August 29, 2003

We find these truths to be self-evident: all people are entitled to be hot, have fun and break on either the one or the two.

The New York Salsa Congress turned out to be very similar in tone to a swing comp, except that there were many performances and no competitive heats. The Roosevelt Hotel's ballroom, where the Congress was held in Manhattan, was packed with dancers. So packed that the dancers overpowered the room's air conditioning (it was a hot and humid day to begin with, which didn't help). Not that this really stopped anyone from dancing. Plus, the dancers would have been hot even if it hadn't been humid. Most, if not all, of the dancers clearly picked clothing from their closets that showed them off at their stylish best. And if you were fresh out of glittering beaded wraps, there were vendors at the Congress with such items for sale. Just like at a swing comp, there were workshops during the day and dancing at night until the wee hours of the morning.

The Congress managed to showcase a large number of Salsa dance companies, and this was only one evening. A long night of dancing and one or two performances would have been enough to justify the $25 admission price, so the organizers outdid themselves. Here are a few thoughts on the performances.

Taino Dance Theater led off with a dramatic Argentine Tango opening, a moment of quiet, and non-stop Salsa. The woman of the couple wore a pair of fire engine red vinyl pants with inverted suspenders. The man was in electric blue and black, like a 23rd Century monk. Their energetic routine ended with a high lift.

Tropical Image came on stage with four dancers in black pants, white shirts and black caps. They had plenty of attitude. Their dancing nicely accented the music.

Las Mambo Mamis are four women from Washington, DC. They presented a bowler hat and cane routine. The choreography gave each dancer a chance to show off.

Young Ambition is a student dance group with six girls. They danced with speed and flair in aqua, black and silver costumes. I could tell they were having fun. They got a very enthusiastic response from the audience.

Piel Canela started their routine with Hustle music. The men wore black suits and fedoras. The women were in varied blue and black outfits. The outfits may have been in different styles, but they were all consistently very elegant. The dancers were very smooth and poised. The routine transitioned into a cha-cha. The choreography made good use of the seven couple ensemble, moving lines of dancers interweaved through each other. Sometimes the lines consisted of couples, and sometimes of just men or just women. This was followed by a slow mambo, followed by a big rapid fire finish, including the women taking the men's hats off. You can't be too cool, but it helps to see the dancers' faces. You have to admire a choreographer who can anticipate and address potential critiques before the dance is finished being performed.

Addie-tude was the next group to take the stage. Their routine had 60s and Fosse references. They were poised and emphatic. They finished with a thundering bass line with dancing to match. Not to mention a little Rueda.

Addie Rodriguez and Dave Paris presented a theatre arts routine. They had precise isolations combined with wild abandon. Their routine was filled with one impressive and assured lift after another.

Act I was brought to a close by the Eddie Torres Dancers. The two women started with a Spanish/Flamenco opening followed by fast Salsa. Their glittering red Toreador jackets, black pants, white shirts, and black hats were strongly tailored, yet still feminine. The lace cuffs had a lot to do with the latter. Both dancers were very centered.

Act II started around Midnight.

The Heartbreak Boyz were the Salsa equivalent of a boy band with high pitched cries from the audience to match. They were very fast and very self-assured.

A group from Japan called Facinacion Latina performed with well executed partnering. They demonstrated very fine ensemble work. All seven couples had an abundance of enthusiasm to match their silver and while outfits. Their choreography made use of easily readable group patterns that morphed one into the next.

The Rhythm Divas were graceful. They had excellent balance. Their costumes were red and black with a Spanish flair. They danced Salsa in a way that was well melded to the Flamenco toned music.

The Latin Jazz Ensemble, led by Winsome Lee, danced Salsa like a couple of snake charmers. In other words, they were very senuous and exotic, and completely charmed the audience.

The Sweethearts danced a Hip-Hop/Salsa routine. They were shaking it in bright day glo pastels. This was Salsa as an energetic Easter parade, complete with hats.

Salsa Caliente, a group from Canada, danced in electric blue dresses which looked like representations of the regional interconnections between the Canadian and New York power transmission grids. Okay, so I have an overactive imagination, but the dresses did use two connected fields of different shades of electric blue, and the dresses were held together by lines of fabric. They showcased very powerful dancing. They would have kept the lights on.

The final performance of the night was a surprise solo by Freddie Rios, one of the long time masters of Salsa. He had the kind of playful creativity that one also often sees in long time masters of tap dancing. Seeing Mr. Rios dance, I have a much better idea of where the fire salamanders of Hush got their groove. (A fire salamander is a Salsa or Mambo dancer who is hot, flexible, expertly dances both with and against the rhythm, and always wears a suit or other smartly dressed attire. Hush was the nightclub where they hung out.) What ever you want to call it, Mr. Rios had it and the crowd going from start to finish. Having been suitably inspired, the crowd then retook the floor.

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