Down the Docks

July 27, 2006

Hamburg Salsa Congress

Filed under: Salsa — ealing @ 11:36 pm

Okay, so I finally went abroad for a salsa congress.

I was talked into the Hamburg Salsa Congress a couple of months ago, which wasn’t exactly difficult. It’s your standard two days and three nights salsa congress, in a conference centre attached to the Radisson in Hamburg.

Logistics

Getting there was fairly easy. The return ticket for the Stansted Express (£25) was only slightly chaper than the Ryanair flights (£33). Lübeck, Ryanair’s destination, is an hour’s coach ride from Hamburg, and the tickets are €8 each way.

I didn’t think that arranging a hotel two months beforehand would be a problem, but all of the hotels mentioned on the congress web site were already fully booked, with the exception of the Radisson’s €500 per night presidential suite. We ended up in the Bee Fang, which was comfortable and fairly cheap.

The trip from our hotel to the venue was a fifteen minute walk, which sounds pleasant enough until you’ve been on your feet for ten hours. The S-Bahn was a cheap and easy alternative which was running by the time we left the parties in the small hours.

Parties

What about the congress itself? Well, I enjoyed it a lot, but that was more to do with the nights than the days.

On Saturday night live music was provided by José “El Canario” Alberto, backed by Mercadonegro. El Canario I knew a little about, and I expected to like. I had heard of Mercadonegro, but knew nothing about them. I was amazed by the energy of the band on stage, and they worked beautifully with El Canario when he came on. I didn’t know much of the material, but it didn’t lessen my enjoyment at all. Some of the highlights for me were: the band’s easy passage between multiple Latin standards during improvised sections; the long section of solos from the horns; and El Canario’s “dictating” lines to the horn section, who immediately played them back. Several of the congress’ performers danced on stage while the band were on; Felipe Polanco was particularly good. After the band left (and I’d bought their CDs), I felt a bit too drained to dance well, and the rest of the night was not that great.

On Sunday I had a competition with my partner over how many different people we could ask to dance. This was much more fun, as it forced us both to try a lot of new people, instead of just sticking with those we knew. I was very impressed with the standard – I asked 30 people to dance and only four or five of them were what I would consider intermediate or lower standard. I think congresses tend to concentrate better dancers, but that’s still a very high general standard. Salseros who’ve travelled further than I have say that dancers in the rest of Europe are better than the British, and from what I’ve seen they could well be right.

Two things that disappointed me about the parties were the floor and the DJs. It should have been obvious that the dance floor was too slick to begin with – I had to buy new shoes after my very first dance, before I fell over. While I wasn’t paying my usual attention to was DJing, the general standard was pretty disappointing. The tracks were frequently too fast, too long, or both, they were mixed together, cut or looped, and the DJs were using an effects desk, which wasn’t adding anything to the music.

Shows

I missed the shows on Sunday night, but the best of those I saw was Mambotribe’s Friday night performance. In amongst the themes, tricks, and music ripped to shreds, their show was beautifully simple. They picked a good track (that I hadn’t heard before), and choreographed to fit the music. I liked it within about five seonds of it starting, and it got one of the best receptions of the night from the crowd. Juan Matos and his new sidekick Michael were impressive, Bilongo were entertaining, a show featuring luminous skeletons was very funny, and The Swing Guys are still great too.

Classes

This congress used a coloured wrist-band system to determine which classes you could attend. I’d signed up for the “Advanced 2” classes, and would not have been allowed into any others. The classes were not bad, but they weren’t always what I would have chosen to attend given a free choice. The congress web site also encouraged people to sign up as couples, and there was no rotation during classes. Everyone who has been stuck withfor a whole class with a sub-par partner will know how frustrating it can be, and this system avoids that. In its place, though, there’s the problem of having to get your partner along to classes they might not be interested in.

The level that the classes were pitched at did not seem very high, and I don’t remember a single partnerwork class taught on two. Felipe Polanco was too much for me again, as he was at the very first congress I went too. If he taught earlier in the weekend, in English, or on one or two instead of on clave, I think I would have had a chance.

Conclusion

The trip back was slightly marred by the very rude RyanAir hostess, who objected to my following the instruction to turn off my mobile phone, and heavily marred by the thought that I had to be back at work the next day.

I’d certainly go to next year’s Hamburg congress, but I’d probably book a hotel much earlier, and I’d think about skipping the classes altogether.

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