Down the Docks

October 1, 2006

UK Salsa Congress 2006

Filed under: Salsa — ealing @ 12:41 pm

Another UK Congress. Where to start?

Friday

Well, the trip from Ealing to Bognor takes a little over two hours, and I got to Bognor late Friday afternoon. I managed to register and get a key for the chalet within about five minutes, but there was obviously a huge cock-up, as some people took over two hours to get registered. Some of my friends from Newcastle were in a foul mood before the congress even started.

Things picked up a lot later on. I had a brief chat with my chalet-mates, who were all part of the Encuentro Latino group booking, so all from York. My old ballroom shoes gave up the ghost a few days ago, and were with the cobbler, so I spent some time trying to get a new pair, but with no luck. I missed some of the early shows, but I turned up to Centre Stage in time to catch a lot of them.

The Big Spenders repeated the routine they performed at SOS a couple of weeks ago. The track is a version of Moliendo Cafe, which they really do justice to. They move around the stage nicely, and have fantastic body movement. Neeraj & Ania’s show was good – I’d heard about them but never seen them before. Mambo Lifestyle, Irene Miguel’s group of dancers with as little as five months of training, put on their show in this session. They had around 25 dancers on the stage, and I thought the choreography made very good use of them in places. It’s quite an achievement for the time they had. Those members of the group that I dance with regularly have also improved noticeably in the last few months. Marchant & Miriam also performed their new show. It doesn’t have quite the appeal of their fabulous Take Five routine, but it’s still fun, and these two are always good to watch.

The evening’s social dancing got off to a good start. There was plenty of room, and plenty of people to dance with. More flooring had been put down this year in Centre Stage, which was a big improvement. I’d decided that I had to dance with at least thirty different people, which took me most of the way to the five o’clock close of the “mambo room”. Unusually for me at a congress, I hadn’t really being feeling it; I wasn’t getting as much fun as usual out of dancing, and for some reason I couldn’t follow at all when I tried. I excused myself from the after party for the first night and went back to the chalet for a couple of hours sleep.

Saturday

I started the day with Jaime Jesus and Little Liz‘ advanced on1 class. They’re very good teachers, going into a lot of technical detail but keeping things clear. Unfortunately the level of the class was a lot lower than I would have liked. Next was Hacha y Machete, with a switch to on2 partnerwork. A tough class, but with some nice material. Burju is still nuts. I’ve tried some of the material out on the floor since, and it needed a little tweaking to be leadable. That’s probably just me though. After that was Tito & Tamara‘s class. Their teaching was fine, but I was fading a bit by this point, so I took the afternoon off until Juan Matos’ masterclass at five. That one really was a challenge, keeping myself and my partner working through the full hour. It’s much more satisfying to attend a class like that and take away three-quarters of the material than to take an easy one and get all of it. The toughest material in there was leadable and stylish, and I’ve successfully used it while social dancing since.

Saturday’s shows looked the best of the congress on paper. Remembering my seat and the queues last year, I coughed up a tenner for a more central seat, which was money well spent. The shows were a treat. I’ve not always been a fan of the quantities of shows at some congresses, but this was genuinely good stuff. A few stood out for different reasons. Chris and Jaclyn‘s show was probably for a different audience. The music left a lot to be desired, particularly the opening. Their choreography was not exactly breaking new ground. Despite this, I thought they showed some nice style in places. Franklyn Diaz and Nelida Tirado’s show was very different and entertaining. Franklyn finished the piece despite dislocating his shoulder; he’d also had injury problems in Hamburg. I admire his determination, but he shouldn’t have come back on to the stage with the attitude he did – his best reponse is his dancing. Joel and Ana’s routine to the original Take Five, in 5/4 time was striking, and must have taken a lot of work to choreograph. Tito and Tamara did a rather odd disco/salsa fusion thing. I’ll have to see it again to make up my mind. Los Hermanos performed their very funny skeleton show, which got a reception almost as good as SwinGuys. Rodrigo Torres’ flamenco-salsa fusion show was very good, impressive both for the music and the dancing. However, he needs to know when to leave the stage. Juan Matos’s show was the highlight for a lot of people. I loved it, but it didn’t stand out above the others for me.

After the shows I slept for an hour, and really had to drag myself back to Centre Stage to start dancing. I’m very glad I did though, because I had a brilliant night once I warmed up. The staring-at-the-stars circle that always forms helped to clear the floor. I had some great dances with Manchester, York and Newcastle people. I only got one star, the fantastic Erelle from UTribe, but I wasn’t really out to collect stars anyway. My following had improved dramatically over the previous night, although I can’t say why. I thought I did well to stay with one of Mushi’s students when he really went for it. Whether I’ll ever get to ‘graceful’ is another question entirely. The after-party didn’t do much for me, but I stuck it out anyway, and finally went back to the chalet at seven am.

Sunday

I gave myself a bit of a lie-in on Sunday, and got up in time for Junior & Emily‘s on2 partnerwork class. It was a bit too much of a spaghetti-fest for my liking, but they taught it well enough. After lunch was Joel and Ana‘s partnerwork class, also on2. That as a nice little routine, although I didn’t feel like trying as many spins as Joel was doing! Last up was Juan Matos doing a class marked as cha cha partnerwork. He began the class by saying that it wold be fifty-fifty shines and partnerwork, but in his normal style it turned out to be just one long shine. The class was in Jaks, which won’t take that many people, so I couldn’t see properly. After about thirty minutes, with my brain quite fried, I decided to sit out and watch the rest of the class.

Sunday evening started with the finals of the competitions that had been going on all weekend. The bachata competition had only two couples turn up, but I’m not a great bachata fan at the best of times, so I wasn’t complaining. The couples competition was interesting. While I shared the audience’s bias in favour of Lee and Shelley, I thought the couples in second, third and fourth place were all better than the winner. The winner of the group competition was less controversial, and the first three groups were all very enjoyable.

After the competition was a “congress mini-production”, where a rather loosely worked-out theme was used to stitch together about a dozen different shows. Ut must have been very difficult to organise over the Internet in such a short time, but the concept didn’t work for me. The individual shows, however, were great. Tropical Gem were awesome, a lot better than last year. Osbanis’ rumba (improvised, I’m told) was short but sweet. I’d never been very impressed with Oliver Pineda until this congress, but his solo show was superb as well. It was also nice to see Salsa Dance Squad‘s Maskarade Ball again – it’s one of my favourites. And of course, Hacha y Machete were as good as always.

When I finally got down to some dancing in Centre Stage, I had a good but not outstanding night. Sundays are not normally as good as Saturdays at congresses. The after party, though, was my favourite of the congress. DJ Lubi stayed with mambo, and the dancers loved it. I found a new burst of energy, and I honestly think I could have kept going for hours more. Lubi also dropped a seriously heavy Tommy Olivencia track in honour of the band leader who died last week.

I can’t remember at what point in the weekend the awards were given out, but I thought the award for best UK Dance Act, given to Marchant and Miriam, presumably for their Take Five routine, was well-deserved.

On Monday morning, my trip back to London was made complete by people nuts enough to dance salsa on the train:

Naturally, I’ve got the bug again. Bar Salsa on Monday was packed with great dancers, and still had a congress atmosphere. A New York DJ, whose name escapes me, played a great set, but best of all I got to dance with the fantastic Ana.

When the pain in my feet and hips has passes, I’ll be thinking about the next congress. I quite fancy something European before the end of the year. I’m told that the Warsaw Congress is pretty good.

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