Over the past weekend, I went to my first salsa congress in Spain. A very very small congress (nothing like the major ones in San Francisco or anything) in the little beach town of Lloret de Mar. For the amazing price of 60€ you received access to all the classes, the salsa party on Saturday night, meals and lodging. What a deal! There were various venders on Facebook to purchase from, so I bought my ticket through the most well-organized Facebook page about the event.
I catch a ride with some of my friends I had met at a local salsa club who were also going to the congress. I was so excited, a whole weekend of salsa…dancing, meeting new people, and maybe, finding the Barcelona salsa community (finally). [On a side side: So, why may you ask has there been absolutely nothing on my blog about Barcelona Salsa? Well, it is because I have been thoroughly disappointed by Barcelona (up until a few weeks ago). The venues that I have gone to play mediocre music (Reggaeton and Cubano beats, rarely anything traditional); the people have been, for the most part, unwelcoming and unfriendly, a very closed group; and there seemed to be absolutely NO salsa community in this city. And, what do I mean by salsa community? Well, I relate it a lot to what we have in Sacramento…the same group of passionate people who support local venues once or twice a week, who attend classes regularly or who go to congresses and have local get-togethers at each others houses to dance or to practice moves, or whatever it may be. A salsa community are those people who share the view that salsa is not just a hobby, but a lifestyle.]
When we arrive at the hotel, I am shocked to learn that there are actually two salsa congresses going on in the same city, on the same weekend, in hotels that are right next to each other…and, I had signed up for the wrong one! I find out that the one my friends have signed up for is no more than 100 people and yes, old people (ok, I do not mean to offend but the average age of people attending this event was 45). For naming purposes I will call this one the “small congress.” The other congress, or “ACM Congress” was the “fancy” one…500+ people with big name instructors and performances (your normal congressy stuff), and of course lots of young people. My friends signed up for the small congress because the promoter was a close friend and they wanted to support.
So, there I was, distraught…depressed…feeling like such an extranjera for signing up for the wrong f-ing congress (excuse my French). At first I was frustrated that my friends hadn’t signed up for the “cooler” one but, at the same time, I didn’t want to go to the ACM congress alone, where I didn’t know anybody. So, after my amazing friends talked with the promoter, Fernando, he came over to me and without any hesitation said I could attend his congress for free, stay for free, eat for free…patted me on the shoulder and said “Tranquila, tranquila cariña.” I don’t know how these things happen to me…like paying for one congress and attending an entirely different one for free.
As Saturday night rolls around, we go down to the “small congress” party, which at the start, is incredibly dull (the mustard yellow hotel floor is like something straight out of the 70s). Again, no intention to offend, but a lot of single (or divorcee) 40 and 50 somethings wearing skimpy, two-sizes two small black dresses, trying to show-off for the big-bellied men with the comb-overs. Less like a salsa congress and more like a 50 something singles meet-up with salsa music in the back. I was fidgety and dying to get a good dance in, so I decided to go over to the ACM Hotel really quick to check out the party (you know, the one I actually paid for). I walked in and everything was flashy and decorated, the music was pumping and everyone was dancing. I was like, “Fantastic! Salsa community!” So, I waited there on the outside of the the dance circle (with my best dancing shirt, biggest smile…heck, I even put on mascara!) And I waited, and waited and waited. 30 minutes went by, not a single man asked me to dance. Groups of friends and flashy male dancers were in their designated corners, drinking their Mojitos and scanning the room in a sort of arrogance that I couldn’t believe. I finally asked a few guys to dance (my feet actually started hurting from standing for so long), but I might as well have been watching them dance. Flashy and crazy, every man stole the show…so much for the girl being the center of attention. I finally left after an hour and a half wondering why I ever came.
When I returned back to the “small congress” things were winding down, and the popular wedding songs, “Macarena” and “YMCA” were blaring. Everybody was up out of their seats, shoes off, drunk, laughing, doing the hand gestures and having a great time. We all finally head up to our hotel rooms…it’s 4:30 in the morning and I am beat. I take a shower and try to get to sleep but I hear a big ruckus down the hall. I knock on the door and pop my head in, and I see about 20 or so people from the congress, all packed into this ity-bity hotel room. The room smells like smoke and cheap wine and they are all taking turns telling jokes (hence the eruption of laughter every two minutes). They ask if I want to join of course, but I kindly decline, go back to my room and fall asleep the sound of laughter.
The next day, there are about two hours of Rueda classes (Rueda de Casino is a type of salsa danced in a circle, with a “caller” yelling out instructions). Not being much of Rueda dancer, I watch and enjoy the show as my friends join in. For the next couple hours I sit and laugh with everyone as the caller has couples do funny things, like pinch the butt of the neighbor next to them, or do a random death drop hopeing your partner catches you, or having partners stop and wrap a leg around each other and start gyrating. I look around at everyone, and recognize a lot of faces. The 50 or so year old woman with the bleach blonde hair, and the bright makeup, waving at two guys across the room wearing an equally skimpy outfit as the night before. Another lady, who stares at every man when she dances, beaming from ear to ear like it’s the happiest day of her life (I remember her from the night before dancing bachata, she snuggled up in the mans arms, closed her eyes, and never let go). Or, my personal favorite, the 30 something year old couple who I saw flirty on the steps the night before. They show up for late for Rueda…her first with a modest scarf around her neck, and him proudly showing a rather impressive hickey on his neck. He was also beaming from ear-to-ear, sort of winking at every girl he danced with.
The weekend was definitely full of surprises, but I think I made it to the right congress. And having the drastic contrast of being around these older salsa-fanatics and then the flashy-professional dancers, I am reminded of the essence of Latin dance. I feel sorry for those who are so caught up in the show, in the performance, that they forget about how and where they started to dance salsa. I feel sorry for those who choose to selfishly hold onto their talent, rather than spreading and sharing the beauty of it. I invite and embrace those people who dance because it makes them feel beautiful, or handsome, or that they can feel a deeper connection with someone.
As an end, I found this in an old journal, something I wrote a few months after I started dancing and wanted to share:
“Latin dance goes beyond the steps of salsa, the movement of bachata, and the simplicity of merengue – it is an art form infused with culture. Latin dance is a history – played out through times of war, times of peace, times of change. It is thus overcome with meaning and emotion born within the passion of the people who dance it so much so that it becomes more than just a convention for social entertainment but a way to form ones own self-consciousness or sense of self – the essence of ones soul.” (Domi, July 09′)