The Houston Salsa Congress

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Friday, after work, I already had my duffel bags in the car, and a few pair of dancing shoes packed. So, at five o’clock, I opened my car trunk and hoisted some clothes and hangers up to the office bathroom on the seventh floor—and started making my transformation into “salsa vixen.”

Half an hour later, I emerged from the super conservative law firm in a tiny leopard print dress and some black, Givenchy fishnets. I’ll be different, I thought. Little did I know that four hours away, in the Sheraton Houston Hollowbrook Hotel, for the 8th Annual Houston Salsa Congress, I would find at least a hundred women wearing some form of fishnets, and, yes, ALL of them, donning a similar leopard-print dress.

In the Congress dressing rooms, dancers with gems-studded stockings, sequins on their satin pumps, and rhinestones in their hair, adjusted shoe straps, fastened long, fake eyelashes, and lined and re-lined eyes and lips. Faces were flawless, skin smooth and tan, and costumes sparkled with glitter.

I arrived late, and found a lone empty seat in the middle of the audience. Peering over and between heads, I tried to catch a glimpse of the dancers on stage—spinning and shaking shoulders and doing splits under the bright lights. The audience whooped and whistled as both professional and student teams displayed their talents, and by the time the performances were over, the audience was more than ready to hit the dance floor.

As volunteers and congress workers cleared the ballroom of chairs to make room for social dancing, I ordered a plastic cup of “vino tinto” from the bar and took a break on a couch in the ladies restroom. Women of all nationalities and backgrounds came in to look in the full size mirror—adjusting shirts, pulling down skirts, re-applying makeup and giving a quick peek at the rear-view. I chatted with an Italian woman and her Spanish teacher, as well as a woman from Africa, and a long-legged white girl in pink lace hot-shorts who looked like a full-blown model.

Glass of wine down, I made my way back to the dancehall just as the New Swing Sextet came out on stage, each in demure black suites, finding their respective place behind the bongos, bass, and piano. However, as the music started, it was the song of the vibraphone, and the round, satin-covered drum sticks bouncing across white keys, that filled the room with a chill yet euphoric, New York-style salsa. No loud horns and in-your-face tempo. Just laid back, smooth jazz from ages past—like music for dancing on tip toes.

One of my first dances of the night was with handsome Karisma dancer, Carlos Hernandez, of New York. Whom I met one night while commenting on his red plaid pants. His dancing is passionate and unique. He spun and swayed and brought me to complete stops. Then he broke out complicated footwork, dipped me, and turned me this way and that, until all I could do was try to follow, and watch in awe the spectacle I was observing. He comes up close to you, looks directly in your eyes, and then is off in his own world. Low to the ground, and then back above you, as if he owns you.

Later on the carpet, I watched him dance with Desiree Godsell—one of the most original, soulful and creative dancers I’ve seen. Originally from Houston, Texas, she now lives in New York and dances with Griselle Ponce in Jersey’s Finest. Together, she and Carlos twirled and twisted on the carpet, like a spontaneous freestyle rap—each one cutting the coolest line they knew, and the other responding with something even better. Their faces emoting sheer pleasure, and Desiree kicking into the air and then dropping down to the ground in guaguanco, and then spinning on one leg. The best of the best. I stood against the wall, grinning from ear to ear, enjoying my gin and tonic, and what I felt was the best seat in the house.

Saturday night, the dancers came out in their sharpest attire—cats from New York, Chicago and Dallas wearing blazers and bow ties, with tight pants and loafers. Hair slicked back and diamond earrings. The women all in small things that showed lots of leg. As the ballroom filled for the performance, seats were quickly taken, and afterward, swarms of people stood around the seating area, spilling into the hallways, drinking, talking, and having to be shushed during announcements.

The energy was high and only continued to escalate as Boston performers turned out to represent in true style. Masacote gave a high-class performance to Latin Funk, with an organic feel—cool and modern, and different from what you normally see on the stage. Instead of sequins and spandex, Ana Masacote in her tan sheath dress and fur rimmed collar was like Salsa on Saks Fifth Avenue.

Later, Hacha Y Machete performed one of my favorite routines— with a powerful, dark and sultry piece of music that combines perfectly with their raw energy and leg-shaking, fist-pumping choreography. By the end of their performance, you were ready to jump up and holler, and the audience did just that.

After all of the performances were over and the chairs were cleared for social dancing, I grabbed Darlin Garcia, and walked in on his sharply-suited arm, happy and ready to dance. Mr. Darlin is a smooth and perfect lead—one who dances with you at the level you can handle but always pushes you to do things you never did before. A true gentleman, he dances with all sorts of women, not just professionals. I see him on the dance floor grinning and getting down with any level of dancer, and one can see him dancing not just with his partner, but more with the music itself, as if the clave and tambor were the only thing that mattered, and all else was secondary.

By the time four o’clock rolled around, I had already taped and re-taped my blisters. The Band-Aids that I had wrapped around my toes had fallen off somewhere. The water jugs all empty and bar closed, I sat in the hallway waiting for my ride until the dance floor was cleared. Hallways stood empty, and ballroom doors were locked. Flyers from upcoming salsa congresses were strewn about like confetti, and everywhere were night pass wristbands, hair ties, and an odd dance shoe—lying around in the aftermath. My ears ringing and body completely dehydrated there were energy drink posters with hot Latin babes on the walls, and the Bachata room vacant when it had been so thick and heavy with sweat and sensuality. I felt like back in the days when I went to raves and there was always that side jungle room—all dark and earthy. These Congresses are the Latin version of those raves that young American kids used to do. But whether your musical taste is House music and Trance, or Salsa and Bachata, I think people everywhere will always find a place to go out and dance until the sun comes up. It’s just something we dancers do.

by Christina Gates

HouSalsaCongress5

Click here to view the 2010 Houston Salsa Congress videos

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Creole, This is who I am

Williams Boys

What is a Creole? It depends who you ask. Ask that question to a dozen different people who call themselves Creole, and you are likely to get at least two dozen different answers in almost as many languages. Their responses will vary based on the person’s age or where they grew up. The answer will even depend on race. Even among ethnic Creoles, some identify as White, some Black, some Native American some Hispanic, and some, all of the above.

There are two accepted definitions. In the United States, the original meaning of Creole, dating back to the 1700′s, was any person of French or Spanish descent who was born in Colonial Louisiana before the Louisiana Purchase. Later, as those Creoles and their progeny would marry or have children with Native Americans and slaves, those children were also referred to as Creoles. In modern times, the two groups are differentiated as French Creole and Louisiana Creole.

Their racial identity was a bit more complicated. A Creole person could have a legal status as White, Black, or a Free Person of Color, with their personal rights varying dependent on that status. Their racial classification was based not only upon strictly established ratios of African forebears, but also subjectively upon a person’s appearance.

It is this fluid sense of self that has made the Creoles a rarity among American ethnic groups . While maintaining an entirely separate and distinct culture of their own, Creoles have still managed to assimilate into American society as a whole.

Their impact on popular culture is evident everywhere. All over the nation, people of every race eat Gumbo, Jambalaya, and Shrimp Creole. Churches and dance venues across the South have Zydeco dance nights, with live bands keeping the traditional music alive. There has even been a Grammy award given for best Zydeco Album.

There are many famous Creoles. In music, Beyonce Knowles, Fats Domino, and Clifton Chenier are all Louisiana Creoles. Known as the “Marine’s Marine” and the “greatest of all leathernecks”, Lieutenant General John Arthur Lejeune, served as Commandant of the Marine Corps. On television, The Cosby Show had both Phylicia Rashad and Sabrina Le Beauf as mother and daughter.

Creoles are even represented in the animated world. On the long-running Fox show, King of the Hill, one of the main characters is “Bill”, or more properly, “Guillaume Fontaine de la Tour Dauterive”, who demonstrates his proficiency in Creole French, despite never having learned it. It is implied that he just instinctively understood his native tongue.

For all the inroads that Creoles have made into American society, they have fiercely clung to a strong sense of cultural identity. There is a Creole flag, despite the fact that there never was an actual Creole nation. French and French-based Louisiana Creole are still spoken by over a hundred thousand people in Louisiana and Texas.

Perhaps this duality of assimilation and isolationism can be explained by the Creoles own varied racial makeup. In the excellent documentary, “Too White to be Black Too Black to be White”, by Maurice M. Martinez, this dual identity is explored. One of the commentators therein was Marianne Jacques Newman, a poetess and educator, and she explained it best:

“The Creole is like the prototype of a melting-pot man. He has a little bit of this and a little bit of that. So I think what makes “Creole&” is that you have to recognize that you are part of many ethnicities. You’re not totally African-American, you’re not totally French, you’re not totally Spanish. You’re a combination of everything. I think recognizing that diversity is unique, because you say “THIS IS WHO I AM”

by Albert Fontenot

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The Hot Spot: Scott Gertner’s Skybar, Houston TX

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So one day in July of last year, I was sitting at my computer on Facebook reading some funny posts.  And I get a phone call from one of my friends asking me if I heard the news that Skybar was closing.  I laughed and I said “no way that place is always packed”, then asked him if he was crazy.  So for my piece of mind I called one of the staff and asked if it was true, and to my horror he confirmed my worst nightmare.  Skybar had always been my favorite place to go and dance Salsa.  Hearing that it closed was like hearing that your childhood school burned down.  That place was the one spot in Houston that felt like you were partying in a penthouse club in LA or New York.  And I had been going to Skybar since the first week they offered a Salsa night on Thursdays.  It was a place that you could go to and always have a good time.  And I was always made to feel at home and got the royal treatment from the, Managers, Security, Bartenders, Johnny the Elevator Operator, David Cruz the house DJ, and the house Salsa band Salmerum.  Even Scott Gertner himself always shook my hand and asked me if I was enjoying myself.  If you had never had the pleasure to go to the original Skybar, let me paint a picture for you.  It was a penthouse nite club on the top of a 10-story office building off Montrose and Westheimer.  It had a long glass wall that allowed you to see the city skyline from the dance floor and the tables.  It had two outdoor patios on each side of the club, one with an outdoor bar.  It was one of the best places in Houston to view fireworks on the fourth of July or to just go out on a cool night and look at the stars and the city melt together.  You knew you were in the right spot when you drove up and looked to the top floor.  Because there you would see the white lights that surrounded the roof of the building and the colored lasers, strobe lights, and sounds that came pulsating through the windows.   Well that is what you missed, and that’s what all the regulars will miss.  Apparently Skybar had to close because the building’s owners failed to make needed repairs and didn’t keep the building up to code.  Scott was maintaining some of the buildings upkeep, especially the parking garage, out of his own pocket so he could remain open.   His staff would walk the entire four-story parking garage and lobby to clean it each night after the club closed.  They would also wipe the windows, and clean the elevators which all of this was supposed to be the buildings owners responsibility.  But that effort on Scott’s part didn’t stop the orange City of Houston stickers that were appearing on all doors listing the the violations and expired permits.  All of that plus several visits from the fire marshals about the building were the final straw.  So in July enough was enough and he closed the doors to a Houston legend forever.  Keep in mind Skybar wasn’t just a place for Salsa dancing, as a matter of fact they primarily played R&B and Jazz every other night.  And It has had many famous entertainers on its stage, people like Luther Vandross, Patti Labelle, the Ojays, Brian McKnight, Chick Corea, Bob James, and even Comedian Steve Harvey.  And of course Scott being a three time Grammy nominee himself, would perform there also.  And not just entertainers came to Skybar but a lot of local professional athletes from the Rockets, Astros, Comets, and Dynamos would go to hang out, as well as out of town athletes.  Any night you could walk through the door and maybe rub elbows with athletes like Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Shaq, Mutombo, Jose Lima, and many others, they all made Skybar their regular hangout.   It truly was the end of a Houston legend, but all was not lost Scott already had plans for a new Skybar.  Plus he had already open Scott Gertners Sports bar at 3100 Fountainview a few years back to give his patrons a second place to hangout.  They even brought the Salsa crowd there for a short time, but the rough floor proved to be a problem for the Salsa dancers.  So ultimately it remained just a Sports bar, and the best place for the avid sports fans to enjoy a drink, watch a game and listen to live music.  So after months and months of rumors and waiting and hoping the NEW Skybar was finally opened.  Its proper name now is ”Scott Gertners at the Houston Pavilion”, but myself and all my fellow Salseros still call it Skybar.  It’s located at 1201 Fannin, suite 300 (corner of Dallas and Fannin) on the third floor of the Downtown Pavilion complex.  And it is a even greater more chic place to party than the original Skybar.  It has a huge dance floor, an awesome stage, a VIP area, and several bars scattered throughout the club.  Plus two sets of restrooms, an outdoor patio, and a full service kitchen that serves many types of food during club hours.  The new club has an occupancy of 700 people and is 13,000 square feet, that’s much larger than the old Skybar that was only 10,000 square feet.  And guess what is not even done yet, Scott is still working to complete It.  When its completely done it will be a bi-level club featuring three outdoor patios, a green room for performers, and various VIP areas.  The rooftop will feature an outside bar, couches, cabanas and its own DJ for a separate party experience.  This new club in Scott’s own words “is an extension of the Skybar, only on the next level”.  And what else is new you may ask?  There is a new house band right now, Grupo Kache, featuring local Houston legend Rudy Rincon.  And you can see occasional Samba performances from Lucia Dargam’s LD dance company.  And they have new lovely ladies serving food and drinks, plus two beautiful Salsa/hip hop gogo dancers, dancing above the main stage.  New security staff, cashiers, and managers.  But not everyone is new, there are still lots of familiar faces that make this new Skybar still feel like home.  Edgar Lefort my favorite bartender is still there and a few of the others made the transition as well.  DJ David Cruz is still spinning the hits, Ruby and Darnell are still teaching the free Salsa class.  Even my good buddy Vern is still hooking us up with cologne and other stuff in the mens restroom.  Just like all of them I have made this new Skybar my home and I will watch it grow and become the new legendary spot to dance Salsa on Thursdays, its already off to a great start, the only thing missing is for the rest of you to come and join us.

by Anthony Hombrebailador

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DarnellJosie

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Why do we dance?

originalHave you ever done this? You’re on the floor, the music is pulsing, perhaps you’ve had a bit of liquid courage and your body seemingly moves instinctually to the beat. Suddenly, you consciously think to yourself, “This is really odd; why am I doing this? Why do any of us do this?” If so, you are asking a question that has managed to elude anthropologists and archaeologists and remains a continuing mystery.
Dance exists in all cultures throughout the world. Almost everyone, some more than others, enjoy this most basic human behavior. There seems to be some mental satisfaction gained from moving rhythmically to music. This begs the question, if it is instinctual, does this mean we evolved to enjoy this behavior? Universal behaviors are not randomly acquired; we must have inherited this peculiarity through some need that pre-dates written history.
Evidence through illustrations on ceramic fragments found in Pakistan and the Danube Basin suggest that dance may have originated approximately 5000-9000 years ago. The world’s earliest definitive evidence of dance is a bronze figurine of a dancing girl discovered in the 4,000-year-old ruin of Mohenjo-Daro, an archaeological site situated in the province of Sindh, Pakistan. Scientists have also extrapolated information from the preserved ritual dances of preliterate societies. However, I wonder if it goes further back in history to a time before homo-sapiens even walked the Earth.
Though numerous cultures could be used as examples to discuss the evolution of dance, for the sake of brevity, I will only briefly discuss the Native American cultures. Their dances offer some of the best illustrations of dance as a form of communication. They used it to tell stories about war, tribal history and celestial events and other tribal concerns. Also, dance was used to give thanks to the gods or call on them for their blessings and guidance in fertility, sowing of crops, and hunting. As illustrated in the Ghost Dance, a trance like state is achieved which is characteristic of Asian and African cultural dances can be witnessed. Were the Native Americans influenced by another ancient people? Until recently, it is believed that the first people to inhabit North America were the Clovis people some 13,100 years ago. However, recent archaeological discoveries in the Paisley Caves of Oregon, pre- date this to 14,300. DNA that is closely related to the Native Americans has been discovered which has ties to Siberia and Asia. We know that those people came from the Middle East and from there, Mitochondrial DNA is traced to Human origins in Africa. Why did I deviate from the original topic of dance to genetic lineage? To establish that all persons originated from Africa and we all come from the same genetic pool. Hence, do genes play a role in the development of dance and how it evolved?
Scientists studied a large population of dancers and non-dancers and found that only the dancer population possessed two genes that are strongly associated with good social communication. Along with this, two other physical characteristics were also found in dancers. Serotonin levels tend to be higher which boost the moods in humans. Also, dancers tend to be more symmetrical which is associated with health and beauty. These three factors may be part of the answer as to why dancing in humans is culturally universal.
Let’s start with social communication. The ability to communicate effectively was essential and necessary for survival in prehistoric times. Those who could effectively communicate were more successful when hunting and gathering so they were healthier and stronger. Also, successfully reading the physical cues of others would give rise to better cooperation and less conflict within a social group. Did prehistoric people ostracize those that did not benefit their colony? This would certainly decrease the number of offspring that did not possess that genetic quality.
People with higher Serotonin levels tend to be more social, happier and well adjusted. They suffer from far less anxiety and tend to adapt well. One can see that those characteristics would have been beneficial if not almost essential to co-exist in any population be it human or otherwise.
Lastly, symmetry in humans is largely associated with beauty. Numerous studies have been performed that prove both males and females are attracted to faces and bodies that are proportionate and symmetrical. But it’s not only beauty that is at play here. Many genetic deformities and diseases are associated with asymmetry. It stands to reason that this attraction evolved as a way to keep the population healthy and strong.
Without a doubt, most humans love to dance; some more than others. Even though the experts may not have a definite answer as to when dance first came into existence, it is a distinct possibility that contemporary society inherited the ability and desire from our ancient ancestors. There is no longer a need for dance as a means of communication and survival and dance has now evolved to an art form as well as just a social past time . However, the group of women on the dance floor at their favorite hotspot, or, the couple dancing Salsa may seemingly be meaningless to many. Though, I would argue that their movements are more than just a way to entertain or call attention to their selves. They hearken back to our prehistoric ancestral need for physical communication as a means to survive. Many dancers would say that dance, even in contemporary society, is still necessary to their existence.

by Robin Clark

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The American Salsero


Loves Warrior

What is an American Salsero and what makes them different from a Cuban or a Puerto Rican or Colombian Salsero?   Supposedly Salsa was first started in New York when Latin Immigrant musicians modified the rhythms of Mambo to create what we know today as Salsa.  So In theory that would make Salsa music itself a product of immigrant Americans, thus making the very first Salseros Americans in essence.  Popular theories tells us those Salsa rhythms then went back around the globe and were further refined into Cuban Salsa, Colombian Salsa, Puerto Rican Salsa, and even Mexican Salsa.  I can’t say for sure that’s what happened, I can only speculate what happened based on the stories I have heard, and unfortunately there always seems to be different story depending on who you ask.  In the days when I was first learning to dance Salsa back in 1997 to 2000, I started dancing Salsa as an outsider and did what I wanted on the dance floor, I didn’t really know what I was doing but I tried my best.  You see I am not Latin, I am part Black, French, and Native American Choctaw, and where I am from in Texas and Louisiana that combination is known as Creole.  When you’re a kid and growing up in Creole home you listen to and dance to Zydeco music, which just like Salsa and Mambo it has African roots.  Zydeco’s African rhythms came to Louisiana through slave trade, just like Mambo’s African rhythms went to Cuba, and Bomba and Plena went to Puerto Rico.  Most all Caribbean based music owes it rhythms to the Slaves that were sold to people all over the world, which is why you find African influences in music everywhere.  Needless to say growing up on a farm in Texas, I never had any exposure when I was young to Salsa or hardly any Latin music, so this dance was completely new to me. The only partner dancing I had ever done before was Zydeco, Slow dancing, and Square dancing in Elementary school.  So when I was introduced to the Latin scene in 1997 I was mesmerized by Salsa and Merengue both.  I tended to primarily dance Merengue because it was easier to do and I seem to already have a natural ability to do it.  But after about 6 months of dancing primarily Merengue with a little sloppy Salsa here and there, I decided to finally learn Salsa and become a Salsero.  Now back when I started there weren’t very many formal teachers or schools, not in Houston anyway.  And even if there were it was against my principles to learn to dance from some class.  I grew up dancing Funk and Disco at house parties, Break dancing in the streets, Hip Hop at school dances, and Zydeco at church functions.  Growing up we did all these dances without ever taking classes, you just did them naturally as kids.  So I adopted the same principle when it came to learning Salsa, just jump in the water and swim.  So I would watch the way Salseros danced and would try and mimic their movements, then I would fill in what I didn’t know how to do yet, with moves from the dances I knew.  But the Salseros back then didn’t like the way I danced, and they told me about it many times.  Now I personally don’t like to offend anyone’s culture, so I made it a point to learn to dance Old School Salsa.  And I accomplished this goal by dancing with the some of the older Salseras that were 1st generation Salsa dancers that also danced Mambo in their youth.  I also danced with 2nd generation Salsa dancers who’s parents were from that 1st generation of Salseros.  Now keep in mind when I first started dancing there was a lot of discussion about who danced Salsa better or who originated Salsa, Puerto Ricans or Cubans?  And then add Colombians and Mexicans to the mix and they all danced Salsa differently, and usually they all claimed each of their styles was the best.  And if that wasn’t crazy enough there was also a East Coast/West Coast debate about which style was better, LA style Salsa or NY style Salsa.  I couldn’t decided which way I wanted to dance, so I just mixed parts that I liked from all the Old School styles, and kept some of my moves that I brought to the table from my previous dance experience, and I created my own unique Salsa style.  But it was still Old School for the most part and rooted in traditional Salsa and Mambo.   And after 3 years of dancing with all types of dancers from all over the world, I eventually began to “get it” and feel the music and thus gained Old School Salseros respect.  Not just because I learned to dance Old School Salsa, but because I also embraced their culture, I went to their clubs and hangouts, even if it was in a bad neighborhood or a good one it didn’t matter.  I went to house parties, and birthday parties, I went to festivals and cultural activities, I even went to weddings and funerals with my new Salsa family.  I ate at all different types of restaurants and Cafes with them and had all kinds of great food.  I ate great Colombian, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, Salvadorean, and Mexican foods, they were all new and delicious to me.  And I especially enjoyed eating at after hours spots and having Consumé de Pollo and Empanadas after dancing.  So after my three years of trial by fire I was ingrained in the Latin culture and I became a normal part of it.  I also became a pretty out spoken person in regards to Salsa Dancing, but by no means did I consider myself an expert on the subject.  You see there was a new 3rd generations of Salsa dancers that were entering the scene, and they had no previous exposure to the original Salsa and Mambo dancers that myself and many of us had before.  Their Salsa was completely learned in a class room by people that were either 2nd generation Salsa dancers or Ballroom studio dance instructors.  Their style of instruction was based on an 8 count dance system called “On1″ or “On2″ Salsa dancing.  The one or two described when you stepped on the first or second movement of your 8 count of the music.  It was all very technical and lacking the cultural elements of dancing just from your heart and listening to the “Clave” rhythm.  Now don’t get me wrong all styles of Salsa have their pluses and their minuses, and in the past I was biased towards “Old School” or “Street” Salsa as they call it.  The things that I wrote back then and currently write now were not for the sole purpose of putting down new Salsa dancers or their style.  In the past because of the animosity that was created by this new wave of dancers, I may have been a little harsh in labeling them “Ballroomeros”, which didn’t help them understand what my complaints were about.  My primary purpose in my blogs was to let Old School Salseros know that they didn’t need to give up and let the current generation of Salsa dancers take over their cultural dance.  I wrote my original blogs to let the 3rd generation Salsa dancers, and the Classroom/Ballroom Salsa dancers know that we were upset with the way things were changing and the attitudes that they have towards original Salseros.  You see in 2000 Salsa started catching the attention of mainstream America, as a result of that curiosity Salsa schools, teachers, tapes, movies, and TV programs started popping up everywhere.  Everyone was an expert, everyone could teach you how to dance “Real” Salsa, every Salsa club had a free Salsa class, I even taught at a few clubs before I realized I hated teaching.  Non Salsa clubs even started offering a Salsa night, and new Salsa clubs opened that weren’t even owned by Latinos.  Salsa was taking America by storm and everyone was capitalizing on its popularity.  The problem that I had or have depending on how you look it, is that what about the people that came before us, what do they have left of their dance from their culture?  Also new Salsa dancers wouldn’t dance with the Old School Salseros because they didn’t keep the same “On1″ or “On2″ count that they learned in class.  They would tell Salseros that had been dancing anywhere from 10 to 30 years that they danced off count and didn’t know how to dance. That to me that was completely rude to learn something in a class room for 6 months, and then go social dancing and tell a Salsero that their cultural dance, that they have been doing all their life, is being done incorrectly.  And the sad part of this whole thing was, some of the 2nd and 3rd generation Salseros started to believe it and would take classes to correct their so called “off beat” Salsa.  And even worse the newcomers that weren’t exposed to Old School Salsa were being deprived of the experience of learning to dance the original style.  And that’s unfortunately the American way, assimilate something cultural and make it commercial.  Like I said earlier I am part Black and Native American, I know a little something about the raping and assimilation of a culture. You see what happens here in America, they find something unique about a culture that interests them, then they learn about it, they find a way to reproduce it, simplify it and trim away the unnecessary ethnic elements, and make it efficient.  Then they commercialize it and make lots of money, and they eliminate or alienate the originators from their own culture and heritage and then reap the benefits.  I have seen it with African slaves, indentured servants, the Chinese immigrants, the Mexicans native to North America, and many other immigrants that built this country for free or for peanuts.  You have all these diverse people in America that all got here through some type of struggle, and they all brought their unique culture, food, music, dance and heritages with them.  And when its something that most Americans have never seen or experienced before it makes it even more appealing to them.  But Americans want the experience to be on their terms, without having to actually mix with the people that exposed them to the original source.  For example you had Rock and Roll stealing lyrics and rhythms for their music from Rhythm and Blues, the White artists made millions while the Black artists made pennies.  In the 50′s most White Tap, Jazz, and Swing dancers became huge stars after stealing their moves from Black and Latin dancers.  I guess they should have felt lucky when they put them in the shows and movies as background dancers or buffoons for comic relief.   I personally never want to be a part of something that’s going to destroy or exploit someone else’s culture, which is why I made strides to learn Salsa the way Old School Salseros did by living the culture.  I like to experience and learn about different cultures and I want to dance Salsa as close as I can to the way it was originally danced to show respect for their heritage.  Don’t get me wrong I am all for cultural evolution, but I think we should let the salsa dancers evolve on their own, in their own time, and their own way, without forcing an 8 count down their throat.  Don’t tell them they are doing it wrong or their dance style is old fashioned, don’t tell people they have to take classes to do it right, there is no right way to dance.  Dance is about self expression and interacting with your dance partner, and you miss that experience when you are both just counting it out and focusing on the count, instead of feeling the music.  But this is only a suggestion everyone has a right to their own opinion and the way that they want to dance, even if you are an Old School Salsero, or 3rd or even 4th generation On1 or On2 Salsa dancer its your choice.  And I am not saying don’t take classes to learn the basics to get a start.  But don’t become a professional beginner and that’s all you learn is how to count out your dance moves.  REAL DANCING COMES FROM YOUR HEART, you feel each individual beat and you can dance any way you feel.  Experiment with it, you can add foot slides, body shakes, gyrations, dramatic pauses, shines, dips, turns, spins, arm movements, and the such.  And this “New” Salsa has brought some exciting elements to Salsa dancing, I love the cross-body lead and all the extra turns that I have learned.  I have always loved dips and flipping girls and that was hardly done in Old School Salsa.  I enjoy these new elements that became accepted with the new wave of Salsa dancers.  I feel now that there is a bridge between Old School Salsa and New Salsa, and if a dancer chooses they can learn to dance a little of both.  Remember anyone can paint a picture with a paint by numbers canvas. You just have to match the colors with the numbers and stay within the lines and it will look somewhat like a real painting.  That is until you see a Monet, Renoir, Da Vinci, or a Salvador Dali painting, then you see the difference between painting within the lines, and what a master does with controlled brush strokes and a blank canvas.  So to sum it all up, I don’t expect everyone to dance my style unless they are dancing with me specifically.  If you are a new Salsa dancer that dances by counting and it works for you, then more power to you.  Just don’t be a ignorant Salsa dancers that thinks dancing “on 1 or on 2″ is better than original Salsa.  I don’t think any style is better than another, Its all in the individual that dances it at the best of their ability.  I know some “On1″ and “On2″ Salsa dancers that can dance their butts off.  And I know some guys in their 50′s and 60′s that can burn up the dance floor with Old School moves you have never seen before.  The key to all of my statements is that you have to dance with anyone and everyone and try to learn from them.  And don’t get me wrong not every Old School Salsa dancer is a great dancer, there are some bad ones out there as well that won’t teach you anything.  But anyone can learn to feel the music, it just takes time and patience.  And listen to the “Old School” salsa music, if you listen to it long enough it will find its way into your heart and soul,  and eventually it will light this fire in you, then you will be able to dance to it by just feeling it.

by Anthony Hombrebailador

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