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

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Click here to view the 2010 Houston Salsa Congress videos

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Les Miserables

 

Les Miserables

Let me start by saying that this is not just a play turned into a movie, it’s a convergence of movie, musical  play, opera, art, emotion, tragedy, and song.  This is the best 2 hours and 38 minutes you could spend this year, and it was not just one movie, it was six great movies in one.  Where other directors shamelessly drag you to a movie three or four or even 12 times to tell a simple story and collect ridiculous profits.  Director Tom Hooper does an amazing job of keeping you in awe of the set design and scenery, entertained by the music and the pageantry, destroyed emotionally by the story, and then your’re finally resurrected before the film is done.  Les Miserables the movie is based on the musical written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, whose original production was based on the French novel written in 1862 by Victor Hugo.  With the screen play adapted by Boubil, Schönberg, William Nicholson, and Herbert Kretzmer.  In this amazing movie you will see a slave taken from rags to riches, and a thief lifted from Hell by a generous man of the cloth.  You will see an innocent woman’s soul cast into darkness, and see her child spared a life of misery, while other children pay the ultimate price of death.   You see the plight of an un-yielding military man that breaks his ultimate vow.  And finally you see the true face of the Heroes of the French Revolution.  There was a perfect cast of characters assembled for this film, especially the casting of the mega star Hugh Jackman, who plays the lead character Jean Valjean and gives us a riveting performance.  I was so impressed with his singing voice and the passion and anguish in his face, as he projected so much emotion.  He is a true star of stage and screen, its no wonder he did Broadway musicals like Oklahoma and the Boy from Oz.  This usually goes unknown to most that he posses stage talent because he is known for movies like X-men, Van Helsing, and Real Steal.  But Jackman’s performance in Les Miserables makes you forget that this guy is Wolverine a comic book superhero.  But as great of a performance that Hugh Jackman gives, it is Anne Hathaway that steals the show.  Anne’s performance as Fantine is one of the greatest movie performances in the last 20 years.  Her singing voice is as noteworthy as those of any great opera singer, but she has one distinct advantage which is her acting ability.  The emotions she portrayed, the anguish on her face, the distress in her voice, and her plummet into darkness, were all Oscar worthy.  She should be a shoe in for best actress, even though she only did a supporting role.  There are only two flaws in this film, one would be Anne Hathaway is not in it long enough, and second was the casting of Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert.  Don’t get me wrong Crowe did a great job of acting and being the ultimate antagonist for Jean Valjean, but his singing voice was nasally and irritating, you could tell he was pushing his voice to its limits.  This would have been a near perfect movie with a better singing actor playing his part.  But those are my only two complaints about this film. and rest of the supporting cast also gave amazing performances especially Eddie Redmayne who played Marius Pontmercy and Amanda Seyfried who played Cosette the daughter of the ill fated Fantine.  These two star crossed lovers will make you believe in love at first sight, and how one moment in time can change your life.  There was a certain innocence and naivety that they both possessed and they were able to make you remember the first time you fell in Love.  And with every true Love story there is a tragic third wheel that loses that love, and that part was played amazingly by Samantha Barks who played Éponine the daughter of the Inn Keepers.  All three of these actors did this movie turned musical justice, not only with their singing voices, but also the emotions of joy, anger, happiness, and despair for a lost love, that they brought to the screen.  These three were the rays of light that cast hope into the darkness of this film, and they were in many ways the salvation for all the tragedies and pitfalls that befell their friends and relatives.  And for a little humor at times to give your eyes a break from watering, enter the Inn Keepers, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter.  That’s right Borat and Bellatrix (evil sorceress from Harry Potter) make a surprise performance as two sneaky, thieving, conniving Inn keepers.  These two provided great comic relief as Thénardier the Master of the house and his wife Madame Thénardier.  They are the guardians of young Cosette played by Isabelle Allen who gives a great emotional singing performance for such a young girl.  You can tell right away from the way the Thénardier’s pick pockets and rob their guests, that they are one of the reasons that Fantine has to struggle so much to keep her daughter safe.  Even after Fantine’s death when Jean Valjean goes to rescue the young Cosette, these two slimy characters sell her to him.  Sacha and Helena do a great job through out the film when they pop in and out with their sliminess, and you can’t help but to love to hate them.  There are other great supporting cast members that brings to life the French Revolution and all the young men that died for freedom.  Young actors like, Aaron Tveit who plays EnjolrasKillian Donnelly who plays  Combeferre, as well as George Blagden, Fra Fee, Alistair Brammer, Hugh Skinner, Gabriel Vick, Iwan Lewis, Stuart Neal.  And last but not least the youngest,  Daniel Huttlestone that plays Gavroche the streetwise urchin that helps the revolutionaries by exposing Inspector Javert’s plot, and delivers the letter from Marius that eventually reaches his love Cosette.  Little Daniel gives a great singing and acting performance and with his French accent, he reminds me of the young boy in the musical Oliver, which coincidentally he was in playing the part of “Nipper”.  Little Daniel also played Gavroche in the original musical production of Les Miserables so this part was easy for him to portray.  And there are also many other notable performances by cast members, just too many to call by name, performances by the street people, the ladies in the factory, the slaves, the townspeople, and many more.  But one notable cameo performance was that from Colm Wilkinson who plays Bishop Myriel the Bishop of Digne, the man of the cloth who gives Jean Valjean shelter in his church and a second chance to become a good man.  Mr Wilkinson actually played the part of Jean Valjean in the original Broadway and West End musical production of Les miserables.  And there is another cameo from Frances Ruffelle who played the original Éponine in those same musical productions, but this time she plays one of the prostitutes.  Many time you will hear people say that most books are better than the movie, or they can never make a great stage play into a movie, I say after seeing this film this is not one of those cases.  There is no way even the grandest stage can bring to life this incredible piece of work to an audience.  You could not capture the same opening scene of hundreds of slaves pulling a large ship into repair by long heavy ropes.  You could not capture the dirtiness of the streets and the despair of the people inflicted with the Black Plague.  Nor the villages, the factory, the church, the bridge that Javert fell from, the firing of the muskets and the cannons, and the thousands of people that assembled for the French Revolution barricade scene.  So for all you doubters that have seen the original production, I suggest you shed your doubt and go and see this film.  And for those of you that have never seen Les Miserables this will be a joyous day for you to have seen this masterpiece put on to the big screen.  You will be added to the roster of people that can say they experienced a truly great cinematic experience in their lifetime.  You will be among the people that can say they saw Gone with the wind, Casablanca, Jaws, Star Wars, the Exorcist, ET, and Avatar when they played for the first time ever in the cinema and set a new standard for movies, you will be part of that history.  One final word this is a musical so expect for most of the movie to be sung, some people are surprised by this once the movie starts.  But if you have seen any of the other great musicals like Annie, Grease, Singing in the rain, Moulin Rouge, the King and I, Fame, Fiddler on the Roof, the Sound of Music, or even Little Shop of Horrors then you will love this film.

by Anthony Hombrebailador

If you would like to read more movie reviews and read great Afro Latin articles about music, dance, food, and culture, click here and subscribe to Sabor & Style Magazine for free!

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If you would like to read more movie reviews and read great Afro Latin articles about music, dance, food, and culture, click here and subscribe to Sabor & Style Magazine for free!

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Flamencology

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Born in the South region of Andalusia, at the end of the 18th century Spain, Flamenco is a style of music and dance that emerged from a mishmash of cultures to include: Muslims, Jews, Gypsies and Castellanos. Even though Flamenco is associated and vulgarly globalized to the Spanish race alongside the Running of the Bulls and Paella as part of the Iberian Trios, it is frequently confused with Andalusian folklore. However, those who venture to gain a deeper knowledge of its impressive history and evolution, discover that it goes far beyond just that; Flamenco is a way of life, an extension of a feeling and a culture through a guitar, a voice and movement. Above all, it is a feeling transformed into an artistic expression coming from the depths of the soul.
The singing, the touch and the dance are its three main components; together, they form this style. Together, they are Flamenco. The song, defined as Andalusian singing, spotlights a singer or “cantaor,” an expression surged from the Andalusian dialect and accent created to allocate the singer. Situated next to the singer is a guitarist, who often uses a classical guitar even though this style has its own special guitar, the flamenco guitar, and a different form and position which differs from any other style of guitar playing. And last but not least is the flamenco box or “las palmas” and “jaleos” tend to be added to the quartet to give a greater musicality to these songs. And finally, representing the dance, we have the flamenco dancer or “bailaor” who will be guided by ear under the instructions of the guitar and vocals to improvise the dance. The shoe and body are usually the weapons of the dancer, although complementary tools are also used to create sound such as the cane, castanets, or others that give greater effect and spectacular movements such as Manila shawls or the Tail skirt.
The subdivisions of Flamenco in “Palos”, each one of the varieties of this art, give you a range of musicality in which you discover the Potpourri of cultures that lie behind this type of music. While some are derived from the peasant songs of the Andalusians, or songs of the era such as Tangos, Tientos, or Caps, others are not of Andalusian folklore, but rather have roots in African heritage such as the Guajira or Rumba. After taking a look at a small portion of the great diversity of Flamenco, and knowing that it was named in November of 2010 a Cultural Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO, it is understood that this art has been globalized and is intended to be learned by the entire world. The dance is recognized as a prestigious university career in Spain, or a theme to be studied by great minds under the title Flamencology. It is something unique and soulful “duende” as they say it in the land of its birth, it always fascinates and never leaves anyone feeling indifferent in its wake.

by Ana Puy Manrique Iribas

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If you would like to see the Flamenco documentary that accompanies this article and see some great Salsa and other types of dance videos, click here and subscribe to Sabor & Style Magazine for free!

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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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Samba in Houston

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What do you get when you combine energy, passion, dedication, and spice? Why, LD Dance Company of course which was founded in 2008 by an Argentinean born and Brazilian raised dancer extraordinaire named Lucia Dargam. Samba is LD’s most popular form of dance because of the style that Lucia has developed involving intricate foot and arm work, along with very fast hip shaking and an aerial jump here and there to make for a sexy and an energetic show. Perhaps you are asking yourself, “How in the world is Samba so popular in Texas of all states? Shouldn’t y’all be two-stepping?”.  Well, the way the ladies from LD Dance Company move leaves more than one audience member breathless at every performance. LD Dance Company has taken the Houston dance scene by storm; mostly due to the fire that the company’s performers bring to the stage.

Lucia, our founder was born on February 14 in Mar De Plata Argentina, and has a very diverse dance background in many forms of salsa, hip-hop, modern, and Latin dance. She has had the honor of dancing for artists such as La Sonora Poncena, Victor Manuelle, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Alexis y Fido, and DJ Flex. Lucia is a well known choreographer in the Houston area thanks to her energetic and clever routines which have led her to teach at some of Houston’s best dance studios like the Houston Dance Factory, JD Showtime, and Planet Funk, just to name a few. In 2006, Lucia competed in the ESPN World Salsa Championship where she placed 4th over all. In 2011, Lucia and her dance company had the opportunity to participate in season 6 of “America’s Got Talent”, where the judges sent them right through to “Vegas Week”.

Another dynamo, Yasneydi Useche, is one of LD’s bright talents. Born on May 21 in Venezuela Yasneydi comes from a much different background than Lucia. She was a classical ballerina for many years. And, if that’s not enough for you, she is also a chemical engineer in the oil and gas industry. So, how does a girl go from dancing in Don Quixote to becoming a chemical engineer and on to becoming a professional samba dancer you ask? With determination and perseverance, that’s how. Yasneydi is one of LD’s most dedicated dancers and it shows every time she hits the stage with her signature energy and precision. Yasneydi has been training me for about 6 years and not a day goes by when I don’t learn something new from her. Just like LD Dance Company can’t be complete without Lucia, it also not complete without Yasneydi. If Lucia is like a mother to me, Yasneydi is like my big sister. She is the most responsible person I know as well as a great role model to look up to. Not just for me, but for the rest of the dance company as well. She goes from work to practice, and from practice to shows. She gives it her all each and every time. Thanks to her will power and talent, I have become the well rounded dancer that I am today. I personally don’t come from a very technical background, but I have always appreciated the pointers she gives to better my technique. Sometimes I wonder where she gets all this energy from, but I have come to realize that she is an individual that is driven by passion.

Now for myself, as an original member of LD Dance Company, I can honestly say that I never imagined in my wildest dreams that this company would have come so far in such a short period of time. We have received many amazing opportunities in the last couple of years that I never thought could be possible. Performing on national television and having millions watch us on “America’s Got Talent” was the most amazing and rewarding experience I have ever had. Who better to share it with than Lucia, the woman who feeds my dance thirst each and every single day. I remember the first time I met Lucia and the crazy thoughts that ran through my head when she asked me to shake my booty. I was a mortified 16-year old girl. But I have to say, meeting Lucia has been the best thing to happen to me. You may ask what LD Dance Company is all about and I would say, “The future”. In 2011, Lucia decided to create two new teams, The Mini Divas and The Teen Divas for kids and teenagers. Now, there is a new generation of samba dancers that Lucia is grooming and inspiring. The new generation of LD Dance Company is already making its mark in the Houston dance scene from their debut performance at the 2011 Puerto Rican and Cuban Festival, to their most recent performance at LD Dance Company’s 2nd Annual Showcase. LD has a very busy schedule for the rest of 2012, so be sure to be on the lookout for the feathers and glitter.

by Anais Zamora

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