Sunday, 14 October 2007

Salsa Memories:
To Those Who Make it Possible

The enduring images from this year’s salsa congress were not of the performers. The 20-feet tall pictures of David Melendez dominated the start of Friday and Saturday nights’ performances, and the tribute dance was great because it told the most poignant story of all: the absent MC, the absent promoter, the absent teacher. And what I recall about Edwin Rivera and his partner’s tribute performance was not just their dance, but their silvery angelic costumes and the final frozen gesture: hands and eyes raised to heaven. Their pose seemed to say what we’ve always suspected: dance speaks divinely.

Albert Torres, carrying on Melendez’s legacy this year, said he wouldn’t have wanted to fill David’s shoes. But while we agree that he couldn’t outshine David Melendez, we would like to give him a few gentle suggestions. While on the plane to Toronto, he should rehearse as follows: “Toronto, Toronto, Toronto…” Next, he should try familiarizing himself with the performers’ names about, say, five minutes before coming onstage. We think he’d enjoy himself more that way. (I definitely like knowing that I’m in Toronto, for example.) Thank you, and we hope to see you all at the Puerto Rico Hustle and Salsa Congress (October 11–14).

An enduring memory I have is Torres in the spotlight with his arm around Jennifer’s shoulders, saying, “This little lady has done so much to professionalize the salsa scene.” Jennifer stood there demurely but said nothing, just stared at her lovely shoes. This exchange took me right back to my first lesson with Jennifer and Giovanni, where they explained to the class that salsa was a space in which men lead and women follow. Interestingly, this year’s performances did show at least two women leading.

One dance this weekend that did break a number of rules was a competition performance by Toronto’s own Mambo Dream Team on Thursday night. Their bulbous stomachs and swollen bums were a big contrast with the usual salsa congress fare—yes, you know, exaggeratedly perfect abs, buns, thighs, boobs, toes. And the too-plain costumes thumbed their nose at the Strictly Ballroom trend among salsa performers. (I love that movie, but the resemblance sometimes scares me.) Thanks, salsa students everywhere, for reinventing salsa.

Thanks most of all to Jennifer, though, who made the whole experience possible. She hasn’t just professionalized salsa, she’s reinvented what it means to go to a salsa congress. Cushy seats for everyone, pro lighting/music/photography, an attractive stage, and a smooth-running performance schedule—these don’t come cheaply (and I’m not talking about the all-inclusive passes). No—all these are borne with the blood, sweat and tears of Jennifer Aucoin. Thanks for making our divine time possible, Jennifer.

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