The Greatest Salsa Congress…Ever!

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In 1997 Eli Irizarry ushered in a new era for the latin dance community when he organized the first salsa congress in the world, the Puerto Rico Salsa Congress.  Today there are hundreds of Salsa congresses; each praise its own merits and tout claims of being the ‘biggest’, ‘most spectacular’ or ‘hottest’ congress of the year.   Traveling Salsa instructors are niche superstars and any good festival promoter is aware of which personalities have the cache to influence dancers to attend an event.  If the dance itself were simply enough to sell full-passes to the events then there would be no need to advertise who would be teaching or performing.  This, of course, is not the case.

This month I had the pleasure of seeing one of the natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon. As my mind never strays far from dance I was suddenly struck with the question…’What dancers would attend the ‘Grand Canyon’ of all Salsa congresses’?  No, I don’t mean which dancers would be the best at doing a ‘susie q’ in the Canyon, which would be a magical feat unto itself, but who, in their prime, would I want to learn from and/or watch perform.  The answer is certainly subjective, but I pieced together a list of who I thought would need to attend. The list could have been 50 dancers long but, quite obviously, no congress would ever have that many instructors, so I attempted to keep it to a realistic 20. Clearly I would have an unlimited budget and all the instructors are currently still alive :).

So who would I pick to teach and/or perform at the ‘Greatest Salsa Congress’ (GSC) ever?

Eddie “The Mambo King” Torres:

The GSC shouldn’t happen if Eddie Torres doesn’t attend. He is at the top of the Salsa pyramid and all the dancers I list next are in some way offspring to the teaching methodology he created.  I would be perfectly OK if Mr. Torres simply had a presentation in which he talked about his dance inspirations, told stories of dancing onstage for great musicians like Tito Puente, and played clips of performances with dancers such as Delille Thomas (aka Mambo D). Hopefully Eddie’s wife, Maria Torres, would be kind enough to join. The video below is of Eddie Torres and Mambo D performing with Tito Puente. This is how the legends did it.

Albert Torres:

Albert is the man behind the World Latin Dance Cup and several salsa congresses that take place across the globe. He certainly could handle organizing the GSC. Albert had an impressive salsa career before becoming arguably the worlds top salsa congress promoter.  He began organizing congresses in 1999 (Los Angeles Salsa Congress) and now has a hand in organizing numerous events. His list of dance achievements include; Dancing in the movie “Mambo Kings”, performing at the 1993 Academy Awards, and choreographing and dancing in the movie “Dance with Me” starring Vanessa Williams.  The video below contains a rare footage of Albert dancing with Jennifer Lopez. The clip is from the Keenan Ivory Wayans show (1997). The dancing starts at 0:53 seconds.

Griselle Ponce:

Griselle is another dance veteran who set the Salsa stage for todays salseras.  She has done it all from dancing in music videos for J-Lo to performing for such legends as Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. The ‘Jersey Girl’ would bring class and feminine tenacity to the GSC.

Juan “Pachanga” Matos:

An innovator. In the mid to late 2000’s Juan Matos was leading the way for the new crop of professional salseros hitting the congress circuit. Juan is a singular talent and you will never say to yourself, “He dances like…” or mistake Matos for another dancer.  His style and charisma separate him for cookie cutter salseros like myself who simply try to mimic other dancers.   He dances with an incredible amount of energy, pizzazz, flair, and power.  You can’t take your eyes off him when he’s dancing.  Your eyeballs may get tired after watching one of his performances, but he’ll inspire you to improve your dancing…or at the very least step out of you comfort zone and try something new.

Adolfo Indacochea:

Born dancer.  Adolfo is dance magician who doesn’t need a dance partner to help make him look like a pro.  He can do that all by himself.  His technical ability and footwork are second to none and he can carry a performance all by himself.  Yes, Adolfo is a great social dancer with unlimited moves…but some of the work he’s done on stage (with Juan Matos in particular) is a sight to behold. I’m somewhat giddy that I’ll be able to meet both Matos and Adolfo at the BIG San Antonio Salsa Festival in August. Below is a performance from Juan and Adolfo in 2011 in which they show off their dance super powers.

Magna Gopal:

Self taught sensation.  Well known for her ability to spin like a toy top on ice.  Magna is one of the most popular salseras in the world, and for good reason…she’s an amazing dancer.  She looks like your cute, Indian girl next door…until she gets on the dance floor and you realize your neighbor never danced like her! Magna may be small in stature but she carries a big brain for the Salsa congress business.  She recently published an educational video blog series called ‘MPowered’. This goal of the series is to educate dancers about the business side of Salsa congresses, and tips for being a true professional.  Its available on her YouTube channel and is a must watch for dancers who wish to become traveling dance instructors. Below is the Introduction to the MPowered series. I’d be thrilled if Magna presented this series at the GSC.

Alien Ramirez:

A master of her craft.  Brilliant performer and instructor.  She can effortlessly improv with any salsero alive. Versatile. She can be smooth or sassy.  Sexy or subdued.  She can do any of those acrobatic tricks/flips you see in performances today or basic beginner styling with equal elegance, style, and grace.  She is a salsa super-heroine. Best of all…she always looks like she’s having a hell of a lot of fun dancing. Alien is my personal favorite Salsera.

Terry “SalsALianza” Tauliat:

Ever walk into a salsa club, see someone dancing, and say to yourself…’I wish my dance vibe was as cool as that guy?”  If so, you were probably watching Terry Tauliaut dance.  An incredibly talented dancer and performer who has the look of an ultra-cool 70’s soul-brotha…from France.   It’s as if salsa is the ever present soundtrack to his life, and he’s simply reacting the rhythm of his world.   This man has what our loveable youth call, “swag”.  Salsa swag.  He’s the Samuel L. Jackson of salsa.  SalsAlianza is the name of his dance studio.

Dom Ramark:

Dom and his Ramark Dance Company would be the performance headliners for the GSC.  I love everything about their performances. The precision, their variations in pace, musicality, originality, the Michael Jackson-esque choreography elements…The dance company consists of Dom, Helene, Xavier, and Marion. Watch the entire performance below. It doesn’t contain any gymnastics or aerial elements often associated with typical congress performances.  It just contains a lot of awesomeness and brilliance.

Karel Flores:

If there is a woman who can currently claim the title ‘Beyonce of Salsa’…its Karel.  Karel has been dancing for almost ten years (since 2006) and has steadily become one of the most influential salsa dancers and choreographers worldwide.  Her sponsored teams, or “#Armyofbadbitches” as she often hashtags on Facebook, extends from the USA, Turkey, Belgium, and beyond, and she is a certainly serving a role model for the next generation of salseras.

Gordon Neil:

Gordon is a “dancers dancer” and a true professional of the craft.  His improvisation and social dancing skills alone would be enough to have him be apart of the GSC, but his performances are what set him apart. Passionate. Soulful.  Challenging.  Mr. Neil doesn’t waste your time when he’s on stage.  He holds himself to very high standards and expects the same of others who deem themselves ‘dance professionals’. I love the video below because it shows Gordon’s improv skills and the ability to play with and feel the music.

Frankie Martinez:

Frankie Martinez is a fearless dancer with impeccable, precise footwork, and trained body movement.   He has a very unique ability to combine other forms of dance with his mambo shines that almost make it seem like he isn’t dancing mambo at all.   Much like the others instructors who would be invited to the GSC, Frankie is not afraid to take risks and incorporate other dance styles into his performances.  His solo performances are a pleasure to watch. Simply put…Frankie is incredible.

Johnny Vazquez:

All three of the Vazquez brothers (Francisco, Luis, and Johnny)  would be welcome at the GSC.  However we’ll have Johnny teach and perform as his formidable years came after salsa congresses’ were mainstream in the dance community.   Johnny is a legend who is synonymous with “LA On1” style and the famed Vazquez brothers shaped an entire generation of “On1” salsa dancers.  Performance wise…he’s fearless.  He combines an immense amount of salsa talent with creative routines. Johnny (and his brothers) would have a lot of history to share about the early days of the LA Style and his performances would rock the house at the GSC.

Edie “The Salsa Freak” Williams:

One of the more popular salseras in the world due to a vast web/social media footprint and her writing skills.  Edie is an exceptional dancer with the ability to effectively teach salsa. It would be awesome if Edie and Magna partnered up to teach a class on the business side of Salsa.  That class would definitely be offered at the GSC.

Franklin Diaz:

One of the masters of body movement in the world of Salsa. In fact, Franklin would hopefully teach a class entitled, “Master Body Movement” at the GSC.  Watching Franklin perform is like witnessing pure joy. It’s almost as if he is improvising each movement, yet you know he has spent countless hours perfecting every minute detail. If most tried to dance like Franklin they would resemble a zombie doing ‘the thriller dance’ from the Michael Jackson video, but he makes it look easy.

Oliver Pineda:

Effortless. He glides across the floor as if its a sheet of ice…He could be the Frank Sinatra of salsa.  He always seems to dance with a slight smile on his face, and is in complete control.  Oliver makes social dances look like practiced performances.  He could probably dance with a martini in his hand and not spill a drop ala “Old Blue Eyes” himself. Numerous salseras I’ve spoken with who have danced with Oliver say he has one of the best leads out there…so how can he not be invited?

Ana Masacote: 

Ana’s presence at the GSC would give students yet another body movement and styling wizard.  I know she has put in an incredible amount of hours dancing, but she looks like she was born to dance.  Ana, like all of the salseras who would attend the GSC, would bring a sense of maturity and professionalism.

Tito Ortos:

Tito offers a salsa dance history class and I’ve been fortunate enough to attend. The class covers important topics such as introducing the great dancers from the Palladium era to how ‘Salsa’ music evolved into what we hear today. Tito (and his wife and dance partner, Tamara Livolsi) are amazing dancers, but I would love if Tito was kind enough to share his presentation and knowledge at the GSC.

Leon Rose:

Leon displays sophisticated style in his dancing and is another dancer I’d love to see perform at the GSC.  Leon frequently incorporates elements of jazz dance into his performances that give his shows a mature aesthetic and feel.  Leon’s classy, ‘grown up’ persona lend itself well in festival performances where his skills as a choreographer enable him to properly showcase his immense talent.  His shows are always original and fresh, and don’t feel like the same salsa routines repackaged by uninspired salseros.

Shani Talmor:

Outstanding performer and instructor who can do it all.  Shani is another great dancer who is leading the next generation of salseras, and a favorite at Salsa festivals across the globe.  Shani has achieved a lot in her career, and has been the primary dance partner for both Johnny Vazquez and Eddie Torres…translation; Shani is a badass dancer who can command a stage.  She also speaks Hebrew, Spanish, and Italian, in addition to English. Just a fun fact :).

Beberly Devers & Kevin Tellez

Of course we can’t forget about the kids! I think we’ve all seen the video of Colombian Style salsa dancers Beberly and Kevin. No, they wouldn’t teach a class, but they’d surely add a lot of fun to the GSC!

With any Salsa congress you will need vendors…and the two I would select would be Burju Shoes and Jose Botta Dance shoes.

Burju is run by veteran dancer Burju Perez and has had several popular dancers endorse the brand including: Jorjet Alcocer, Arlette Guerra, Ana Masacote, and Karel Flores.

Jose Botta Dance shoes are frequently worn by Jorge ‘Ataca’ Burgos and Tanja ‘La Alemana’ Kensinger of Island Touch Dance.

I know the GSC will never happen, but I can dream!

Who would you pick to have at your Greatest Salsa Congress ever?

4 Comments

  • maarten says:

    Neeraj Maskara. A great performer but what really sets him aside his quality as instructor. He can really explain very well how to make moves, shines and musicality.

  • Stephen says:

    What’s the closest a congress has gotten in achieving this? The last congress I attended had ET, Griselle, Alien , Johnny Vazquez, Juan Matos, among others. How does that compare with other congresses, just curious?

  • That’s probably as close as you’ll get considering the travel and work schedules of most of these instructors. Most promoters are lucky just to get one or two of these names let alone corral them all. If someone is able to get all this talent in one congress I’ll definitely be there 🙂

    • Stephen says:

      So that congress I was referring to is the Seattle Salsa Congress, which happened this past weekend. I was really surprised a relatively small dance city like Seattle would have so much teaching talent in one place!

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