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“Every story has three sides.”
If salsa were dead in Southern California I’d be in BIG trouble! For those of us in the scene—whether we’re there to develop as dancers or to pursue business opportunities—salsa is a part of us. Its rhythm is in our hearts, creating a relationship that goes beyond passion and becomes a lifestyle. As an instructor, I’m confident that salsa is an ever-evolving organism. It may change and adapt to differing styles, cultures, and music, but it can never die.
Let’s start with those of us who help set the stage—the instructors, studio owners, promoters, DJ’s, band members and performers. These people help contribute to a venue’s unique vibe. It’s about who’s there and how they make me feel. When I was first learning how to dance, my Google search lead me to places like The Mayan, Stevens Steak House, and The Granada. These days it’s the SOCIALS that are gaining in popularity. Why? Socials offer dancers of all levels a chance to dance with everyone. The vibe is different, the attitudes and egos are different, and there’s more of a tightknit feel in the room that clubs just can’t match. It’s part of the evolution of the art, giving dancers more opportunities to participate. Certain places are great because the people running them are great, the teachers are great, the bands are great, and you feel great when you’re there.
Next to contribute to the growth of salsa is the social dancer, performer and competitor. We have this eager newbie who’s pumped with new talent, new information, and an arsenal of cool moves to bring to the floor. These kinds of dancers are the lifeblood of the scene. The bug has bit them, and now they’re committed. Depending on the person, they may stay a social dancer or take their addiction to the next level and join a team. When we established our first team, it consisted mainly of current students who wanted more of a challenge. Now we have three teams running concurrently, each with about twelve members. We never imagined it growing to what it is today, and it’s a testament to the limitless energy and enthusiasm that keeps salsa alive.
Finally we have the beginners. I personally feel that beginners are the most important contributors to keeping salsa on the map. Every month brings new students eager to experience the power of salsa, the romance of bachata, and the communal thrill of rueda de casino. Some come to satisfy a longtime interest, others to impress their partner, and some just want a new hobby. Whatever their reason, their interest continues to fuel the love of dance and pass it on.
So is salsa dead? Or at the very least, has it stagnated? No. Its growth is absolutely constant. When big names move on, new talent comes in. They bring new moves and new concepts that spark fresh ideas and redirect the course of salsa’s evolution. And anyone who has given their hearts to salsa knows that it repays us with unforgettable experiences, wonderful friends, and a life we wouldn’t trade for anything.
Salsa in southern California is not dying.This is in spite of the same old complaints that people use about why they don’t enjoy salsa the way they used to. Innovation is spurring positive changes in the scene. If we keep speaking up, we might even see innovation to a degree that some general problems are mitigated. Also, if we support a variety of venues with different things to offer, we may be able to go to different places to dance because we each have a little different taste.
I will address two areas where I see innovation: new types of venues and events and a new atmosphere that sets itself apart from the club scene outside of salsa. (I addressed a third in January: true fusion performances, instead of con-fusion performances.
More monthly socials are starting. I must confess that they have been my favorite places to dance each month for more than two years.
A couple particular innovations in venue have struck me. We are lucky to have places to dance outdoors, yet it is ironic that there are so few with the climate here. Latin dance is practiced in beautiful zocalos and many outside venues in other Latin regions. Some well-known outdoor venues have been around for years like Whittier in the summer. I am surprised at how many people have not been to the 3rd St. Promenade on Sundays in Santa Monica when they claim that they like dancing outside. Last summer we even had outdoor dancing in Orange County. Many people are hoping that will return again this year.
Up in the Valley we finally have a true warehouse dancing experience. This was a very creative idea. I love it because the rave–and the punk scene before it–did such a great job making all this dead space in our cities into dual use: commerce and cultural. We have a longer tradition of dance and music in the salsa scene, so we can probably do even more with this enterprising concept. Better is the fact that salseros are smarter and might avoid the pitfalls that got those scenes in so much trouble. Namely, we realize that cocaine, heroine, ecstasy and innumerable other substances will not make us better at what we want to do which is dance and dance some more.
The final innovation is subtle and not always easy to accomplish. Some promoters are doing more to make their venues fun and friendly including welcoming newcomers and people who are not part of the in-group. At some places you consistently see smiling, except from guys who are concentrating too hard. Some of the venues are accomplishing this is in a variety of ways. It seems that the spirit of the host as genuinely inviting can set the tone. Also, teaching ettiquette in the classes can help keep hormones and selfishness from being the primary driving forces in interaction. An event where there is lots of laughing and smiling and where new people get included can be a great promotional tool and grow salsa. It can breath life even into a corpse.
I am reminded of something Rudy Zalez once said about salsa being rooted in a culture of family. If we genuinely lived that way and salsa was our playground to develop that perspective, what more would we have to offer the community, our jobs and our families? The authentic part is very challenging, and I leave it up to readers to judge promoters or events for themselves. I am glad that some promoters are not too cowardly to try. One day they might have a true reason to boast and not merely an ego-driven, celebrity ad campaign about how important they are. I can’t wait!
The Salsa scene is not dying in Southern California. Although it may not seem like it, the scene is expanding. The reasons why it seems to be dying is that it is fractured and the product is watered down.
This is an example of what has occurred to make the scene fractured. There was a time when on a Tuesday night one would go to Tia Juana’s in Orange County or Steven’s in Los Angeles. Each place would easily get between 100 and 200 people per week. Promoters saw the potential and decided to start their own spots. Some were necessary (filling a void), but the vast majority were not. Now there are at least 10 places that one could attend. Even if a new place is only taking 10 dancers away, the numbers at each location begin to dwindle. Therefore when someone goes to their normal spot, instead of seeing 150 to 200 dancers they see 50 to 60 dancers. Understandably the immediate thought is, “Salsa is dying.”
The fracturing of the scene can be both a positive and a negative. The positive can be when a specific need is met to fill a void. For example let’s look at Riverside. What are Riverside dancers to do on a Sunday evening? Hacienda is over 60 miles, Tapas is over 40 miles, and Steven’s is over 50 miles. Now throw in the 91 freeway and you’re looking at a 2 hour round trip at the minimum. Add in the cost of gas and you can see why the dancers are waiting for new spots in the Inland Empire.
Therefore the need is there for a Sunday spot in Riverside. Will this expansion take people away from the other locations? Yes, but it will give a new area a place to dance and hopefully that area can make it grow. This can be a positive expansion of the salsa scene. These expansions are great for all areas where there is a need.
WATERING DOWN THE PRODUCT
By far the biggest factor in the watering down of the product is the attempt to make a quick buck. In the relatively short time that I have been DJing I have seen the number of DJs expand tenfold. People think, “I have music, so I can DJ. They just stand there.” Also some promoters think, “Why should I pay a DJ when I can do it myself?” Now you have people DJing that should not be and what’s worse is YOU are paying a cover charge to hear them play.
I believe every individual has a right to pursue their desires and interests, so it does not bother me when I see a new name. It actually helps my business, but that is for another article. The reality is that most only last a few weeks because they started to DJ for all the wrong reasons: quick buck, recognition, impress friends, save promoter the expense of a DJ.
With the amount of talent in Southern California every club should have a quality DJ. Now how quickly can you think of the person that should not be DJing? Way too easy right? Now here is the really bad part. YOU ARE PAYING THE EXACT SAME COVER CHARGE TO HEAR A TOP DJ AS YOU ARE TO HEAR THE PROMOTER’S DRINKING BUDDY. WTF? Now do you know why I wrote last month to demand more?
Now what you have are multiple venues with subpar DJs. The top DJs like Farley, Frank, Dario, Tico, and others of their caliber are told, “We are just starting out. I can’t afford you.” What promoters need to realize is a good DJ will pay for himself and help expand the business.
These are our thoughts on the current state of the Salsa scene. We would like to hear how you feel. Are we way off base? Please post your comments and let us know what you think. We are not looking for people to agree with us. These are our personal perspectives. Yours may be completely different. Only through healthy discussion can we hope to make positive changes.
Come learn some new moves AND help a good cause in the process!!!
The LA Influence Dance Company is linking up David Polon of Watch THIS Dance Company, Tania Borges of Raw Bachata, Mambo guru Brent Jennings and Kevin Ngo of Cal State Long Beach to bring you a 4 Hour Workshop. Proceeds will be going to help build better facilities for the children of Corazon de Vida.
When: Sunday, March 4th 12-4pm
Where: Long Beach Dance Center
5107 E. Ocean Blvd. Long Beach, CA 90804
How much: $30
Buy your tickets online: Click here
To Donate: Click here
Schedule will be as follows:
12-12:50 – Beg. Mambo (Brent) / Beg. Cha Cha Cha (Lyssin)
1-1:50 – Beg. Salsa (Araceli) / Inter. Salsa (David)
2-250 – Beg. Bachata (Kevin) / Inter. Bachata (Tania)
3- 350 – Beg. Rueda de Casino (Ciara & Dalia) / Inter. Rueda de Casino (Peter)
*** Please plan to arrive early to SIGN IN & to find STREET PARKING.
About Corazon de Vida
Founded in 1994, Corazón de Vida (“CDV”) is a US-based nonprofit organization supporting Baja orphanages. It provides children in dire need the necessities of shelter, food, clothing, education, and healthcare – as well as hope, compassion and love. CDV not only financially supports orphanages in Baja, but also provides assistance through frequent cross-border visits by board members, staff, and volunteers.
For more info on how you can help please visit:
A very big thank you to all of you in advance.