TORONTO SALSA: Where We've Been and Where We're Going with All this Dancing on the Spot

[These two quotes were taken from: Some Like it Hot! 
This article appeared in Hoofers Anonymous (Dance Magazine), 
 1997 Written by Nicole DaSilva]

“Just like the music, the dance is also a wild mix of everything -- emotions, tempos, spins, dips, drops, syncopations, a little Mambo here, a little Cha Cha there, perhaps a pinch of Argentine? From romantic Salsa to the dance- til-you-drop tempos, it is highly unlikely that you'll ever dance the same Salsa twice. However, the fun doesn't stop here. There's that moment that Salsa dancers eagerly anticipate -- the "descarga" (firing or unloading). This is the moment when the music heats up to a blistering 1000 degrees. This is when the horns burst with triumph, when the rhythmic, pulsating chant of the background vocals captivate and entrance and when the raw, native sound of the bongos and timbales leave you breathless. You don't have to stand too close to feel the vibration emanating from the dance floor. The "yunfa" (energy) is contagious.”

Spanish Heat by Trish Biddle"Today, Salsa is infectious! Its claim to fame has prompted many a nightclub owner to host a "Latin Night" at least once a week. As a result, you can strut your stuff from Monday to Sunday. In 1997 its popularity had prompted the First Annual Salsa Conference in Puerto Rico, which boasts guests from all over the world. For some it is a trend yet for others it has become a lifestyle. When this rhythm grabs you, almost anything goes.”  
 

THE SALSA BOOM IN TORONTO

Introducing … Jennifer, Nicole, Frank, Sarita, Michael, Roberto, Ramiro, Alberto and Wilson

Salsa-dancing had a boom, or as Nicole DaSilva would say, a ‘descarga’, in the 1990s, Toronto. Now the history of Salsa-dancing, to date, has always been recorded as being a little bit of this and that, crossing various countries of various religions, ethnics, races, egos and lifestyles. This article would rather localize the history of salsa to this boom in Toronto with the realization that salsa is more than the mix of rhythms and turns and taps and beats – it is the unique spice of the people who love it.

This article warmly introduces to the world at large the promoters and builders of Toronto’s Latin dance and music community, spanning as far back as the 1970s.

In a 1989 interview with the Toronto Star newspaper, Ramiro Puerta, a bandleader of Latin American music, predicted a Salsa boom within the city.  

 “The increase in Canadian tourism traffic in Latin America could generate interest in Salsa much the way Jamaican reggae crossed over in the mid-70's.”

Tango Over the Piano “The influx of Chilean and Argentinean refugees to Toronto in the late 70's and 80's has brought with it a wealth of Latin music talent. A prime example … is Gustafo Rodiguez” who was the musical arranger of Ramiro’s 14-piece group.  

Ramiro’s faith and pleasure in his Toronto audiences and his community led to an extensive career in Toronto Latin music and film. In 1988, "Ramiro's Latin Orchestra" was founded, appearing in 2 CDS, "THE GATHERING” and "AMIGOS LATINOS” featuring Latin bands throughout Canada.  

Immigration from Ecuador and El Salvador was also on the rise during the 70's and 80's, reported Roberto Sanchez, a promoter and dance instructor with 16 years experience in Toronto Latin music and dance. The few small restaurant/clubs and community centres were becoming too small to hold this market and couldn’t afford to book any big bands or organize large-scale events. “These people needed places to go and have fun,“ Roberto explained.

Promoters such as Roberto Sanchez, Alberto Gomez, Lisandro Meza, Adolpho Pascon and Rock Rodrigo helped to book, distribute and promote Latin music, in vinyl and live formats in Toronto. “Please note,” Roberto said. “Before you can have a dance movement you must first start with the music. It was very difficult to find places to buy good Latin music. Our DJ’s had to go to the States for the best … Some of the top DJ’s responsible for getting the best in Latin music and mixes to our ears was DJ Efren, DJ Renemix, DJ Latin Beat (Luis Valdes).”  

Salsa Dancers Bill BrauerAnother key influence in bringing Latin music into Toronto was Memo Acevedo – according to Ramiro Puerta, in the beginning, “Toronto Salsa was a one-man act called Memo Acevedo,” who visited Toronto during a tour with his Mexican band and decided to stay and form the Banda Brava, a 16 piece band. This band would be responsible in both educating and turning over some of the finest Latin musicians out of our local residents.

Before the boom, most Latin musicians found work in rhythm sections of other bands, according to Wilson Acevedo, from Toronto-based Latin band, Caché. Wilson, started to play/dance Latin dance and music in 1986, Toronto. El Rancho was again named as the Latin club to go to in Toronto, believed to have started in the early 70’s as a small restaurant. Soccer clubs arranged club/dance events. Salsa events were parties for socializing and celebrating; there was not the primary focus on the dance itself as is seen in the Salsa club nights today.  

Alberto Gomez, a dancer, former club-owner and promoter, has been involved in Toronto Latin dance and music as far back as the late 70’s. His testimony is care of a 2003 interview conducted by
Dance From the Heart Studio.  

“When I first started, it was a very small community. There was El Rancho and another one called Coconut, right here at Dufferin and St. Clair. So it was not big. It was small. One or two dance competitions might be held but nothing formally organized or promoted." Roughly 30 couples competed in these competitions, in which Alberto became a frequent champion.

“Organized competitions … that is when Latin dance became big and Salsa and everything.”

Fast CocktailsAnd with this budding market in music and dance, the next conclusive step, as per Roberto, was to promote Latin dance and music to the “English-speaking audience.”  

But as Roberto and Ramiro both accounted, catering Latin music and dance, in Toronto, during the 80’s, to a non-Latino audiences often meant needing to break a barrier of ‘weirdness’.  The responses amused Ramiro. "First they have to get beyond the awe of 14 musicians playing this weird, likeable music with foreign lyrics. Then they go, 'Oh, wow!' I love to see their reactions. That's why I do it."
 

BOOM-BOOM-BOOM
 

Jennifer Aucoin, a full-time Salsa instructor, performer and choreographer for Steps Dance Studio, was infected with Salsaholism during a vacation in the Dominican Republic in 1990, the beginning of the Toronto Salsa Boom. Tourism to the tropical countries was stinging young professionals and students, like Jennifer, with an insatiable need for the music and motion of Latin dance. To her surprise, she discovered that the cold clime of Toronto, Canada had a place to Latin dance six nights a week nestled in the warmth of our Latin community. And she did just that. “I’d write my term papers at the clubs,” Jennifer emphasized.

Perfume PearlsFrank Bishun, another pioneering instructor, professional dancer and former club owner had a similar account of his initial lure into Salsaholism. He remembers being aggravated by his girlfriend at the time, needing an outlet, being young and feeling ‘square’. “Salsa is about the competition, the chance to be a different person, escape, communicate, a sport and the thrill of the spotlight. All of these things. Salsa is all of these things.”

His favourite memory during his learning stage in Latin dance was in 1989, at the Berlin nightclub. He was feeling intimidated by the dancers and still frustrated with his love-life, when a girl, who he later learned was visiting from Las Vegas, asked him to dance. He said he couldn’t, but she insisted, saying there was nothing to worry about. She led him through complicated twists, turns and even dips while always making it look like he was orchestrating everything. At the end of the dance, Frank felt like a star. "I wish I knew her name. I would look her up and thank her,” Frank said wistfully.

According to Jennifer, the nightclubs for Latin dance, in the early 90’s, were El Rancho, Baccarat, the Manulife Center and Berlin. La Classique opened a couple of years after Berlin’s Latin Tuesday Night. Plaza Flamingo opened in 1993. During the summer there was outdoor Salsa at the Island Club at Ontario Place.  
 
At that time, Jennifer was a modest University student of 19 years who had never imagined standing under a spotlight while thunderous rhythms fell at her feet. Latin dance was a sensuality more honest and dignified than the nitty-gritty of the Top 40, Grunge/Alternative or Hiphop/R&B clubs of the mainstream Toronto Nightlife.  

Martini BarNicole DaSilva, another Salsaholic, from Soles Dance Studio, who began her studies in the early 90’s, described the scene as thus:  

“It was a time when people just cared enough to know that they liked the rhythms they heard but not necessarily where those rhythms came from. It was a time when dance floors were flooded with light hearts and big smiles. There were a handful of talented dancers that everyone ooohed and ahhhhed about. The rest were made up of those who learned to dance by instinct, by a friend, or by a mother or father and had just enough moves to get through a song. There were not many teachers around and teaching Salsa was not an industry. As a matter of fact, it was incredibly difficult to find someone who could teach you to dance Salsa. Merengue was an all time favourite and Bachata among the unknown.”

Salsa aficionados such as Jennifer, Frank and Nicole quickly finished off all that Toronto had to offer, in moves and styles, and needed to venture outside Toronto to find more Salsa stimuli. This obsessive-compulsive behaviour resulted in the fast rise of stellar dancers who because of their need to have Salsa accessible to them 24/7 became the instructors, choreographers, event planners and schools of our current Salsa scene. These people were also the ones to travel to the World Salsa Congresses and the houses of the Salsa roots: New York, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Miami and LA, learning and bringing back technical moves that had hardly been seen by Toronto and surprisingly, much of our own Latin dance and music community.

It has been agreed, across this panel of interviews, that the introduction of the International Salsa Congresses (Puerto Rico’s being the biggest) has been a key element in marketing Salsa as a global community.  
 
“Salsa was born in Cuba but raised in New York”, Jennifer said. In fact, there is far too much that can be said and debated about the roots of Salsa with traces throughout American, African, European and Latin American history. However, it is safe to say that some of the most famous and popularly recorded and distributed Latin music comes from the Latin musicians of New York. They are known as the Fania Allstars and said to be responsible for coining the term, ‘Salsa.’

“They were the Monsters,” Michael Sobreira emphasized, a native Venezuelan dancer who arrived on the Toronto Salsa Scene in 1994 as part of that year’s summer Dance Fringe Festival.

It was the American music industry’s ability to produce, distribute and promote Latin music that allowed it to travel globally.

“If Cuba had the ability to produce and distribute music like the US, we would all know that Cuba is the mother of Salsa,” Sarita Leyva, an Afro-Cuban, Modern and Latin dance instructor who arrived in the Toronto Salsa Scene in 1997.

These styles from Salsa cities such as L.A. and New York have dominated the Toronto Salsa scene for the past few years, although there are various dance schools that continue to resist these styles to this date. According to Nicole, “the L.A. and New York styles were considered Ballroom dancing or other things but definitely not Salsa.” Soles Dance Studio’s website provides a detailed description of the styles that have migrated to Toronto which consisted of Colombian Style, Cuban/Miami Style, New York and L.A. Style salsas. Here is an abridged version: 

Colombian Salsa often referred to as Cumbia style, was the first style of Salsa dance to capture Toronto's attention.  If you learned Salsa here in Toronto several years ago this is perhaps the style that you are familiar with. The basic step is represented by a series of "5th position breaks" (breaks back on a diagonal approximately 45º on counts "1" and "5"). This style is also well known for its characteristic "tap" on the non-weight changing steps (counts "4" and "8" if dancing on "1").

The Cuban and Miami styles are somewhat similar in that it is very much a man's dance with a repertoire of multiple allardes (a showy decoration with the hand, executed by the man, that resembles the gesture of combing one's hair) and hook turns. Although the Miami style has its roots in Cuba, it has evolved into a more refined and technically stronger variation of the Cuban style. For the most part, dancers in Miami and Cuba, in particular, possess a raw and easy style that most non-Latino dancers may find difficult to emulate.  

The New York and L.A. styles are very closely linked. Both styles use the mambo step as a basic and are very slotted/linear in execution. New York has earned a reputation for dancing on "2" yet there are many New Yorker's who also dance on"1" … The Los Angeles style uses the contemporary mambo basic as well but typically executes this step by breaking forward on count "1". The L.A. and New York styles consist of the same core components that make up their incredibly diverse repertoire of moves. The main difference is their approach to styling, the ebb and flow of movement.”       

According, to Alberto Gomez, the ‘Mambo’ (L.A. and New York) styles actually did have a mild introduction in the early 80’s but the Latin clubs and dancers of that time preferred the jive/hustle version cultivated by him and his compatriots, highly influenced by “the Colombian dancers.”  

Nevertheless, towards the mid-90’s, our unofficial Toronto Salsa ambassadors were bringing in more eye-catching showmanship and physically, challenging dance moves from the U.S. Salsa cities. A major event was the decision of a few Salsa aficionados, like Jennifer, to join the Washington Salsa Congress in 1999. Jennifer spoke to Ricardo Loaiza, the event organizer, about the possibility of Toronto hosting a future congress. In 2000, Toronto hosted its first SalsaWeb Convention at the Regal Constellation. Jennifer is currently co-piloting the construction of the 1st Annual Canada Salsa Congress for October 2003.

“People were suddenly PAYING to learn,” said Roberto Sanchez. “Back in the day, people taught for free, back then it was a funny dance. Making Salsa aerobic, as well as ballroomized, made it easier to learn. Once people started paying money to learn Salsa – it was only natural that Salsa would get a boom.

Salsa competitions and performances were more frequent. One of the major platforms for competitive and progressive Salsa dancing began 13 years ago with the introduction of the Berlin nightclub’s (now known as Manhattan Fuel) Salsa Competition. The event was organized by Alberto Gomez who moved on to open La Classique, on St.Clair West. The last six years of the annual event was handed to Jennifer Aucoin.

In 1997, Roberto opened a Latin Night at the LA Hollywood nightclub. This Latin Night would host numerous Latin dance competitions. These events would garner heavy sponsorship from companies such as Coca Cola and Bacardi. He arranged for his dance instructors to perform every Friday and invited studio instructors to judge.  

That same year, Nicole DaSilva and Mark Del Duca became the founders of Soles Dance Studio, one of the first studios in Toronto to form and launch a Salsa dance company.

Soles Dance Studio was also one of the first studios to introduce specialized workshops such as Shines, Styling, Lead/Follow Technique, etc., as well as their ever-growing choreography program for students wishing to perform for an audience.

Hence, the beginning of Organized Salsa in Toronto.
 

THE SOCIAL ‘CLASS’ CLASS
 

But, booming aside, what happens to Latin music and dance when you introduce it to the general population of Toronto in the 1990’s?

Social dancers, such as myself, would arrive on the scene. We were the Dancers-who-need-dance-lessons Dancers. When it came to learning Latin dance, you couldn’t turn to a girl like me and say, “Just feel the music” and expect something good to come out of that. My demographic would play a major part in filling and financing the Latin dance schools and nightclub classes. We were the under-privileged class of dancers who grew up without the riches of natural Latin rhythm. This Salsa ‘class’ class would be from as many professions and ethnic communities as Toronto can dish out. We were engineers, architects, cab drivers, optometrists, students, animation artists, physical trainers, administrative assistants, wait staff, cashiers and accountants. Our professions were a factor in our class of Salsa because, most often, we danced as a mini-vacation away from them. We were and are of North American, Asian, Latin American, European, Middle-Eastern, Afro-American, Australian and African backgrounds, etc., etc. -- most assuredly, bringing in elements of our own cultures when we danced. We certainly qualified, many times, as a ‘variety.’  

It was fortunate that dance lessons, at the time that I started in 1999, were so accessible and systematically broken down. In fact, I’m convinced that having introduced Latin music and the sight of Salsa-dancing to newbies, like me, and not breaking it down into digestible steps, would have resulted in hordes of miserable Salsa spectators crowding the edges of dance floors. Soles Dance Studio developed a program, “taught by a minimum of two experienced instructors who attend every class knowing what they plan on teaching and how to break it down into clear, concise and manageable sections.“  Clear, concise and manageable – words to calm my trembling heart.

However, according to Michael Sobreira, this concise and manageable breaking down of the steps from Toronto's more organized dance schools, would be the means for many students to quickly climb technical obstacles and bypass the creativity and pleasure of dance. Both Michael and Sarita, dance instructors who teach based on their cultural roots, found that many of the student dancers in Toronto were too mechanical and stiff. Much of Toronto’s modern style of dancing was designed for show and without history, hence losing the essence of what is ‘the roots of Salsa.’ This was Salsa as a sport, a competition and less a dance.

“Toronto will remember to dance for pleasure if they remember Cuba and the roots. The rhythm is too complicated for many new salseros – they get frustrated too soon, and it doesn’t pay. Digestible Salsa pays. Shows pay. But never judge something without history,” Sarita told me.

The First DanceShe began a mild explanation of how stiff popular Salsa dancing had become. “In Cuba, we use our whole body when we dance. Hips, bum, shoulders!” I required her to show me some of the more glaring differences in the way they dance in Cuba.

“… and in Puerto Rico, they dance against the tempo. People use to think they were off-time until they realized this,” Sarita explained.  Against the tempo? What the hell is that?

She stood up and she showed me a basic step and I balked. I made her do this basic step twice. The energy in her brightly coloured living room was silent and then awoken by this powerful rhythm that she played out with her feet against the hardwood floor. I watched her make a musical instrument of her body.

Michael Sobreira would be another interview that would stun me in a similar manner. When asked how he came to learn to dance Salsa, or Latin dances, he said that he “learned by doing.” He had been dancing since he was a child. “People liked the way I danced and they asked me to dance more.” This would result in him being accepted into a theatre company by the age of seven, traveling and performing throughout Venezuela, Mexico, Spain, the U.S. and Canada.

Alberto Gomez, too, learned Latin dance without much formal training. “… I started watching people dance. That is how I learned – watching. I had some training in Ballroom, and only had 5 group lessons in Argentine Tango - that's it.”

I described this issue with a fellow Salsa ‘class’ class dancer and he related a similar experience. A friend, native to Brazilian dance, was showing him complicated accents to Salsa and finally he needed to ask her to stop and, please, do it in slow motion so he could see what looked to him like a flurry of feet. Since she had not learned by having the moves broken down into parts, she was unable to break the moves down for him.

Both Sarita and Michael also noticed that Latin dance fanaticism (Salsa-madness, Salsaholism, Salsa-freakdom, etc.) occurred mainly in the cities. “You do not see this dance fanaticism in the roots of Salsa -- Venezuela, Cuba, the Latin Americas, because there is no separation between dance and the rest of one’s life,” Michael said. “Dance goes with communication, eating, drinking, survival. Everyday – it is an expression of everyday – not an escape from everyday. Urban people are more easily excitable because noise and movement are reserved for certain times. Too much all or nothing. Most often they prefer quiet – then they go to a club or movie theatre and AAAH!”

“In Cuba,” Sarita said, “We eat, we drink and we dance and we make music. There is a different song blaring from every single house. We may not always have enough to eat, but we dance and we make music. That is our life.”

Although, I envied Sarita and Michael for having such a wealth of music and movement from their childhood, call it an urban vice, I rather enjoyed the passion of Salsaholism and the desire to glut oneself on this dance and music – like I must have been starving before. They would never know, either, that single Salsa-altering experience that many Salsa ‘class’ class dancers can narrate about the moment they first ‘discovered’ Latin dance.

Sarita began her dance career at the wee age of seven in Holguin, Cuba, immigrating to Canada in 1997. Her first introduction to Toronto Salsa was the nightclub, El Convento Rico, where she began teaching Salsa as a substitute dance instructor for ‘Chico.”  

Michael’s first introduction to Toronto Salsa was Tapas, in the Cabbagetowne Village. He did not enjoy the ‘performance’ quality of Toronto's more popular Latin clubs, saying there were those who danced, “…like they were the last Pepsi in the desert.”  

Michael noticed how sexualized the Latin American dances were in Toronto. Michael’s theory was that there was confusion between sensual and sexual pleasure due to the tension produced by this separation of physicality. “Touching is either too much or too good.”

“People are afraid of touching, of physicality,” Sarita frowned. “That’s when it becomes a big deal when they do. I’m use to hugging and kissing everybody I say hello to.”

I explained to Sarita that I had recently adopted a habit of refusing to dance Bachata with strangers because I found it too sexual.

She would startle me again by first staring at me strangely and then saying, “just because I move my pelvis, does not mean I want to have sex.”

Right.

However, Michael would confirm this idea. “Back home, we dance with everybody. I would dance Bachata with grandmothers.”

Sarita went on to explain that dance was tied not only to her country’s every day life but also to religion and a sense of spirituality. The pelvis was the centre of fertility and life. Dance was a celebration of life, which included sex, but was not its entirety.
 

SO WHERE WE GOING WITH ALL THIS DANCING ON THE SPOT?

SO WHERE WE GOING WITH ALL THIS DANCING ON THE SPOT?….. Introducing Lula Lounge, the 1st Annual Canada Salsa Congress, Soles Dance Studio’s Choreography Programs

Today, Salsa in Toronto can now be called Toronto Salsa. We have cultivated enough time and talent to develop a unique and thriving community. Despite the many varied opinions and reasons for being from this community, there are three common opinions that are shared by all who were interviewed or featured in this article:  

1. Salsa is a form of communication/expression.  
2.      Salsa is a variety of many things
3. Salsa must always remain a pleasure.  

However, with this new chapter in popularity and accessibility in Toronto Salsa, new concerns regarding its direction and future have risen.  

I asked Jennifer if she thought our community was ‘divided.’ She said yes, BUT, that compared to other Salsa cities, we weren’t nearly as ‘catty.’ Toronto maintains reputable good manners. Salsa performances, competitions, companies and a more global arena, naturally create more rivalry and ego.  

Nicole described the current Toronto Salsa scene, as thus:
“I think Toronto is already well on its way to becoming a city with a roster of high-calibre dancers … without a doubt there are substantially more talented dancers on the dance floor. Most clubs have at least a 75% Salsa format if not higher … these days being asked to dance is often followed by the question "on 1 or 2?" as though you were being served sugar for your coffee. The fear of rejection or being left on the dance floor has become a reality for some. There is talk of the "mercy dance" among some of those who consider themselves to be talented. The competitions at local clubs have dropped off and Berlin seems to be the only host. Instructors are bountiful. The Cumbia style of Salsa is considered ancient and the only way to dance is New York, L.A., Puerto Rican, Cuban, hold your hand like this, style like that, lift your chest, nose over toes, more tone, spin faster, head rolls, body rolls, hip shakes, tilt your head to the left just like this, on 1, on 2, on clave, like Frankie Martinez, like Francisco Vasquez, how about a little Afro-Cuban........blah blah blah. There are 100 variations of the neck dip, there are cartwheels, flips, lifts etc. There are very few smiles and some people look down right serious." 

“Certainly the increase in talent can be attributed to the new styles, the hunger and passion to learn more, dance more, teach and understand more about some of the most incredible music you will ever hear in your life. Knowledge is a great and powerful thing but should not be limiting nor should it take away from something that is first and foremost pure and uncomplicated FUN!”

Nicole emphasized that, at this point in her career, her interests were far from the competitive side of the business. After 7 years of training in L.A., New York and Miami, Nicole indicated a desire to search internally rather than externally to further develop her craft. “I feel the need to stay home and focus on my own creativity with material. This is where I'm at now and I'm really enjoying the experience and the challenge. I work a lot on choreography for the studio as well as with other people and industries and this seems to be the right thing for me now. It's what I need to do to become better.” 

Roberto Sanchez, who had taken a sabbatical away from promoting, returned two years ago surprised by the “kung-fu” quality of the dance.  

“Natural body movements are less and less. And me, even now, I can still follow the timbales as though I were still a teenager.” He also noticed that Salsa events had minimal promotion and investment by the club owners. There were too many people running events without formal training in entertainment or promotion.   He was appalled at the amount of ’water-drinkers’ hanging around the nightclubs and that only Salsa bands were representing the entire Latin market. “Dancers need to be dancers and get real promoters back into the scene.” 

Alberto, who competed with Roberto, back in the day, for the Ontario Place spot in the summer Latin Festival, echoed some of Roberto’s sentiments. When questioned, in his interview with Dance from the Heart, on the direction of the Toronto Salsa community, he said, “I'm the founder of Berlin's and it used to be that there were thousands of people there every Tuesday night - there was a line up... a lot of energy. It was amazing, and it was growing and growing ... and, right now, if you look at it, it is competition and the clubs are getting empty. And people are saying that it's growing, but it's not growing … Mind you there is some beautiful things with this new style as well, so no I'm not saying it's all bad, and everything has a beauty, but it's just like I said, it's different and that is the way I find it."  
 
Jennifer’s passion for Salsa excellence has not waned since her initial infection and believes there is still much room for learning and growing in maintaining world-ranking Toronto Salsa dancers. The elements that have excelled Toronto Salsa – shines, styling, dancing on ’2’, L.A. styling and choreographed routines – can be developed further.

Her ambition does not stem from a desire to win awards or singular performances; the only standards for excellence to live by are the ones she has set for herself. Jennifer also encourages all disbelievers to try dancing on ‘2.’ She is confident that once Toronto dancers have had a true taste for it, its popularity will grow as fast as dancing on ‘1.’  
Jennifer’s efforts have resulted in the first Annual Canada Salsa Congress in Toronto to be held in October 2003. The event will bring international acclaim for Toronto Salsa and is encouraging participation from cities in the US and UK. Recently, the Congress needed to relocate to a larger downtown hotel to accommodate the event.  

Michael shrugged at the popularity of ‘ballroomized’ N.Y. and L.A. style Salsa, saying these dancers have different reasons to dance than him. Technical finesse and challenges, performances, the desire to compete, win and be seen will always result in the need for a new level and a new challenge, which leads to dissatisfaction.  
 

When asked how he continued to challenge himself without competition, Michael said he simply trusted in timing, that “everything will come in its own time.” He is open to appreciating new sounds and movements – which, if it is any good, will have a lasting impression on him and come out in his dance.

I asked him if he would participate in the Canadian Salsa Congress or want to have some influence over our Salsa community’s direction. He said that his best influence upon the community was to continue to dance and let people come to him. His interest was to teach dance as self- expression and as part of his culture, his roots and his love of life. He did not want to shout to be heard.  

With the introduction of Soles Dance Studio’s Choreography Program, our Toronto social dancers have more opportunities to advance their skills to a professional performance level. When questioned about the Choreography Program, Nicole explained, “I try to create programs and workshops based on what students at varying levels in our programs need and want in order to become better dancers. As we saw with our choreography programs, performance training really generates an entirely different way of thinking by raising the bar a little higher and setting a standard that may not be of tremendous importance to the social dancer and creating a greater awareness of self and movement.”  

From a musician’s perspective, Wilson Acevedo said that fusion/evolutions in Latin music and dance were good as long as they maintained the roots of the rhythm. To learn new things you need the old first. An example of the benefits of the roots was his band’s decision to introduce a traditional acoustic instrument called the vibraphone creating as clear a sound as any other instrument plugged into an amp. “Without an amp,” Wilson repeated, proudly. The sound is very effective, too. To listen to Caché live, the ears would think they were hearing a studio recording.
Caché, was formed in 2002. “Each member of Caché contributes his own background, creating a multicultural vibe which a wide range of people in Toronto identify with. While many of Caché's musicians have spent most of their lives in Canada, they are proud of their Canadian (St.Catherines), Colombian, Venezuelan and South African roots. Each musician has a story to tell about their past, a struggle for a better life which becomes one of the strongest influences in the work Caché does.”
 
“Yes, St.Catherines,” Wilson repeated. “Many people refer to Salsa in different styles including Cuban, New York and Puerto Rican. Working together, the members of Caché have formed our own style of Salsa, which we consider uniquely Canadian.”  

In May 2003, Lula Lounge celebrated its one-year anniversary. Wilson, Michael and Sarita considered Lula to be the preferred alternative to the popular Toronto Salsa scene. These following quotes are care of the Lula Lounge’s website:  

“The doors of Lula Lounge blew open on May 31, 2002 to a hungry crowd of 400 Latin Jazz devotees. The night ruptured Toronto’s live music scene saturating the stage with dense polyrhythms and percussive explosions in true descarga style. 2002 was not only the beginning of Lula, but of the Lounge’s influence on the urban scene eagerly incorporating visual art and performance theatre into their billings. Born from Open City a Dufferin & Dundas arts collective and community of friends, Lula maintains its commitment to self-expression and the street level consumption of art, music and food.”

According to Michael, Open City was the result of Jose Ortega arranging to have Michael teach Salsa at his studio in 2000. This came with a potluck and a cabaret of entertainment from the neighbours. Michael said that, eventually, this was declared by all participants as the “best Monday night in Toronto.” The community of Dufferin and Dundas responded to these events as an alternative to the Latin club scene that, in their opinion, was becoming less a pleasure and a celebration of their culture.  

“Lula Lounge hosts some of the most famous local and international acts from all genres like … Caché (Canada), Son Ache (Canada), Issac Delgado (Cuba), Lo’Jo (France), Mayra Caridad Valdez (Cuba), Ralph Irizarry (USA).”  
Sarita said that the Cuban Salsa Congress, coming in May 2004 would also have a massive impact on the way Salsa was danced internationally. “What has been hidden for so long will now be revealed.”  

She was not opposed to Salsa competitions or performances – it was a variation of Salsa that had its own beauty. However, this variation magnified Salsa as a show and a display – a product. More alternatives and options were needed to embody the term Salsa as a sauce of variety. “Remember that the core of Salsa is to communicate. The body is an instrument to express your ideas. If we all have one and the same idea ….?” 

I asked both Sarita and Michael if they thought the roots of Salsa were at risk of being lost.

At first, Michael said, yes, but after a moment he said that as long as the countries, where the roots came from, continued to exist, then the roots would never die. The proof was how deeply ingrained his reasons for dancing were and how his own life was tied to his home roots.  

Sarita said, “Nothing can ‘ruin’ Salsa. As long as the rhythm is true, then Salsa will stay alive. Afro-Cuban music is a mixture of movement that is natural. So is evolution.”  

Ramiro Puerta said, “The point to remember is that Caribbean music is always transitional. There are new rhythms emerging all the time. It doesn't become something, because it's still becoming."  

As cities, such as Toronto, continue to expand and develop, a boom was required to draw the average city person out of their reserves and inhibitions to explore sensuous limitations. Salsa is a source of invaluable freedom, which seems harder to come by with this expansion and development. This conversion into marketable Salsa was necessary to create the boom. Profits pay for exposure, development, education and, of course, misinterpretation. The difference between dancing as a show and dancing as part of the crowd now requires more active definition. Toronto Salsa is no longer just a hobby or pastime. It is a hobby, a pastime, a sport, an industry, a consumer market, an art, a career, a history, a culture, a national, trans-national and international icon, etc., etc., etc. What Toronto makes with all of this variety is left to the next progressive step.  

 June 29, 2003  
© lyw