Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Salsafestival Switzerland

I spent this past weekend in Zurich in Switzerland for my first salsa congress this year. The Salsafestival Switzerland is an excellent congress, well-organized with quick and smooth ticket pick-up and with a good line-up of performers and instructors. This congress is quite big – a rough guess is that about 700-1000 people attended the Kongresshaus every night – but the atmosphere is very friendly, the bar staff attentive and cloak-room staff pretty quick.

I had been home with a terrible cold and light fever the days before the congress, so I was not exactly in best form for the congress, but it was good to sweat it out on the dance floor. It was a true pleasure to meet some of my congress friends again: Jonas and Sarah (his dance partner) from Bern - the former just came back from traveling in South America for five months making everyone visiting his blog envious thanks to fantastic photographs of nature and the locals he met, and the latter is running a ballroom dance school in Bern; Bernard from Holland; Hamidine from Nice; Abdellah from Marseille; and Lautaro (or “Latte” as we call him in Sweden) who is from Stockholm but has lived in Zurich for the past few years leading a dance school in the outskirts of Zurich with his dance partner Candice.

Jonas and his dance partner Sarah

On Friday night there was a very good band, Mercado Negro, playing. The main party lasted until about 3:00 am and then roughly 100 of the most salsa fanatic people moved into the adjoined bar/club “Le Bal” on the ground floor of the Kongresshaus for the after party. I was pretty beat so I didn’t stay more than an hour or an hour and a half.

I was supposed to attend workshops on Saturday but due to my cold, I desperately needed a long sleep-in to be able to enjoy the social dancing at night. The rest of the weekend I actually felt a lot better and regained some of my usual energy on the dance floor, but the coughing lasted. I took a walk from my hotel – Rex Hotel, a simple but decent hotel on Weinbergstrasse – to the Zurich center and the river Limmat to get some fresh air and do a little bit of shopping. All of a sudden the skies opened and it started raining heavily so I hopped into the nearest café, which happened to be the Central Bar & Café, for some soup and a glass of wine while I waited for it to stop raining.

Saturday night I had dinner with Jonas, Sarah and a couple of their really nice friends, Christoph and Jenny. We arrived at the Kongresshaus in time to see most of the excellent performances by big names like Johnny Vasquez and his group from Los Angeles, Tropical Gem from Milan, and Yamulee Dance Company from New York. But as usual, I was eager to start dancing myself, so I got a little impatient. The DJ’s played really good music so I had a good dance night until 4:00 am when the after party started. After an hour of reggaeton – not my favorite – Jonas, Sarah and I gave up and left.

I slept late on Sunday and then walked around in Zurich taking photos. It was quite cold but after a couple of hours the sun peaked through the clouds and it turned into a quite beautiful afternoon. I had thai food from a street stand and walked over to the picturesque Old Town. There was some sort of festival or carnival going on so the streets were filled with confetti and people in colorful costumes. Children were using the silver-colored street-blocking plastic bands for pulling competitions. On the square in front of the Fraumünster Church there was a beer tent and marching bands were gathered for festivities.

You’ll find a selection of pictures from my photo excursion below.

Old Town

In the afternoon, I met Bernard and some Dutch friends for some hot chocolate at Starbucks and then we all walked back to the Old Town and had a look at the view over Limmat and the rest of Zurich and the surrounding Alps.

Dutch friends with Zurich in background


View from the Old Town

Sonder, Mimmis & Bernard

We had dinner at an Italian restaurant across the street from the Central Station and then I headed back to my hotel to get ready for the Sunday night salsa party at the Kongresshaus. I arrived at midnight in a new dress I had bought (Zurich is really good for shopping) with only an hour to go before the after party. The latter fortunately turned out to be a lot of fun with high energy levels from the remaining salsa congress participants, a lot of fast mambo, a mix of bachata, good old disco, hip-hop and R&B music. I was bold enough to invite Johnny Vasquez to dance for the first time and found him nicely supportive and I wished the song had not been so short. Some people gave an improvised hip-hop dance battle on the floor with other congress guests cheering. I had a great time and stayed until the party ended after 5 in the morning.

Filled with new energy from all the dancing but also tired and slightly dehydrated, I left Zurich with a sense of having made the most of it for a short and intense weekend.

PS. Those who are interested in getting a glimpse of the congress glamour, check out the below links for professional photos of the shows and parties:

I actually found one of myself and Bernard on the dance floor, copyright

Monday, February 5, 2007

New York in a nutshell: Fabulous salsa dancing every night of the week and $375 shoe purchase in less than 30 min

I had the pleasure of spending four days in New York at the end of January. My PR agency had arranged seven press interviews with American journalists and a gaming analyst for me and we had also scheduled a meeting with a couple of my US colleagues to coordinate PR activities in North America.

I came straight from the Midem music tradeshow in Cannes and was exhausted after spending the last night partying and then packing last minute when I got back to the hotel in the wee hours, basically getting no sleep before I got on the plane. When I arrived to New York I therefore went straight to my hotel near Times Square – the Hilton Garden Inn overlooking 8th Avenue – and took a few hours’ nap.

Late at night, I finally forced myself to get up and get ready for salsa dancing. Well, as ready as possible under the circumstances. My “beauty box” (or “vanity bag” as the Americans call it) had not yet arrived from the airport, so I couldn’t redo my makeup or do much to freshen up. Feeling like a rag, I set off to get sweaty on the dance floor…

Cache on Thursday

It was freezing cold on the streets of New York – coming from a hardened Swede, I can assure you this means it was COLD! The wind was cutting through the bones. I was trying to remember where the Thursday salsa social was off of Times Square, and after having walked back and forth on the wrong street for a good while I finally found the right street and saw the salsa poster on a non-conspicuous door on West 46th Street (between 7th and 8th Ave, two blocks from my hotel) and walked down the stairs to the basement club Cache.

My toes almost cracked when I started dancing in my high heels, but I soon got warmed up. It was good to see some of my salsa friends again – Duane, Dave, Marlon and Pascal were all there. I also saw the world-renowned Ismael Otero there but I didn’t dare invite him to dance – I can dance L.A. Style on 1, Puerto Rican on 2 and Cuban style but the classic New York mambo I have yet to master. I had a really good time but I was out of shape due to all my traveling and lack of sleep, so even though my body was set to dance my head was dazed and my vision almost blurred. There was a performance by some local dancers called Javier & Sweety's Clasico Dancers.

Press interviews, Lebanese dinner, salsa social at the Empire Dance Studio and drinks in the Meatpacking District
Friday was a long day filled of press interviews at the PR agency’s office on the 26th floor overlooking the whole of Times Square on Broadway. At the end of the day the agency took me for a drink at a near-by hotel lounge. A friend of mine had flown in from San Francisco that day so I went to dinner with him later at a Lebanese restaurant called Al Bustan. The restaurant itself was not worth remembering, really, although I had been recommended this restaurant by someone who claimed it was the only Lebanese restaurant worth visiting on Manhattan; decent food (same as at all Lebanese restaurants) but the restaurant was just a large, white and rather sterile room with no ambiance whatsoever.

Dinner was followed by Frankie Martinez’s salsa social at the Empire Dance Studio on the 11th floor of 127 25th Street (between 6th and 7th Ave). I think my friend was rather surprised at the high-energy ambiance in the dance studio, despite no alcoholic beverages being served. Frankie himself was DJ so there were plenty of good mambo songs played and my friend Vinay and I had a good time dancing with total strangers (well, except for Dave sho showed up rather late) until roughly 1:00 am.

We then took a cab to the Meatpacking District and went for drinks at a trendy bar overlooking the City and the Hudson River, where the drinks cost $14 dollars each! This place had really good music but the strangest mix of people – from trendy chic to office suits to geeky casual. We couldn’t help but watching and laughing hysterically at an after-work intoxicated man in suit and two office dressed women who were semi-dancing (more staggering around uncontrollably) while making out and fumbling each other’s breasts and bottoms (well, the man somehow switched between the two women, and we couldn’t make out whether they were blissfully unaware of each other or they belonged to the same party) in the aisle between a table of Japanese tourists and a booth seating a well-dressed and well-behaved couple who tried their best to ignore the staggering threesome. A bizarre night!

Chicago at the Ambassador Theatre and Saturday Salsa Fever Dance Social with "Mambo Mario B"
Whenever I’m in New York, I try to get time off to see some show and I’m never disappointed. I’ve seen Phantom of the Opera (fantastic!) and Stomp (blew me away!) on previous trips. This time around, I went to see the musical Chicago at the Ambassador Theatre on West 49th Street between 8th Avenue and Broadway, around the corner from my hotel. This turned out to be great entertainment with impressive singing, powerful dancing and for the most part very good acting with comical mimics.

On Saturday night, I went to Williamsburg in Brooklyn to have drinks with my friend Duane. To get away from the rain while waiting for him, I entered a local Mexican bar and restaurant, Vera Cruz, with a very nice and friendly bartender who only charged $6 for the same drink that the night before cost $14 in the Meatpacking District…

After a quick supper and a Mojito at a well-frequented seafood restaurant, we went to New Jersey for a pure mambo dancers' social hosted by NJ performer and instructor Mario Gonzalez, AKA "Mambo Mario B" ( The event was held at Mario B's new studio on 83 Franklin Street in Jersey City. There is a good-size but a bit "slow" or "medium speed" wooden dance floor (so wear your more slippery dance shoes). There were several really good dancers, and apart from Mario himself, I had the pleasure of dancing with among others Joshua, AKA “Cuba”, whom I met at Empire Dance Studio the night before, and Edward, who came to Wish 26 the night after (see further down) – the salsa scene is a small world, despite the number of people in the world that actually dance; if you just pick the ‘right’ spots, you will always meet the best, and some of the same, dancers. Since I was a new chick in the hen-house, so to speak, everyone wanted to dance with me and try their new, crazy moves. I definitely got a good workout and the party lasted until 3:00 am.

Sunday brunch, flea market and salsa social
I met a US colleague for Sunday brunch at La Brasserie on 53rd Street between Lexington and Park. It was almost impossible to get there due to an Islamic burial procession blocking Park Avenue, with people following a casket, a car pulling a miniature mosque with flowers and another car with loudspeakers transmitting a song which was repeated over and over again, with the men lining up in a ring, chanting and hitting their chests in some ritual.

After brunch, my colleague Cherie and I went to a flea market on Upper West Side and browsed around second hand fur coats, jewelry, knitted sweaters and finger puppets.

We had a coffee at Starbucks and continued with shoe shopping. I got a nice pair of green suede pumps on sale in one store, immediately followed by trying on and not being able to part from two pairs of wonderfully crazy and high heels at the Betsey Johnson store on Columbus Avenue. Well, that’s how you spend $375 in less than 30 min and are totally, ridiculously happy the rest of the day with a big smile on your face. Sarah Jessica Parker, watch out! I’ll be looking fabulous!

When I came back to the hotel I had to work for a few hours, but managed to get away to experience what’s called ‘Mojito Sundays’, the club salsa after party at Wish 26 on 765 6th Avenue (between 25th & 26th Streets) in the Chelsea area of downtown Manhattan on Sundays 9:00 pm - 2:00 am. This is a great mambo party and apparently the place to go for those who don't get enough dancing at one of the other usual salsa socials held on Sundays like Jimmy Anton’s (bi-weekly at Manhattan Dance Studio), or Joe Burgos’s Piel Canela Salsa Dance Social at Stepping Out Studios around the corner. This event continues where the other socials leave off. The dancing was great here with lots of classic salsa played by the mambo DJ and a ‘fast’ dance floor where you could spin rather effortlessly. Duane and Marlon were there, as was Edward. There were a couple of performances that night by a local, not so advanced, Jersey dance group and a fantastic couple from Brooklyn. I was hungry after all the dancing so Marlon and I went to a burger joint for a night snack.

On Monday night after my final meetings in New York, I flew to London for another meeting before going home to Stockholm. After more than two weeks’ of constant traveling, I spent the next day sleeping in my apartment. I’m now looking forward to a few weeks without travel before the Salsa Festival Switzerland in Zurich later this month.

Music industry gathered at Midem in Cannes

The annual Midem music tradeshow was held in Cannes between January 20th and 25th. I had already spent three days in the south of Sweden attending a quarterly team meeting in Ystad and an annual kickoff meeting in Malmö with our product business unit. I arrived to Cannes-Palace Hotel late on Friday night January 19th but only half my luggage arrived at the same time… A few of my colleagues were sitting in the lobby loading their Walkman phones with music and videos so we sat up talking.

After a few hours sleep we took a nice walk along the boardwalk to Palais des Festivals where the MidemNet conference was held.

Midem attracts more than 120 exhibiting companies and 10,000 music professionals from almost 100 countries and from all sectors of the music value chain - recording, publishing, digital and mobile industry. They all meet at Midem to make deals, network, learn, and check out hot new talent. NRJ Music Awards was held at Palais des Festivals on the Saturday night and drew large crowds of fans who waited outside the Palais, the Carlton and the Noga Hilton to get a glimpse of various celebrities.

The MidemNet conference had some interesting panel discussions and case studies presented. My company had a booth in the Riviera Hall and our President was interviewed in a form of keynote address during MidemNet (read article and see some photos here). I was at the show for press briefings but got some time off the last day to walk around the show floor. After a few hours I had a whole bag full of new CD’s which I hope will expand my horizons a little bit – everything from Japanese traditional music to Cuban son (hooray!), rock from Lithuania to some small island close to Mauritius (a friend of mine, Vinay, is from Mauritius, so this caught my interest). Various publishers, record labels and independent artists were at Midem passing out CD’s with the aim of licensing their music to others in the music industry. Mobile music is definitely on the rise and everyone wanted to talk to Sony Ericsson.

There were parties every night at the Majestic, at Pias Bar on Majestic Beach (see photo below from the first night when I was there with my boss and our PR agency rep - yes, the first couple of nights, it was actually warm enough to walk around in short sleeves while the last night in Cannes it was all of a sudden hailing!) and there were concerts held at Hotel Martinez with bands from various countries.

I went to nice dinners every night but my favorite restaurant was without doubt Le 7ème Art on Rue des Frères Pradignac, which served the most exquisite tagliatelle with a creamy sauce based on French delicacy mushrooms called morilles. This was so good I went back there the last night again with a couple of really nice French merchandisers that had been working in our booth, and I ordered the same pasta dish.

We then went to the Midem closing party at Martinez, dancing and having fun until the wee hours, which meant I basically got no sleep since I had to do last minute packing before leaving for a New York flight from the Nice airport early in the morning. It’s amazing how you can immediately bond with and have so much fun with people you only get to know briefly when traveling. I already miss Pierre and Arnaud (see photo to the right), my two French cavaliers who showed me the best of the nightlife at the French Riviera. :-)

Video interviews
  • Direct 8 (French TV channel) reports from Midem in Cannes, January 29, 2007