Saturday, August 4, 2007

Puerto Rico Salsa Congress 2007

This was my first time to the world-renowned Puerto Rico Salsa Congress. The congress was held at El San Juan Hotel in Carolina in the Isla Verde area close to the San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. Although the experience altogether has been very positive – listening to a number of great live bands and meeting a lot of local, excellent On2 dancers like Jhesus (fabulous dancer with only one arm), Edwin, Joey and Michael (DJ at after parties at Platos) – I must say that I was slightly disappointed in the congress. I’ve heard so much about it and everybody is raving about this world-famous congress so perhaps my expectations were set a little too high.

There were several famous live bands playing at the congress parties like Sonora Ponceña, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico and Tito Rojas and this was of course a great experience. However, the floor was really bad (some kind of vinyl floor on top of a thick fitted carpet…), and has apparently been so for years which tarnished what could otherwise have been a fabulous congress. The floor was too ‘slow’, soft and sticky and annoying to most dancers who had a problem keeping their balance when doing fast turn patterns and spinning. I heard a lot of people complain about the floor and find it strange that such a well-known congress would not cater better to the dancers who come there. You really need a good hardwood floor when attracting some of the best dancers from around the world.

Sonora Ponceña

There were less international dancers there than expected, or perhaps I should say the regular European and US dancers that I usually meet at other congresses. Maybe they’ve already done the Puerto Rico congress for a number of years and now have decided to do something else.

Apart from Leon Rose and some other UK dancers, and an old friend from London named Edward whom I haven’t seen in a couple of years since he lives in Sydney, Australia these days, I met a different crowd at this congress. There was a mix of local dancers from Puerto Rico, people from different parts of the US – to name one of them Luis from New York who surprisingly enough has only danced for a little over a year but was already very good and I actually believed he had been dancing for ages – and from the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and other countries in Latin America. There was also a big group from Spain supporting Adrian and Anita who competed in the World Salsa Open, a bunch of Italians (I danced quite a lot with a guy named Stefano), the Dutch dance team Los Intocables, and some French.

Edward & I

Edward, his friend Steve from Sydney, and I made a habit of eating breakfast at Edith Café close to El San Juan Hotel after the congress parties. In fact, Edith Café drew lots of salsa dancers both for breakfast and dinner and one night when I had dinner there with my Swedish friends from Stockholm, Laia and Alberto, we saw Eddie Torres (famous New York instructor and usually referred to as “the Mambo King”) and his wife there. They also performed at the congress the night after. Laia, Alberto and I were the only Swedes at the congress, as far as I know.

Alberto and I at Edith Café

The first few days they had an exhibition of paintings outside the congress hall at El San Juan Hotel to celebrate the famous Puerto Rican salsa singer Héctor Lavoe, who died in 1993. The collection was quite strong and impressive and the various artists had depicted some famous songs like El Cantante. See some samples below.

World Salsa Open 2007
Every year, there is a big salsa dancing competition in Puerto Rico. This year it was presented by Jayson Molina, a famous salsa dancer from Puerto Rico. They had a Junior competition for max 18 year-olds, two rounds of eliminations, semi-finals and finals for adult couples – all having been through elimination processes and won national competitions in their home countries – as well as a separate category for dance teams. They all performed on stage against the colorful backdrop facade resembling colonial street houses, characteristic for the Puerto Rico Salsa Congress and used since its start 11 years ago.

Alberto and Laia had won the Swedish competition held at the salsa club La Isla in Stockholm earlier this year, and were in Puerto Rico to compete in the World Salsa Open and represent Sweden. The competition was however fierce and they did not make it to the semi-finals.

Semi-finalists after 2nd Round Elimination

Dinner at Edith with Alberto and Laia after 2nd Round Elimination in World Salsa Open


Three top couples – winners of World Salsa Open 2007 in the middle, Anita & Adrian from Spain

After parties
There were two different after parties being arranged between about 3 or 4am when the main congress party ended to 5 or 6 am or so during five of the nights in conjunction with the salsa congress. It was a little unfortunate that they hadn’t coordinated this and just had one official after party since this meant competition between the two venues and splitting up the dancers.

The best dance floor (flat, clean stone floor which was very easy to spin on), bar service and atmosphere were to be found at Platos, a local bar where the drinks were very cheap ($ 2.50 for a beer) and the local DJ Michael played some very good music. I had the pleasure of dancing cha cha cha with Stacey Lopez, another well-known and famous Puerto Rican dancer and instructor, there one night. The first after party night Laia and I were the only two female dancers there and naturally enjoyed the full attention of some 10-15 fabulous male dancers. :-)

The other after party venue was Brava, a nightclub at El San Juan Hotel. This club has a crap floor but played great music, the first night by local DJ Masoz (not sure about the spelling) and the second night by the famous DJ from New York, Henry Knowles, who came there over the last weekend.

After ten nights of dancing in a row, I finally had to leave the beautiful island of Puerto Rico and fly home. Unfortunately, my Puerto Rico vacation trip ended on an annoying note. Due to poor weather conditions, the landing in New York was delayed and I ended up missing my connecting flight from New York to Stockholm. After an hour’s wait at the Continental Airlines’ very slow customer services desk, I was rebooked on a flight to Stockholm 24 hours later! Since I was stuck in New York over Sunday night and they were going to put me up on a hotel, I was hoping I would be able to go dancing at Jimmy Anton’s social or at Wish on Manhattan that night. But after another five hours’ wait at the baggage retrieval conveyor belt (with no luck and the retrieval service finally closing for the day), I had to give up on the idea of going dancing and was put up on a hotel in New Jersey at 2am… The only sensible thing I could do at that point was to wash away the frustration by having a beer in the hotel sports bar with a British teacher, funny enough also named Marie-Louise…

If you ever plan on going to Puerto Rico, a good starting point might be – the Puerto Rico Tourism Company sponsored the salsa congress and since the presenter of the semi-finals and finals of World Salsa Open was forced to repeat this web address over and over again, it was difficult to miss it…

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