Competitions, Competing, Judging… etc, etc…
By Edie, The Salsa FREAK!!
I’ve spoken, and “typed” to tons of people about the competition. I could write for hours and hours about all the stories both good and bad,coming in right and left about this contest.
But first of all, let me say from what I’ve been told and what I’ve seen, that the Los Angeles Mayan Salsa Competition is the most glamorous, most prestigious Salsa competition in the world right now. Consider that the Mayan holds almost 2,000 people, and 2,000 people are WATCHING this competition. Every Saturday, 2,000 people stand in line dance Salsa. That, in itself, is incredible.
The Mayan did a great job this year of making sure everyone in the audience could see the dancers. They erected an enormous big-screen above the stage that projected the dancers close-up and live – just like they do in a rock concert! The people in the balcony could see, as well as all the people in the audience below. It was just wonderful.
I noticed that a lot of the city’s most famous and talented Salsaros got there early (like at 9:00pm!!) these last few weeks – now I know why! Each week of the competition, the Mayan was packed. Full, CAPACITY, Bursting at the seams. It was so full, by the time the competition came around, you literally had NO ROOM to dance! Thank God they played a few Cha Chas. I think they did that to relieve those of us that knew how to dance Cha Cha and be ABLE to dance for ONCE that evening…
The Mayan also came through with the money, and the promises they made. They promised $10,000, they delivered. They promised excitement, and they delivered! It was a very exciting competition. Each of the twelve weeks was filled with something new. New dancers, new faces, new routines (except for one – which we’ve all just about memorized by now…) new outfits and costumes – it was just great.
Everyone wanted a front row seat – well I should re-word that and say everyone wanted “a place to stand” near the stage. The security guards had to rope us off by pushing us back into the crowd – sometimes with force – because people just would not budge trying to maintain their already fought-for position up front!! If you weren’t in front to begin with – forget it. You were locked out and had to find a better seat up in the balcony…
What interested me most was all the different “styles” of dancing, and how each couple interpreted “Street Salsa”
Now. You tell me…
HOW… are you SUPPOSED to dance Street Salsa?
What’s the “Standard Street Salsa Style/Criterion” here? If I were a beginner, and I saw that competition, I would be TOTALLY confused. “Was that what I learned last week? Where’s the basic? Where’s the quick-quick-slow? Where’s the rhythm? I can’t tell if they’re dancing on the ‘1’ or the ‘2’… Was I taught correctly?”
I saw everything from a Rumba….slow something or other…, to acrobatics complete with back flips, splits, and cartwheels, to what looked like a Shirley Temple and (what’s that gentleman’s name?) Tap Dance routine!! What fascinated me most, was that all these styles made it to the Finals level! I’ll tell you what, I’m just glad I was not asked to judge this competition! To be perfectly honest with you, I wouldn’t have known what to do! …..or how to choose, or, I may have been too critical because of my own interpretation of what “Street Salsa” is supposed to look like. I certainly would have felt insecure about any scores I put down…
- If someone from Cuba would have seen the contest, they would have said “That’s not Salsa.”
- If a Ballroom dancer would have seen the contest, they would have asked “Is that how you dance Street Salsa?”
- If someone from New York would have seen the contest, they would have busted up laughing and yelled, “That ain’t Salsa!!!”
- If someone from Panama would have seen the contest, they would have said, “Nah, that’s not how Salsa’s danced.”
- If a Salsa Rueda Group from Miami would have seen the contest, they would have said “That’s how they dance here?”
- If a Swing Dancer would have seen the contest, they would have said angrily, “Hey, they’re copying all our moves!!”
- If someone from Puerto Rico would have seen the contest, they would have asked “Why aren’t they having a Merengue contest?”
But, if I asked each one of them, “OK, you say that’s not Street Salsa, so what is?”
They would each give me a different answer….
- Lately, the standard way people have been answering this question, has been pretty much the following:
- They shake their head in a “No” fashion.
- They start moving their hips and say, “You know…. Salsa!” They then close their eyes and continue to move, “you know, you need to get the ‘feeling‘ of it…”
- I’d look at their moving hips, then up at them, and say, “So, that’s Street Salsa…….?”
- They’d stop, look at me in disgust at first, then pause, think twice and finally say in frustration, “I don’t know, but what they’re dancing isn’t Salsa, period.”
An interesting Email from a friend in Los Angeles…
Well, well, well! I see that you are getting mail from all over the world. I have a comment to make about this whole Salsa issue.
First of all I would like to know who sets the standards as to what is Salsa dancing and what is not Salsa dancing? In order to do this one has to know the evolution of Salsa. Let me suggest this, find people who are knowledgeable about Salsa and then form a “Salsa Committee”. This Committee will set the standards and define what is considered “a Professional”. This committee can endorse the local contest in the area as well as provide information about nationwide contests as well.
You know me Edie I am very critical about what Salsa is really all about. I see too many people who dance like robots and very few who dance with their hearts. Do you remember when we used to dance and I told you that I’m just going to “shut up and dance” Now there is a movie titled with those very words. I wonder if I have some sort of copyright available. I hope that in this movie they address the issue of dancing from inside and not just going through the motions of all the great moves.
I would just like to conclude with this thought. If you want to have a contest with street dancers then you have to let the street be the judge, that is to say the public at large should have the final say as to who really is the best.”
Another interesting point from two more friends…
As far as dance styles and judging goes, if the Salsa community is going to join the rest of the dance word with big competitions and money at stake, we’ve got to bite the bullet and establish standards for how the dances are to be done. If there is going to be “Street Salsa” then someone must agree how it should be done so it can be taught, and all competitions would have guidelines by which excellence can be judged. Otherwise, it’s just a very subjective opinion on who is the best. The winner of any contest under the current method (no standards, no guidelines, no rules) will always be a matter of controversy. The winner will always be a matter of who judged the contest, not who performed the dance as prescribed by a set of rules. This means a governing body would have to be established, and teachers would have to be certified as well as judges. Perhaps it’s time for Salsa to take the next step and move into the big-time?”
I was also browsing one of the coffee talks about how to define a salsa style and to tell you the truth, I felt that it is like defining a language. You can form a complete academy, give prizes and awards to the people who follow the rules, or whatever… but at the end, the guys out there on the streets will come out with new slang words that will make anything else obsolete. I personally don’t enter salsa competitions. It’s just that I wouldn’t enjoy doing it and therefore it would be worthless (not even for 10000 bucks!). Contests belong to the academic world. I have enough of that crap in my own professional life… I’d rather enjoy dancing salsa on the streets. As to that phrase that salsa is like making love, I almost agree with that. I would say that dancing is the vertical expression of a horizontal intention :-). How can you set standards to something like that without ruining its essence?
In fact, I noticed many people in the crowd look at each other in disbelief at some people’s interpretation of how Salsa should be danced. I heard everything from …
“What was that supposed to be?”
“Was that a Salsa?”
“Well, they danced to a Salsa song…”
“I swear that looks so….. ballroom – yuck”
“My grandfather would turn in his grave if he saw how you people are butchering Salsa out here” (curious, I asked this lady how her grandfather danced, she looked at me and answered, “Well….. I don’t know. But definitely not like that”.
– A FINE authority on the subject she turned out to be….)
After seeing the contest, and the results, in my own personal opinion, if you’re not taking Jazz and Ballet, or Latin Ballroom classes of some sort, you’re not going to place very high. Which brings me to an interesting point. Jazz dancers bring jazz to Salsa. Spice it up a bit. They look phenomenal. Ballet dancers bring style, grace and beauty to Salsa. They apply their ballet to Salsa, and it’s gorgeous. Latin Ballroom-trained people bring their ballroom thing to Salsa – and you can tell! It “looks” ballroom. Techno and hip-hop dancers bring their styles to Salsa – to make it look “cool”…
But can it go in reverse? Can a Salsa dancer apply their “Salsa” style to Jazz? Ballet? Ballroom? Hip-Hop? Techno?
I don’t think so.
This is PRECISELY why it is so DAMN DIFFICULT to judge a Salsa competition based on Street Style.
Which style are we talking here?
I’ve heard it so many times… “They’ve got such a “jazzy” style. But if you saw a Jazz competition, could you say, “Oh, they’ve got such a “Salsa” style… you’d get THROWN OUT of the place!!!
Which brings me to another point. I took a Jazz class a couple of times with Luis Vazquez. By the second time, the instructor just stopped in the middle of a song, looked at the both of us, smiled and said, “OK you two. You can stop the “Latin Hip” thing already!”
– She was only half joking.
It was a real problem for the both of us because we were so used to dancing Salsa! Try becoming a Jazz dancer AFTER Salsa – it’s tough!!! But becoming a Salsa dancer after Jazz…. is easy, because “there are no style rules… you dance what you feel…”
WHICH IS PRECISELY MY POINT!!!
In Street Salsa, there are no style rules… That is what is so absolutely wonderful about Salsa!!! You dance it from your heart, however you know how. You may only know how to dance techno, so you dance techno style. You may not even know how to dance, but you “move” to the rhythm in your own way – that you made up!!! You were maybe an accomplished ballroom dancer, so you dance Salsa based on what you’ve been taught in the ballroom world…
People try to get better at Salsa by taking Latin Ballroom classes – because Salsa comes from the Latino culture… But if you’ve ever seen the Vazquez brothers, they’ve never taken a class. They bring to Salsa what ice cream brought to the cone! Their jazzy, flashy techno, hip-hop, Michael Jackson, Cabaret, Flamenco, Fred Astaire style just blows people away when they see them dance! They are absolutely amazing! Their whole family is made up of very rare, raw, natural talent, never before seen.
The bottom line is that Salsa is danced from the heart. The music allows us to release whatever is deeply bottled up inside. Dancing to Salsa music let’s us express ourselves – socially, in a way we could NEVER do, like for example, playing a favorite sport, or sitting in front of a television set, or enjoying family and friends, or even at a house party.
The closest feeling that comes to it is SEX.
Now, how can you possibly judge that?
Your Comments? Post below! Or contact me
– Edie, The Salsa FREAK!!