Monday, February 18, 2008

Salsa Weekend!



This past Friday Saturday and Sunday my friend Capitan and I attended the Chicago International Salsa Congress at the Westin O'Hare. We made a blast of a weekend out of it! I'm going to try and break it down by day. Unfortunately there is WAY too much for me to tell you all about, so I'll hit my favorite class from each day, and then tell you about the evenings.

Met up with Capitan, she and I headed out for Intermediate La Rueda, fun stuff! It was my favorite kind of class, the kind that covers a lot of what I know, but is just a tad beyond my own skill level so I really have to stretch to learn. I thought it very interesting that the instructor was from St. Louis MO, I just never pictured St. Louis as being a hot spot for La Rueda. We learned a few new steps including one called (in English) "Fished" where there is a spin and then at one point the lead takes their foot and hooks it around the follow's leg and I think there was another spin. I was just trying to not be scared by a lead possibly taking me out by hooking my knee! All turned out well though. We finished the hour by doing some fast paced actual Rueda. Which was very fun!

Ok so that was my favorite Friday class, but really I was just wanting to get to the evening already! The nice part about the Congress schedule is that there is a nice long break between daytime and evening activities, from about 4pm until about 8pm is time to unwind, and recharge for the night. At about 8pm we headed down for the evening showcase which is about an hour and a half of Salsa related dancing from couples up to groups of 10-16 dancers. I always enjoy seeing the true global nature of it all!

As Capitan and I sat down a man asked if the seat next to me was open, it was, and he sat down. He was striking up conversation with the people in front of us. At some point somebody had a question that I could answer about Congress, so I took the opportunity to jump into the conversation. I found out that this man came all the way from Vancouver BC Canada just to attend the Congress in Chicago! That's very brave and impressive! We chatted before the show started, Turns out we've been dancing for about the same amount of time but, while I have worked on several types of dances, he had exclusively worked on Salsa (and On1 too... my kind of lead!)

The show started and we enjoyed each and every dance, there was a couple from South Korea, a couple from Puerto Rico, and others from all over the US. There was a brief award ceremony for those that have made a strong impression in the salsa scene and in Latin Culture, followed by more routines. I really like to see how each groups choreography and costuming works with the music and theme they are going for. After the show, Capitan and I adjourned back to our room to prepare for the dancing.

At 11pm we descended into the lobby to find a buffet set up for those that needed sustenance, past that they had set up two bars for those that wanted libation, then walked into the Grand Ballroom which had been converted to a large dance floor (aprox 3,000 square feet) the stage that previously held dancers was now bursting with the sounds of Grupo Gale with Jerry Galante. There is just something about live music, and being able to dance to it. It's hard not to bop and sway when there are tunes like that filling the air. It was only a song or two before Capitan and I were both out on the floor with our respective leads. What I always manage to forget is the length of these songs... In ballroom we dance for maybe 1 minute 30 seconds to 2 minutes... in a club or concert like setting the songs last sometimes up to 5 or 6 minutes, so when someone asks you to dance, you're really committed!

Our Canadian friend from the show asked me to dance, he said something about being curious about Salsa from a ballroom perspective, and I just reminded him that I'm an On1 kind of girl an we were off! It's funny, it seems these social Salseros have a set pattern of moves that they like, and they will lead their follows through the same set in different order (or in some cases sadly, the same order over and over) This guy had a few moves he clearly liked, but he was a really good lead. He then asked Capitan to dance and off they went! After that dance us girls had to run up and change our shoes, I sadly had already begun to develop some nasty blisters from one of my newer pairs of shoes, and Capitan had a feeling she wasn't going to last much longer in her official ballroom shoes. Back down we went for more dancing... a Cha Cha came on and my face lit up... then in turned out that our Canadian friend actually didn't know how to Cha Cha, so I took the opportunity to show him the basic, open breaks and chase turns... he was really excited to learn it, I was excited to teach it! After that I took a break (My senses very often get over loaded in club atmospheres like this, so I have to run out to re-group sometimes) I partook in a little wine (it's just like me to go for the alcohol when I should be grabbing for the water) went back in... got in a few more dances with some leads from classes earlier in the day... by about 1:15am we decided to call it a day and we crashed... It was the kind of sleep you only really get after a good day and night of fun!

Don't ask me why... I'll never be able to tell you... I woke up at 7:00am... thinking that I really wanted to be ready for the day I didn't allow myself to go back to sleep, instead I jumped in the shower and dressed all while Capitan was playing the snooze button game with her alarm. I headed downstairs to see how the rest of the Congress was fairing. Upon my return I confirmed with Capitan what our plan was and we were off for our first class at 9:30am.

Saturday actually had two really good classes for me of the 4 that were attended. The 9:30 class that was Turn Patterns On1. I still don't know how I feel about working on turn patterns so early in the day, but there I was. I liked this class a lot for a few reasons, first no shortage on leads, for rotation. Second, I ended up with a lead that was either very new to leading in turn patterns, or just had a slow learning curve. Which is fine with me, only I know as a follow I'm really not supposed to help my lead... but this guy really kind of needed it, so I tried as subtlety as I could to help him. Until another student, very clearly more advanced than both of us noticed our situation and spent a good majority of the lesson providing private instruction for this turn pattern. For which I was very thankful, even though this guy that was helping made sure to call me out for having bad follow habits, he was nice about it. Just something new for me to work on. However I can't deny that it was a good solid hour of instruction for me to value.

The other class that I really liked was titled "Wild and Crazy Turn Patterns On2" which really wasn't turn patterns so much as really crazy arm looping and then a couple of spins after the crazy arm looping. Trust me this arm looping was nuts, and the leads in this class were so good about it. We would get to a point where it was time to learn something new, and we'd all kind of freeze where we were at, with arms looped over heads, across bodies, behind backs...whatever. The leads were afraid of losing their spots, so they wouldn't let us go, but at the same time got really funny. One guy said he felt sorry we hadn't gone out for drinks first as he had his arm across my chest and I had one of mine around his neck. (Too bad, cuz he was really adorable!)

There was another move where the leads needed to switch hands, and to do so had to cock their heads to the side over the follow's hand, similar to the action when you cradle a phone between your ear and your shoulder. One guy would have a conversation with my hand "Hello? No, I can't make it, I'm a little tied up right now." every time he had to switch. That just made me laugh out loud! This class made me very happy that as a dancer I get to follow, I didn't really have to remember a whole lot, I just had to remember to let the lead take my arms where he wanted and when there was a whole lot of arm stuff, the basic is really just kind of marched in place. Again another solid hour of dancing! Although at this point the blisters of yesterday were turning into the pretty major problems of the day... and so began my regiment of ibuprofen... nothing was going to keep me down!

Classes over at 4:30 Capitan and I decided to take a small break from the Congress to take care of some things, I had a prior engagement that I will write about later... I arrived back at the hotel in enough time to freshen up for the dancing. My favorite band of Congress Sammy Garcia & Sabor de Puerto Rico! While on my break I did stop at a drug store to stock up on more ibuprofen and a few blister type treatment aids, oh and we must not forget the over load of caffeine! If it wasn't for that I wouldn't have made it much past 7:30 that night!
Another student friend of ours made it out on Saturday for some workshops and she joined us for the evening as well, I was so glad she was able to make it!

We walked in to a dance floor already buzzing, the room was already very warm from all the dancing people... I was tired and the pills hadn't kicked in yet... but the music was great! Unfortunately the band would always speak in Spanish between songs (great for the atmosphere, bad if you don't speak Spanish, which I don't) so I have no idea what the songs were called or anything. I made it through about 4 songs or so, before the combination of everything was getting to me, sensory overload was kicking in and I strolled out with my friends for a glass of wine.

Sadly the caffeine wasn't really helping, but I went back in, at some point I misplaced my friends, but I got a few dances in anyway. I ran into a couple of people that I don't see out and about much, we chatted for a minute... I found my girls ran upstairs with them (I was the keeper of the room key) to say goodnight to them...and to see if a quick freshen up would allow me to last any longer on the dance floor, ran back down... made it past the thresh hold of the door to the ballroom... I did a quick sweep for anyone I recognized... and it was at that very moment, when I thought I could maybe get one more dance in... that my legs and feet screamed at me in unison as if to say "What the hell are you thinking?" So back upstairs I went, once I had finally given in to the exhaustion... I was out the instant my head hit the pillow. I think it was close to 2am...

Oh the PAIN! That's what I woke up to on Sunday... aching all over, sharp pain in my feet...stupid shoes! This time I woke up at 7am but decided to make myself stay there for another hour or so... I also looked at the schedule and decided I HAD to make it to at least ONE class... although who knew if my legs were going to cooperate.

I just couldn't move fast enough for a 9:30 class so I opted for a 10:45 Cha Cha Cha skill level beginner/intermediate... hey I didn't have the brain power to actually try anything TOTALLY new... ok... so this class wasn't anything new for me... but I was still dancing in spite of it all... so I get credit for that. We went over basics, open break, and pivot turns... I could have done this in my sleep...which is good cuz I think I may have been... the first lead I got was fairly good, I think he was taking this class for the same reasons I was and I would have been happy to stay with him for the hour and just dance... the second lead I got, was I swear to you, impossible to follow! Ok, now he explained he'd never done Cha Cha before, so my patience was in place... but when he tried to put a "cha cha cha" into a pivot turn I disregarded all the advice about not helping my lead from yesterday... and suggested we try to do it another way...well he didn't like that at all, and stopped one of the instructors to ask how it should be done... Well what do you know? The way I was suggesting was actually the way they were teaching it!

Third lead, most entertaining of all... we did the "Turkish towel" step... this guy was obviously very Salsa proficient... pretty quick study on Cha Cha too... accept when they put the music on for us to practice the two of us would do the step and then he would throw some random Salsa shines into the mix... well ok then... he did actually get them to move with the beat fairly well... so I would basic, maybe throw in a turn...whatever... I was however very surprised that for as good at Salsa as he appeared to be, he had NEVER learned Cha Cha before! How do people live on just the one dance! Class over, and me cursing myself for not stretching before hand (is it possible to actually feel each and every chord of muscle as it decides to scream in protest?).... it was time for me to meet up with Capitan to plan the rest of our day.

Capitan wanted to go to an advanced class, with an instructor she liked from earlier in Congress, I was in no shape to be trying an advanced class, so I decided to come and watch... it was very good! The instructor really had his stuff together and had the partners rotating very regularly. I spent most of the class stretching which made a HUGE difference. After class we decided that there wasn't really any other classes we felt we HAD to attend so we officially called it a Congress and went our separate ways to prepare for our upcoming week.

Saddest part of all, by about 5pm that afternoon I wanted to go dancing... I didn't want to Salsa, but I would have done any one of the other dances I know... pain or no pain... You'd think that after dancing so much in such a concentrated amount of time I'd be ready for a break... but no... all it did was feed the addiction!

And so I close with the same line I had when I was finished with last year's Congress... Salsa? Sure! But only if it comes with chips!

(No worries, I'll be back to Salsa in no time at all, I just need a little break)

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