Vancouver Int'l Salsa Festival adds spice to dancing

12:35, March 06, 2011      

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If you stumbled by chance upon the Vancouver International Salsa Festival's opening gala Friday night, you'd never guess the festival is only in its second year.

In a ballroom packed with sequin-clad salsa enthusiasts, every detail has been cared for with the slickness of a professional -- from the red-carpet reception to the world-class performers gracing the ballroom's main stage.

The festival was the brainchild of one amateur fanatic.

Four years ago, Cheyenne Kamran took his first salsa class and fell head over heels for the dance. He started small events, bringing about 80 local salsa dancers together. Soon the 80 turned into 100, 100 turned into 500, and quickly it exploded into a world-class event attracting more than 2,500 visitors and professional dancers from almost 20 countries.

"In salsa it's all about having fun, letting go, and the beauty of salsa is it's a mix of everything so I got into it and I just fell in love with it," Kamran said Friday night.

"I wanted to do more, see more and Vancouver had such a great salsa community...there are conferences and festivals in China and Japan, all over the world, and I was wondering why in Vancouver we don't have something like this. So I decided let's put something on," he said.

The festival is a four-day marathon mixing education, entertainment, and a lot of bootie-shaking participation.

Professional teachers and choreographers host workshops for dancers of every skill level throughout the weekend, and evening performances showcase participants from as far away as England, Spain, Mexico, and China. The dances they performed are naturally as varied as the cultures they come from.

"Salsa is evolving so fast because there's hip hop dancers that go into salsa, they incorporate their moves, there's contemporary dancers going into salsa, they incorporate their moves, there's ballroom dancers going into salsa and they incorporate their moves," Kamran said, "So the beauty of salsa I guess is that every dance affects it and every dance helps it become more of a sauce and more of a mix."

The exact roots of salsa music and dance are difficult to trace, but could go back to rhythms from Africa that eventually landed in the Caribbean during the slave trade. There they mixed with aspects of indigenous and Spanish culture, and eventually grew into the ever-evolving art it is today.

One of the performers leading the charge in Latin dance performance around the world is Sekou McMiller, a dancer, choreographer, and instructor who has taught and permormed throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia, and attended salsa dance congresses all over the world.

He says Vancouver's festival is quickly becoming one of his favorites on the global salsa stage.

"This event is amazing, and by far one of the best in the world and I'm not just saying that because I'm here," McMiller said after performing Friday night to a standing ovation from the audience of about 1,000.

"The turnout tonight is huge. This is the first official night of the festival, and it's amazing," he said, "Last year it got so much good press that everyone was looking forward to it and I'm hoping that they bring me back next year because this is one of my best events that I go to in the world."

According to Kamran, it doesn't stop Sunday night. He said the salsa scene in Vancouver is just as hot year-round as it is on the weekend of the festival, and just as inviting for dancers of all ages, skill levels and cultures.

"You can go out dancing pretty much every night of the week in Vancouver," Kamran said. "We have quite a few Latin people, but it doesn't matter if you're Asian, Persian, Caucasian, all will come out; it doesn't matter if you're 15 or 85, it doesn't matter if you're a janitor or a CEO, you just come out and have a great time."

He said he hoped the festival next year will grow and draw more visitors from Asia, where salsa is gradually breaking through a formerly rigid, ballroom-dance-oriented scene.

But if this year is any indication, the heart of the festival, much like the real heart of salsa, really beats the loudest when the curtain falls, the lights dim, and the party starts -- no matter who is on the floor.

Source: Xinhua
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