Nina and Alfred headed out to the Oct 28 Halloween outing at Plaza Flamingo in costume, Nina as La Matadora and Alfred as her El Toro. As it was a Toronto Dance Salsa outing, we knew there would be plenty of people to dance with. We were also excited and nervous, as it would be our debut at teaching a beginner workshop together.
We arrived on the early side at 9pm, but there was already a crowd learning a few moves from the resident salsa instructor. We watched in slight horror to observe the inclusion of a neck drop in the lesson for these beginner salsa dancers. As Alfred expected a few women were dropped, gently albeit, but still ending up on the floor. We hoped for their safety that nobody would be trying it on the dance floor later on. As 9:30pm came around, the place was getting pretty packed and it was time to start the workshops. Sharon and Evan put a crowd through an advanced turn pattern while Nina and Alfred put the beginners through a warm-up followed by a beginner turn pattern along with a variation. It was difficult without a microphone and the best feedback we had was to see that everybody was following along and ending up in the same position. I’m sure the people at the back were having difficulties hearing me, despite projecting my voice at the top of my lungs. We hope everyone had fun and if you have any comments or suggestions please email us or leave a comment. We’d be happy to hear from you.
The dance floor is roughly a rectangular shape with a wooden floored stage. There are bars on opposite corners of the dance floor with wait staff more than happy to bring you your drink. The main dance floor is a bit sticky and would be difficult to spin on without dance shoes. We like dancing on the stage, not for attention of course, but because it is less crowded and has wooden flooring that is easier to spin on. Considering the accomodating size of the venue, it did get quite crowded and it got pretty hot. I think I felt heat coming from the vents instead of cool air, but maybe it was my imagination. There were plenty of people in costume, and it was fun to see some of the more elaborate costumes. I’m amazed for those in more intricate costumes that they didn’t melt or suffer from heat stroke. I was in a t-shirt (because you know, bulls wear black t-shirts) and I was sweating bullets. In the future I will remember to continue to dress lightly. One fun aspect of my costume was my horns that appeared to glow in photos. According to Sharon in their photos they found that there were more than a few where magically there would be glowing horns somewhere in the photo. The next, “Where’s Waldo?” Maybe not.
There were plenty of people to dance with and Nina and I had a fun time. There was energy in the crowd and a good mix of dancers of all levels. We would have enjoyed more salsa music, as the sets of merengue and reggaeton were sometimes lengthier than one would expect, and as the night went on there seemed to be less salsa as it moved onto more latin club and hip hop. By the time we left around 1:30am, there seemed to be an endless set of reggaeton and hip-hop. So in summary the outing was a fun event, and we’ll have to do another review on a non-outing night in the future.
See you on the dance floor!
423 College Street (SE side of Bathurst)
Cover: Fridays $8, Saturdays $10
Salsa: Fridays and Saturdays
Coatcheck: Mandatory (Free, Tips accepted)
Fun Factor: 4
Overall: 16 (out of 25)
Nina and Alfred headed to Lula Lounge this Saturday (Oct 14) to catch the live band Mapale from Colombia. We got there with a few friends just in time to catch the last fifteen minutes of the free lesson. The dance floor was packed with beginners learning the steps of merengue, and it looked a bit like an aerobics session set to merengue. We were with some non-dancers so they got a few merengue moves followed by the Nina and Alfred ten minute salsa overview.
The band started playing, and the salsa beat got us dancing in no time. The band was great, playing a good mix of the classics such as Carnival (Celia Cruz) and other Cuban favorites. Their repertoire that they went through included cha cha cha, cumbia and other varieties apart from salsa.
The dance floor is slightly on the sticky side and not the best to spin on but still very danceable. The layout is a simple rectangle surrounded by a raised dining area on either side and a raised stage at the end. The bar is easily accessible with friendly and quick bar staff. Likely due to their successful dinner/dance/band package there are a lot of novice dancers and simply people out for a fun evening. This makes for a slightly less than optimal environment for more serious dancers. There is also a larger portion of cuban dancers, especially cuban dancers who appear to be oblivious to the crowded dancefloor. So watch out for crazy huge steps and accidents waiting to happen. It appeared that the more sane non-cuban dancers stayed closer to the door. That was good for me, so we pretty much hovered around that area too.
We had a decent time and so did our novice dancing friends.
1585 Dundas St. West — 2 blocks west of Dufferin St.
Coat Check: $2 (Optional)
Fun Factor: 3
Overall: 14 (out of 25)
Although I’m a first-timer to a Salsa Congress, I felt this year’s Toronto Congress was very well organized. Alfred and I arrived at the Sheraton at 10:30am, on Saturday, thinking there would be chaos and hoards of people. But in fact, there were lots of signs, and quick, short lines that moved along smoothly. Workshops started on time but some of them went a little over their 1 hour time-slot. However, delays were never over 15 minutes. There was enough floor space for all the dancers in each workshop and plenty of water to keep us hydrated. According to Alfred, congresses in Europe tend to be a little more chaotic in comparison.
The first workshop we attended was “Intro to dancing on 2.” The instructor, Ismael Otero from New Jersey, is both hilarious and a great teacher. He focused mainly on understanding the basics of salsa. His motto: “Basic is Everything, Basic is Everything, Basic is Everything, and Everything is Basic” rings true for everybody from beginner to advanced. Otero teaches that any movement in salsa, no matter how easy or difficult, can be traced back to the fundamental basics of salsa. So as long as you practice and master these basics, the sky’s the limit.
Next up, we went to “Rhythm & Body Movement” with Burju from Boston. She taught us how to shift our weight and transfer movement from one part of the body to another using body isolation and control. We then applied this to a 3 part Afro-Cuban routine. She broke it down and had us repeat each routine before putting it all together. By the end of the workshop, people from any level should be able to execute the basic steps and movements. And its a good exercise you can duplicate at home to practice your rhythm and body moves.
The third workshop we attended was Bomba y Plena (Afro-Puerto Rican Movement), taught by Young Blood from Puerto Rico. You knew they were authentic cause the class was taught in Spanish by one guy and translated into English by another. They split us up into two groups. Men on one side, women on the other. We learned three variations of a folkloric dance from Puerto Rico and had to imagine ourselves in the traditional attire of their people. Women were to imagine themselves in a long white dress and head wrap, men in traditional shirt and pants. Men and women would take turns dancing their respective parts throughout the dance. In the end, it was a battle of the sexes to see which group could out-dance the other. All in all, the the instructors were enthusiastic and I think everyone had a lot of fun.
Of course, a Salsa Congress isn’t a Salsa Congress without Super Mario. So of course, we HAD to take Super Mario’s Partnerwork on 1. For those of you who don’t know, Super Mario is the “Million Moves Man.” This guy has so many moves, you never dance the same turn pattern with him twice. His combinations are often complex and surprising at every turn (literally). Alfred and I took his intermediate workshop and managed to learn the entire combination without too many problems. But we could see how many of the couples were struggling with it. For an intermediate class, the level of difficulty is pretty high. His classes are challenging to say the least, but thats precisely why they call him back year after year.
For the last timeslot, Alfred and I split up to take “Footwork Challenge on 1″ for him, and “Ladies’ Styling on 1″ for me.
For the Ladies: This workshop was useful for adding style and personality to your dancing. We learned a series of shines and a few cross-body lead variations that you can use to spice up your dance repertoire.
For the Men: Mark Anthony led the men through a very usable set of shines into a decently challenging footwork pattern. The steps took a bit of body isolation and quick footwork, but looked great and Alfred was keen to take it to the dancefloor.
After the workshops, Alfred and I headed back home for some much needed rest before going to the performances. We returned to the Sheraton around 8:30pm to await the 9:30 show. By then, most of the seats had already been taken. Sharon had warned us we would need to be there between 8-8:30pm to ensure seating. But we still managed to find some vacant seats at the back beside the aisle. The performers of Saturday night’s show include:
1. Al Liquid Silver & Karla Espinoza, LA
2. Tito & Tamara, Puerto Rico
3. Hacha y Machete, Boston
4. Oliver & Luda, Australia
5. Jayson Molina y su Rompacabeza, Puerto Rico
6. Ana & Joel, Boston
7. Young Blood, Puerto Rico
8. Sabor Latino, Puerto Rico
9. Cultural Explosion, New Jersey
10. Art in Motion, Philadelphia
11. Sabor Dance Company, Bermuda
12. Saltimambo, Montreal
13. Grupo Fuego, Philadelphia
14. Marie Josee & Roberto, Montreal
15. Latin Energy, Toronto
16. Los Salsomanos, Toronto
17. Pawel & Dora, Toronto
18. Stephanie & Mambo Tribe, Toronto
19. Mark-Anthony & Akila, Toronto
20. City Dance Corps, Toronto
21. Dave Paris and Zoe Klein, New York
Most Memorable Performances:
Al Liquid Silver & Karla Espinoza – This pair met with misfortune at the airport and their luggage was lost on the way from LA to Toronto, leaving them with no music and no costumes. But they were still able to pull off a last minute choreography with lightning fast spins that wowed the audience and drew their sympathy. What professionals!
Saltimambo – A Montreal-based group that performed an amazing salsa routine in purple and black. There were a lot of proud Montreal-ers in the audience to cheer them on but they didn’t need it as it was a fantastic piece of choreography that was both techinically sound and artistic. By the end, everyone was on their feet applauding.
City Dance Corps – This Toronto dance group gave an outstanding performance to the “King of Pop” in classic Michael Jackson attire. There was more Michael Jackson than salsa but it garnered a standing ovation nonetheless.
Dave Paris & Zoe Klein – This cirque-de-soleil-esque performance definitely showed off Dave and Zoe’s specialty in acrobatics and lifts. Some of the feats they did were just amazing and demonstrated their mastery of balance and performance art.
Oliver & Luda – Saving the best for last, these two are the undisputed World Salsa Champions of 2006. And its not hard to see why when you see them perform. Their movements are fast and highly accurate, with crowd-stopping lifts, tricks, and spins. One feat that stood out involved Oliver spinning Luda super fast while leading her around his body, switching hands halfway, and completing the 360 turn. It may not sound all that impressive, but that slight of hand was flawless and it takes a great degree of skill to be able to pull off that performance. To us, they were the crowning show of the night, hands down.
Social Dancing with Live Band from NY – Ocho y Mas
We had been up late Friday night and woke up pretty early Saturday morning so by the time we got to the social dance, both of us were pretty tired.
***Note to self: Get plenty of sleep the night before the Congress weekend so you can stay up and party till dawn next time…
Nevertheless, we danced and mingled until about 1am before heading home. There was a good mix of music with different selections salsa, cha-cha, bachata, and merengue. Alfred, you fill in the rest, I’m going to sleep…zzz…
Well, the live band was fantastic and at one point Jennifer was up on stage dancing with the Puerto Ricans from “Young Blood” and Ismael was up there too with a partner. We had a great time for one day at the Congress, but we were wiped by the end of it. Next year we’ll know to get plenty of rest the week before, and hey maybe we’ll go for the entire weekend.
Hello fellow salsa-holics! Welcome to our review area for salsa clubs, parties, congresses and more. We will have humble beginnings, as the reviews will be far from comprehensive, but with time we hope to have reviews of every club, outing, congress and event that we attend. If there is a club or party you would like to recommend to us to review, please drop a comment in the blog or an email to us and we’ll try our best. Onto our first review:
El Rancho – Oct 1 Toronto Dance Salsa Outing
We had planned to attend this event, but started to get a bit lazy. After dinner, Alfred put on a DVD and Nina began to consider staying in. Luckily, Alfred’s salsa bug was in him and said, “Hey, let’s just go and check it out. It is still early and I’d rather be dancing than sleeping.” We missed the lessons at 7:15, but arrived by 9pm to find that there was a sizable crowd on the dancefloor upstairs.
El Rancho is a restaurant with two dancefloors, the main one being upstairs behind the dining room with a second dance floor downstairs. There is a coat check available at the entrance, and cover was $6. Both dance floors are rectangular hardwood with some booths and tables for seating around it. The dance floor is lit with club lighting at an adequate level. The dance floor is easy to dance on with dance shoes and easy to spin on. The club has an intimate or cozy feel to it and the dance floor is big enough to accommodate a decent size crowd.
The music was mostly salsa, with the mix of two or three merengue and bachata here and there. The salsa varied from more cuban, and mambo and a few salsa romantica but I think leaned mostly towards the more cuban songs.
As it was a Toronto Dance Salsa outing, there were plenty of dancers from various levels and everyone was having a fun time. Nina and I enjoyed ourselves and were happy to have made it for some dancing instead of going to sleep early.
See you on the dance floor,
Nina and Alfred
Coming events we’ll be attending:
Saturday Oct 7 – Canada Salsa Congress
430 College Street (NE of Bathurst)
Coat Check: Available (Optional)
Fun Factor: 3
As we post more entries, I’m sure we’ll start to get some frequently asked questions. In the meantime, I’ve thought of a few that I’m sure are bound to come up and will answer them in advance.
- How do you pick the venues that you review?
- I want to suggest a club/party/workshop/etc. for you to review, how do I do that?
- How is the rating at the end of each review determined?
- How is the overall score determined?
- What does the scoring tell me?
- How objective/subjective are your reviews?
- I can’t believe you gave me favorite club such a low score!
- Why do you do this? Are you professionals?
1. How do you pick the venues that you review?
We’d like to say we have some sort of science; however, there is no science. The venues we review are picked quite randomly sometimes depending on how we feel. That said, we get suggestions from other salsa-holics and love trying new things.
We can’t guarantee a review, but we can always use suggestions. Drop a comment into a recent blog entry or email us at correspondents (at) torontodancesalsa (dot) com.
You’ll find that at the end of each entry, we summarize the details of the venue with their address, typical price of cover, coat check, and a score out of five for five attributes: dancefloor, ambiance, music, dancers, and fun factor with a final overall score. All five attributes are rated on a five point scale, with the final overall score being the addition of the five attributes for a possible maximum overall score of 25.
- 1 – Poor excuse for a dancefloor, the only way to get this score is if the dance floor is made of volcanic rocks with tar spread over it.
- 2 – Dance floor is substandard for dancing, but still danceable. Usual ailments would be: too sticky and difficult to spin on, or has an uneven surface with danger of tripping.
- 3 – Average dance floor, not bad but not spectacular
- 4 – Great dancefloor, consistent surface that is clean and easy to dance on
- 5 – The king of dancefloors, think of a grand ballroom with a newly polished floor where one can find no fault
- 1 – No ambiance at all, think dancing at a bright school gymnasium
- 2 – Some ambiance, but maybe the wrong ambiance. For example the venue is full of drunken partiers not interested in dancing and takeup dancefloor space by standing around talking and drinking on the dancefloor
- 3 – Decent lighting, a decent crowd, but maybe lacking that something special
- 4 – Nice ambiance, where you feel the energy and vibe of the crowd and the venue is conducive to mingling and dancing.
- 5 – You’ve magically been transported to another world where salsa is life and life is salsa.
- 1 – I swear it said salsa party on the poster/website/ticket, so why is there no salsa?
- 2 – A poor mix of music, where typical complaints are the merengue/bachata/cha cha cha and/or reggaeton sets run too long, or that a lot of the salsa songs are not danceable. Everyone loves fast songs, but three hours straight of fast mambo is not a good mix unless you’re at an aerobics workshop.
- 3 – An average mix of music, with a good variety of salsa
- 4 – A fantastic mix of songs with variety of danceable songs and a unique selection of merengue/bachata and/or cha cha cha.
- 5 – Professional DJ, where the DJ knows the crowd and plays remixes of classics, fresh new tunes and knows when to speed up and slow the tempo as per the energy level of the dance floor.
- 1 – You’ve obviously either shown up on hip-hop night, or the rest of the crowd wasn’t aware that it was salsa night. No salsa dancers to be seen from here to Puerto Rico.
- 2 – Some salsa dancers, but either not interested in dancing or all dancers are skewed to a particular level and are not interested in dancing with others.
- 3 – A good crowd with a mix of all range of dancers
- 4 – A fantastic crowd where everyone wants to dance
- 5 – You’ve stumbled upon a salsa mecca, where the room is filled with expert leaders and followers and they all want to dance with you
- Fun Factor
- 1 – I think we mistook a lecture on particle physics as a salsa party.
- 2 – Venue was just missing that spark of life
- 3 – Fun for a good majority of those trying
- 4 – Everybody having a good time
- 5 – Venue was so fun that nobody wanted to leave
- Overall – Out of 25
- 5-10: Not a recommended venue for salsa
- 10-15: Something is missing for us, but maybe you’ll have a better experience
- 15-20: A recommended venue for salsa
- 20-25: A star location that others venues can learn from
The overall score is simply the sum of the scores from the five attributes: Dancefloor, Ambiance, Music, Dancers and Fun Factor. Each of these are given a rating from 1-5 giving a possible maximum overall score of 25.
The scoring gives you a slightly more objective breakdown of things you might consider as the makings of a good salsa venue when compared with our more lenghty writeup. When I say slightly, please keep in mind that this is solely based on our opinion of the event or day that we attended. Things could vary depending on the day of the week, time and crowd, so we will post multiple reviews for the same clubs to give you a better overview over time. Please let us know if our scoring on a particular occasion appears out-of-date and we should give it a re-review.
Our reviews are as objective as we can make them by honestly scoring relative to other venues and reviews. We treat each visit as a new venue and try not to let past experiences cloud our judgment. With that said, our reviews are completely subjective in that these are the feelings of Nina and Alfred. We try our best to be fair, but if you think we’ve given a place an unfair review or that we simply were there on a “bad night” let us know and we’ll do a re-review.
Everyone is subject to the bad days, and salsa venues are no different. It could have been that the particular day of the week skewed our review. We aim to be fair, and if you think we reviewed a venue on an atypical instance let us know or better yet take us with you on a fun night and show us how wrong we were. It’s all about the fun!
We do this because we love salsa. Sharon at Toronto Dance Salsa invited us to this opportunity and we took her up on the offer. There are other sites that do reviews, and we’re hoping that we’re helping Toronto Dance Salsa students and other dancers out there with some opinions of good venues to practice and have fun dancing salsa. All the time and effort we all spend in class is rewarding and worthwhile with the fun you have going out to dance. Neither us are currently professional dancers, we dance for fun and want to share our experiences with you. We have day jobs that are not salsa related.
See you on the dancefloor!