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    Vida Lounge – Toronto Dance Salsa Outing

    We attended the November 10th TDS outing at Vida Lounge. As the weather turns cooler, what better way to get warm than to dance the night away? The location is a slight trek for people downtown without a car, but it isn’t that bad if you’re driving. For those taking the TTC check the website to see whether the street car is running all the way, as switching over to a bus may be required.

    Vida Lounge had two floors open, where there were two lessons provided at the beginning of the evening. Upstairs the main dancefloor is a skinny rectangle with a bar area running down the length of one side. The dancefloor being similar to Plaza Flamingo’s, became progressively sticky as it is not a wooden floor.

    Bar service was quick and efficient and coat check was included with the cover. There were two DJs during the evening, and the first was DJ Aragato. His set was far from spectacular with sudden song changes, silence between songs, lengthy sets of poorly chosen merengue followed by lengthy sets of bachata. His repertoire of salsa music ranged from old overplayed romatica, to songs that were not exactly danceable. Pair that up with the small cramped dancefloor and the first few hours were not the best. Later in the evening a much more professional DJ replaced the amateur and things livened up. Luckily for all there were plenty of friendly faces from TDS and I think everyone had a good time.

    Not to become one of our favorite of locations, but the outing was filled with dances from TDS friends and students.

    Vida Lounge
    1345 St. Clair Ave. West
    Cover: $10 during TDS outing
    Regular Weekly Event: Tuesday, Vida Mexicana

    Our Ratings

    Dancefloor: 2
    Ambiance: 3
    Music: 2
    Dancers: 3
    Fun Factor: 3
    Overall: 13 (out of 25)

    2007 Canada Salsa Congress

    The 2007 Canada Salsa Congress ran from Oct 4-7 this year, and continues to be a very well organized event that Torontonians are lucky to have in their backyard. For salsa fanatics, performers, amateurs, professionals and the like the event is a great place to meet new people, learn new techniques, and find ways to improve over an intense weekend. In general, all the workshops we attended delivered what was expected. In every session there was something to learn. Sometimes it was challenging, but most importantly it was all fun.

    For those who are new to congresses, hopefully this overview of what a congress is like will encourage you to attend the next one. Whether you’re serious about salsa and looking to perform or teach, or just like to have fun there is something for everyone. Pricing is flexible through different ticket options that range from: $10-$25 (depending on the evening) for entry into dancing after 11pm, to $275 for a full pass that gives you access to all the workshops, performances and parties from Friday to Sunday.

    Workshop Highlights

    Our first workshop became one of our favorites of the entire event. We chose to start the Saturday morning with Salsa Partnerwork with Tango Styling, with City Dance Corps. After a brief warm-up we were shown an interesting pattern with some sexy footwork. Nina loved it and it really tested our ability to maintain a strong frame due to the tango styling. The pattern was at the appropriately and intermediate level of complexity as indicated in the program and definitely had that tango flair in it.

    After getting warmed up with the first class, we remained in the same room for one of Alfred’s favorite instructors Super Mario. Mario is based in London, and has fantastic drop in classes out of a salsa club called Bar Salsa. His patterns are often complex but very leadable. The advanced pattern that he taught was definitely advanced in that the moves required quick and accurate leading and following. There was definitely the possibility of hurting yourself or your partner with some of the moves that were thrown in.

    New at this year’s congress was a set of discussion forums during the lunch break. Since Nina and I are beginning to teach as assistant instructors for Sharon, we thought it would be helpful to attend the The Road to Becoming a Better Instructor session moderated by Jennifer Aucoin. It was an informative and educational session where veterans such as Al Espinoza, Super Mario, and Salsa Steph discussed the various challenges faced by instructors. There were ample questions from the crowd, and good examples and tips provided by the group. Jennifer hinted that she was considering a lengthier instructor’s workshop next year if there is enough interest. So if you’re thinking you’d attend, make sure you email her or let the congress organizers know when you fill out the feedback form on the internet that’s been emailed to you.

    I always enjoy classes with Al Espinoza as he is good at reminding us to think more about dancing to the music. It is important to learn the basics and have a repertoire of patterns to pull from, but to move to the next level sometimes stepping back from complex turn patterns, and focusing on simpler moves but more attention to the music can cause some excitement. In both the Rotating Cross-Body leads and musicality class, Al and his wife Karla focused on how we can play with the timing and leading and following to the various instruments, the pitch and even demonstrated moving and dancing to the vocals.

    We attended the workshops in almost every time-slot except for the first workshop on the Sunday morning. Dancing almost non-stop from 11AM-5PM two days in a row while partying until the wee hours of the morning can be quite a strain. Advice for those who plan to go all out include: getting rest before the congress, wearing comfortable clothing during the workshops, pack a lunch or some snacks to make sure you keep you energy level up, and staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

    As with the 2006 congress, we had a great time improving our dancing along with having fun with new and familiar faces alike. Hope to see you there next year!

    La Mezcla at Acrobat Lounge

    If you are at all a salsa/facebook addict, you will have been sent an invitation last week to go to a masquerade at Acrobat last Friday. And if you had attended the event, you would have surely had a blast. Acrobat has hopefully been revived! Sunny from Salsaholics Anonymous was teaching the beginner/intermediate class at 9pm. But the fun really started when La Mezcla hit the stage and began playing at around 9:30pm. This salsa band featured:

    Bruce McCarthy – Timbales
    Klaus Anselm – Trumpet
    Allison Au – Alto Sax
    Chris Butcher – Trombone
    Marco de la Cruz- Piano
    Raul Abreu – Congas
    Devin Hornby – Bass
    Veronica Meza – Vocals
    Francois Mulder – Vocals
    Mike Wark – Tenor Sax and Flute

    I was very impressed with their lead singer. Veronica Meza has a beautiful voice and was certainly getting everyone dancing to her songs. The band covers a wide repretoire of salsa with covers of many classic mambo and romantica style songs. During the band’s breaks, DJ Victor Explosivo would continue cranking out the best of salsa, merengue, and bachata. As the night wore on, people with masks started showing up for the “Masquerade Contest.” They had the chance to win $100 worth of gift certificates for the best mask. We didn’t really stay to see who won though.

    What I liked about Acrobat was the dance floor and the amount of space you had around you to dance. It is a fantastic venue for dancing and hope it continues to grow the number of Friday regulars.

    Acrobat Lounge
    2464 Yonge St. (3 blocks north of Yonge and Eglinton)
    Cover: $10 (includes lesson at 9pm)
    Dancing: Friday
    Dress Code: Trendy (dress to impress)

    Our Ratings

    Dancefloor: 4
    Ambiance: 4
    Music: 5
    Dancers: 3
    Fun Factor: 4
    Overall: 20 (out of 25)

    Club 6/49 in Montreal

    While in Montreal for a wedding, we managed to make it to a salsa club on the Sunday night before heading back to Toronto. Last time we were in town, we liked the vibe of Club 6/49 but didn’t stay too long, so we decided to head back to check it out. It was Nina and Alfred plus Alfred’s friend Arva from Amsterdam who started salsa at the same time as Alfred did.

    We arrived around 10pm and there were only a handful of couples on the dancefloor. The DJ was spinning a good variety of very danceable music so things were promising but we were worried that maybe Sunday was a slow night. Our worries were rather quickly dismissed as people started showing up and sooner than we knew it the dancefloor was packed.

    The club is in a basement location right on St. Catherines so it is a convenient location for anyone downtown Montreal. The dancefloor is a large wooden retangle with ample seating to take a break from dancing on. There are also stools and a high counter around the edge of the dancefloor to remain close to the action with a place to rest your drink.

    Reading up on the internet informed us that Sunday is a popular night for a lot of the advanced dancers in Montreal. We were definitely impressed. There were plenty of amazing dancers, dancing with far more emotion that we usually see in Toronto. People were really into the music, and executing sexy styling, cool shines and complex patterns with great musicality. Alfred even picked up a couple moves from the Montreal crowd that he doesn’t see as much in Toronto. It reminded us that there is great diversity in the way people dance salsa and that it is a continuous learning experience.

    We had amazing fun but had to leave the party because there was a long drive up ahead the next morning. There are other highly recommended clubs in Montreal, if you have any favorites let us know so we can check it out next time we’re in town again.

    Club 649 1112 Ste. Catherine Ouest
    Montreal, QC

    Cover: No Cover

    Dancing: Nightly 8:30pm-3:00am
    Beginner Lesson (Free): Mondays 10pm
    Intermediate/Advanced Lesson (Free): Thursdays 10pm

    Our Ratings

    Dancefloor: 4
    Ambiance: 3
    Music: 5
    Dancers: 5
    Fun Factor: 4
    Overall: 21 (out of 25)

    Plaza Flamingo Summer Boat Cruise

    This summer’s sizzling Salsa Boat Cruise was a hit as always. If you missed the boat in June, be sure to buy tickets early for the next one on July 29th!

    It was a hot sunny day on June 26th, perfect weather for a boat cruise. We were pumped and excited about dancing on the water as I had attended the same cruise two summers ago and loved it. So it was no surprise when we got to Pier #29 at 4:30pm, that there was already a huge lineup for tickets and another one just to get onto the boat! Needless to say, tickets were completely sold out and many people either had to buy scalper’s tickets or were sent home.

    By 5pm, when the boat cruise was supposed to start, they were still not ready to let people onto the boat. I felt the organizers were a little disorganized in this respect. Luckily, four of us from Toronto Dance Salsa were allowed onto the boat first to prepare for the beginner and intermediate lessons we were assigned to teach. By 5:30pm, a fifth of the people had boarded so we decided to start the lessons. Carolina and Karina gave the beginner lesson, and Alfred and I taught the intermediate lesson.

    By 6pm most of the people were on the boat and starting to dance. By 6:30pm we were finally leaving the pier and sailing into the horizon. I must say, there is nothing quite like dancing salsa on the water with good friends, music, and a sunset. The dancefloor may be a little wobbly as the boat goes up and down with the waves, but its definitely still danceable and a lot of fun! But one quick note: Don’t bring your nice suede danceshoes on the boat as the floor is not hardwood. It can be a bit rough on your shoes if you’re spinning so wear something more durable!

    Now, a little description of the River Gambler’s layout: The DJ and dancefloor was located on the top deck. Below deck was the dining area and restrooms. There was a bar on both the top and bottom deck. Both of which were doing very well that night as people were buying plenty of drinks. Dinner started around 7pm and a huge lineup began to form. There was a good selection of steak, paella or chicken accompanied with salad and pasta. I chose the paella, which was not bad for paella in Canada. The rice had plenty of flavor. Obviously it can’t compare to paella in spain! But there were lots of mussels and shrimp in it!

    At around 8pm, they started the salsa competition. Eight couples came out to compete. The DJ put on a random salsa song for them to dance to and the audience decided who the top 3 couples were. Former Toronto Dance Salsa student and assistant, Alexandra Barakh and her partner Pavlo Farmakidis came in second!

    By 9pm, the sun was about to set, creating a beautiful ambiance on the water. It really was a wonderful sight to see the skyline of Toronto across the water as the sunset approached. We danced until night fell and we were back at the pier again.

    But the night did not end there! A group of us headed out to El Rancho afterwards for the afterparty and continued dancing the night away.

    Do I recommend the Boat Cruise? I most certainly do! Especially since it happens only twice a year.

    Plaza Flamingo Boat Cruise
    Aboard the RIVER GAMBLER
    Now Located at Pier #29
    261 Queens Quay East ( East of Sherbourne St.)

    Boarding at 5 PM Sails until 10 PM

    TICKETS: Advance $28
    At the Pier $35
    Food: Advance $10
    At the Pier $15

    All Major Credit Cards accepted.

    Our Ratings
    Dancefloor: 3
    Ambiance: 5
    Music: 5
    Dancers: 3
    Fun Factor: 5
    Overall: 21 (out of 25)

    Mambo Thursdays at Remys

    After the Toronto Dance Salsa Amateur Competition I suspect that the both of us suffered a slight salsa overload. You may ask, “How could that be possible that a salsa addict has had too much salsa?” Well, I guess that’s only part of our excuse, the other is that the summer weather means that our weekends are packed with activities such as heading out of the city for plenty of outdoor activities. Never fear though, as the addiction kicks back in soon enough and before you know it, we’re back into the thick of things.

    Tonight we checked out Mambo Thursdays at Remys in Yorkville. Venues like Remys and Babaluu are so close to where we live that it is inexcusable for us not to be regulars. There are lessons from 8-9 and then 9-10 with social dancing starting at 10. We arrived at 9 to check out the lessons as well. The classes were lightly attended; however, Maya Belle does a good job of breaking down steps for those who are new.

    Possibly due to the rain, there was not much of a turnout even at 10:30pm. The salsa crowd tends to be on the late side, so luckily we stuck around as things really started going at 11pm. The dancefloor is not the biggest of dancefloors, but very danceable. It’s basically one big wooden square, that’s neither too slippery nor too sticky. Just right for Alfred tonight and he wasn’t even wearing dance shoes. There is a great ambiance to the venue, it’s cozy with a good looking and polished crowd that fits right in with Yorkville.

    There was a fantastic mix of mainly intermediate and advanced dancers with a sprinkling of beginners. In speaking to DJ Geronimo, there is a typical showing of salseros and salseras from all of Toronto’s dance schools: iFreeStyle, Mambo Mosaic, Mambo Tribe, and Toronto Dance Salsa. DJ Geronimo spins a great mix of salsa with variety in tempo and style. It would be difficult to sit/stand still when so many great songs are being played.

    Maya arranges for a dance performance of varied types, and on this night there was a solo Bollywood performance. Something different but very professional and well done.

    The only slight criticism was several instances where the volume was way too loud for such a small space. Other than that we had a very enjoyable time and will definitely be making Remys a regular hangout.

    Mambo Thursdays – Remys Yorkville
    115 Yorkville Avenue, Toronto, ON

    $5 for ladies before 10:30 PM

    Thursdays 10 PM (8 PM Beginner Lesson, 9 PM Intermediate Lesson)

    Our Ratings

    Dancefloor: 5
    Ambiance: 4
    Music: 5
    Dancers: 5
    Fun Factor: 5
    Overall: 24 (out of 25)

    Spanish Harlem Orchestra

    On June 6, as part of the Masters of World Music free concert series produced by Luminato and Harbourfront Centre, Spanish Harlem Orchestra performed for the first time in Toronto. Toronto salsa fanatics were given a delightful treat! A fun and signficant audience showed up for this event and the crowd was alive with the music.

    Spanish Harlem Orchestra is one of Alfred’s favorite bands, and their performance did not dissapoint. They worked through numbers from their 2004 Grammy award-winning album Across 110th St., their 2002 Grammy nominated debut, Un Gran Día En El Barrio and of course course songs from their latest album, United We Swing. Their music is energetic, complex and fun, and their recognition is well deserved.

    We saw many familiar faces from Toronto Dance Salsa, and we found that sitting beside us were some of Sharon’s students. Although we arrived early enough to get fantastic seats, it wasn’t before long that we were up on our feet swaying and dancing to the rhythm of the exhilirating latin beats. If you missed out, hopefully they were impressed by the great audience in Toronto and will come back soon. In the meantime, I managed to make a brief clip here for you to check out. If you’re unfamiliar with their music, don’t hesitate go out and get their CDs.

    Toronto Dance Salsa – 2007 Amateur Salsa Competition

    The temperatures were rising in the month of May in Toronto, and on Friday May 25 temperatures soared inside Six Degrees nightclub on Yonge and Eglington. Things were fever pitch as competitors salsa danced, spun, styled, shined, dropped and lifted themselves towards winning the first (hopefully annual) Toronto Dance Salsa amateur competition. You may have been there or have already read on the internet that Nina and Alfred were the winners of the competition. We can only say that we were excited going into the competition, and was amazed at all the support and encouraging words we received from everyone. So to all of those who encouraged us and gave us support, a great big thanks! The desire to put on a good show and not let anyone down with their expectations really kept us going. We’re certainly happy we did not disappoint.

    Some may wonder: what got us to participate, how we prepared, how much time we spent, how we put together the choreography and what were our feelings before, during, and after the final competition. So let’s start at the beginning, how did we become contestants? When we first heard about the competition from Sharon, we were a bit shy to the concept. Nina was definitely not completely keen on the idea. The obvious initial questions were: “Are we good enough? Do we have time to do this? How does one choreograph such a thing?” One thing was for certain – both of us are always keen on looking for ways to improve our dancing. Alfred was certain that this would be a good route to dedicate time and effort with a defined end goal that would lead to improvements in the long run. So in the end, Alfred had convinced Nina that entering the competition would be a great idea, and Nina’s only caveat was that there was a commitment to properly set aside time. Alfred’s work commitments often get in the way of salsa, and that became the main concern. With Alfred’s promise to set aside the required time to put together the choreography and practice, they were set.

    As soon as they confirmed their entry into the competition, we went straight to work. First off was picking a song. This was more difficult than what was imagined. There were so many things we considered: tempo (fast enough to be interesting, but not so fast that execution of difficult moves would be impossible,) style (Cuban, romantica, hiphop infused mashup, jazz or blues infused,) is it a song we could imagine listening to over and over again for two months without getting sick of it? From our library of salsa music, we narrowed it down to about a dozen songs that we would want to perform with, and then came a week of listening to them over and over again, trying to see if there was the right amount of breaks and accents to incorporate moves into, enough variety in the melody for patterns and shines, and finally was there enough “salsa feel” to the song. In the end, our pick was Arrepentidos Pecadores by Willie Rosario. The song hadn’t been overdone by existing performers, had a good tempo, good variety and didn’t seem we would be annoyed with the song after a couple months of constant play.

    With a song picked out, the next challenge we came up to was, what would we wear and how to put together the choreography? Neither of us had choreographed a salsa routine before, but for anyone thinking of performing next year or in the future, do not overlook the amount of time to be invested in this area. Things that we kept as priorities included: focus on good salsa technique, variety in movement and patterns, tight shines that are challenging but look effortless, musicality and ensuring patterns and styling fit in with the music, and how to get enough wow factor that the judges and audience will take notice. All that in two months? Alfred began to worry about the daunting task at hand, but applying his project management skill broke things down into pieces with milestone dates. First was a time consuming research phase. We watched video upon video of salsa performances to learn some key fundamentals about what we liked and disliked from professional dancers. We watched recordings of So You Think You Can Dance, performances from our favorites such as: Alex de Silva, Al “Liquidsilver Espinoza,” Frankie Martinez, and Tropical Gem, we watched winning performances from the Mayan Competitions, the World Salsa Championships (http://www.worldsalsachampionships.com), and any instructional video we could get our hands onto.

    All the while we were researching the choreography; Alfred listened to the song every day – a zillion times a day. This really makes one thankful for not choosing a song that one tires of easily. The song was broken down into sections according to it’s musicality: accents, breaks, places for shines, places for multiple spins. With a good understanding of the music it came time to putting together moves to more workable segments of music. Of the two and a half minute song, we basically went in 30-40 second pieces, where either turn patterns or shines were evaluated over and over again. When it all seemed to fit, the next section was choreographed and then a transition between the two would be put together. I can’t say enough how important access to mirrors and some sort of video recording device is to doing this sort of thing. It is one thing to imagine how you look, or how coordinated your moves are. The truth is in the pudding of watching yourself on camera, or synchronizing your shines and steps in the mirror. On camera it is of course sometimes painful to watch, but better in rehearsals and choreography than on stage for the world to see.

    As time came closer to the preliminary competition, we had choreographed an entire forty seconds for two and a half minutes. Things were slower than we had hoped, but then we realized, we should practice for the preliminaries. So we went out to Babaluu’s as much we could to practice our social dancing, and luckily we made it through the preliminary round.

    No time for rest though, as soon as the preliminaries were over, it was time to get back to the choreography. Week by week, we were practicing our routine almost every day. It was quite a commitment to come home after a long day at the office, or to spend a Saturday after a long week adding more to the choreography and practicing. But in the end it was worth it. As some have guessed, we brought in some assistance as well by hiring Caryl to assist with cleaning up the transitions and adding much needed pointers on styling and improving our dancing. Our focus of the competition throughout was in the interest in improving our salsa, so it only made sense to ensure we weren’t developing or reinforcing bad habits by the many hours we were devoting to practice. With help many long hours of practice and Caryl’s assistance, we finally completed the choreography just a week before the competition date. We practiced the routine over and over again, piece by piece, from the front, from the middle, without music, with music, with the lights low, with the lights on, with background noise, almost any crazy way Alfred could imagine may prepare us for any scenario that would occur. Finally before we knew it, it was the night before.

    North Toronto’s Saturday Practices

    This past Saturday afternoon, Salsa in Review decided to check out North Toronto’s Saturday Practices at Yonge and Shepperd. It is about a 5 minute walk just south of Shepperd. Look for the Coffee Time building. Enter through the law office entrance and take the stairs to the second level.

    Their practice format is usually a workshop or salsa lesson from 4-5pm. Then, from 5-7pm, practice dancing for salsa, cha-cha-cha, and bachata. The entry fee is $5 per person for the salsa practice and sometimes includes the lesson/workshop held by their resident instructors. They often bring in guest instructors where there is a separate charge, so check their website to be sure.

    We arrived near 5:15 for the salsa practice and there was a little over a dozen people in the studio. The studio space was nice and bright. The dance floor being new, very clean, and just perfect to spin on. The crowd was more on the mature side and everyone was there to practice dancing. There was a club cha-cha-cha workshop that preceded the practice given by Stephanie from Mambo Tribe. The music during the practice was mainly salsa with cha-cha-cha and some bachata here and there. For me, I would have preferred more salsa. From what we saw, there was a mix of beginners and intermediate dancers. A few people were teaching and learning steps together. The atmosphere was very relaxed. And there’s lots of lighting in the room.

    If you’re looking for a nice crowd to practice your dancing on a Saturday afternoon, you can check this place out. It is not too crowded and there’s plenty of space to dance. See you on the dancefloor!

    North Toronto’s Saturday Practices
    4578 Yonge St. Suite #200, Toronto, ON

    Entry Fee: $5
    Dancing: Saturdays (4-5pm Workshop, 5-7pm Salsa Practice)

    Our Ratings

    Dancefloor: 5
    Ambiance: 2.5
    Music: 2.5
    Dancers: 3
    Fun Factor: 2
    Overall: 15 (out of 25)

    Toronto Dance Salsa – Amateur Salsa Competition (The Preliminaries)

    The first Toronto Dance Salsa Amateur Salsa Competition began with a preliminary round at Montana Lounge on Sunday April 29. Not only did we attend this exciting event, we were one of the couples competing. Before we talk about the outing and the competition, we’d like to give a warm thanks to everyone who gave us encouraging words and cheered us on.

    Montana Lounge
    Of all the venues for Toronto Dance Salsa outings, Montana Lounge is quickly becoming a favorite. The large space, friendly staff, and fantastic wooden dancefloor needs little to sell itself to the salsa crowd. This was the second outing at this location and I’m hoping for more.

    Some commented from the last outing that the resident DJ, Vanessa, did not have an extensive enough repertoire of music and repeated a few songs. We don’t know how others felt, but we did not notice any repeated songs, and we enjoyed the variety of salsa that was played.

    All in all, the outing was great fun, and to add to the nights events a performance by Mambo Mosaic was playful and entertaining. Loved the flower and bees theme, so appropriate for the final change to spring weather.

    The Competition

    The preliminary competition was very well organized. From a participant’s standpoint we were so happy to see familiar faces wishing us best of luck. Many of the competitors also were relieved to find that others were experiencing a similar level of nervousness. The nervousness peaked for us I think the moment we stepped onto the stage and waited for the music to come on. For a fleeting moment, I had a surge of stage fright and a screaming voice in my head asking, “What are you doing here?!?!” As the music began, our heads were flooded with the million tips and rules to think about. Timing can sometimes be difficult, but we had no idea that keeping time becomes at least ten times more difficult when you have a panel of judges, your friends, and people from classes we assist in. The pressure!

    There were eleven couples that entertained the audience , two minutes at a time to the same song. I think all of the moves we learn at Toronto Dance Salsa was showcased in the competition, but there was a plethora of exciting dips, tricks and amazing drops. Keeping in mind that this is an amateur competition, things were plenty exciting. Some of the couples had such hot chemistry and spiced with such sexiness the temperature in the Montana went up a few degrees.

    Congratulations on a job well done by all the competitors and we hope everyone had as much fun as we did. We’re hoping this will be an annual event, and if you’re thinking about participating in the future, don’t wait – just grab a partner. It’s a great experience and it will improve your dancing at a phenomenal rate. For those who will be joining us in the finals, we’re looking forward to it and can’t wait to see what everyone has come up with. Best of luck to all!