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    Salsa-we’en Special: Choosing the Best Costume to Dance In

    Last year I learned a very valuable lesson about choosing a salsa-friendly costume. While my ‘Zorro’ costume worked for the most-part there were two fundamental flaws that made dancing almost impossible: I could barely see through my mask and my hat made most of my moves impossible. Luckily I made some quick fixes and the costume was a hit; hopefully with a few tips you’ll have much more success from the get-go!

    Can you move in it?
    Thinking about being a robot or some kind of spiked-out monster? Think again. If your costume impedes your movement or the movement of your partner, you’re going to be sitting out quite a few songs.

    Can you see?
    Last year my Zorro mask killed all of my peripheral-vision to the point where I bumped into someone within a minute of wearing it. If you’re planning on wearing a mask, do the ‘basic-test’ in it; all you need in to try a simple basic in the store and see if you can see what’s around you.

    Does it breathe?
    I was checking out a fantastic panda costume online, but eventually gave up on it as I knew that I’d overheat within a few minutes and have to sit out an hour at a time. Find costumes that are relatively thin, breathable and won’t cause you to de-hydrate.

    Does it restrict your dance moves?
    Anything with large wings, brims, spikes, extra body parts or antennae may cause you to get tangled up!

    Make sure your make-up and effects won’t run while you sweat it out! The last thing you want is your mascara to change your J-Wow costume to being a Snooki.

    Suggested Outfits – Lady Gaga, Jersey Shore, Alice in Wonderland, Glee(ks), Lindsay Lohan, Justin Beiber, Katy Perry (a personal fav), Mad Men, Vampire (watch out for the cape though), Harry Potter, Avatar, Rihanna, Pirates, Ninjas…

    Suggest Masks – Masquerade masks that have wide eye slots, Large-eyed Character Masks, Masks that only cover the top-half of your head (Frankenstein, Homer Simpson, etc.)

    Well, with only a handful of days left, the TDS Halloween party will be at Acrobat at 8:45pm this Saturday!!! Come out and dance with all of us ghouls for a pretty spooky night! Don’t forget that the TDS Helper and Pro teams will be doing their thing as well as a massive birthday dance for Sara!!!!

    Till then,
    Stay Shining Salseros!

    Congress Report: Day 4

    Waking up only hours after going to bed, the helper performance team assembled in the ballroom. Surrounded by the many other student teams, we forged through our early-morning haze and put the final touches on our routine. Satisfied that we were ready, we all went our ways and gathered only a few hours later to prep for the final part of our weekend, the student showcase!

    Extra nervous and quite excited it was time for the TDS team to take flight and we had a great time doing our salsa routine! Everything seemed to go in slow motion yet was over before you knew it! With big sighs and all screamed-out from cheering for the other student teams; we bid our farewells and thus concluded my Congress weekend of madness!

    While I wish I could’ve attended the Sunday night showcase; my body was completely exhausted and I spent the rest of the weekend on the couch!

    A fantastic weekend and a wonderful time, I highly recommend checking it out next year, if you haven’t yet been!

    Till then,
    Stay Shining Salseros!

    Congress Report: Night 3

    While tired from dancing till about 2:30am the previous night, I managed to drag myself out of bed and down to make the workshops. Started simple, I went to a beginner’s lesson with Ana Masacote. Later on I did a sexy workshop with Como Mango and also partook in a great Dominican-style bachata session!

    Learning quite a bit, and regretting not getting up earlier to catch some of the morning workshops, we all went out to dinner and prepared for the Saturday night performances and dancing! All I can say is that if you’re just going to pick a night to check out the Congress; this is the night. Everyone was on their A-game and each performance just seemed to get better and better!

    Needless to say, that by the time the dance floor was ready, everyone was taking the floor burning to try out the new moves and styling that they learned during the day. Resuming my ambassador-duties, I took to the floor and danced till about 4am! It was an amazing opportunity to dance with such varied and great dancers. The best part, was Orquesta de Menor a Mayor, a fantastic salsa band from Puerto Rico!

    With an early morning practice only hours away, I knew it was time to get some sleep and rest up for yet another crazy day of salsa!

    Congress Report: Night 2

    Excited for what the weekend of events would bring from this years’ Salsa Congress, I made it down with plenty enough time to browse the vendors and pick up a new pair of shoes (and some DVDs and a few t-shirts…) It wasn’t long before a few friends arrived and we took our seats for what was a great night of some memorable performances. I always enjoy watching the congress performances as you see how people celebrate salsa from all over the world!

    From beautiful costumes to amazing performances, I was really proud to say that some of the more memorable showcases were home-grown! From United Salseros’ amazing Studio 54 routine to an excellent shines routine from ifreestyle; it was really inspiring to know that Toronto has amazing talent who can shine with the internationals!

    With the performances complete, it was time to fulfill my ‘salsa ambassador’ duties! Sporting glow sticks, a group of volunteers from various schools went out and danced with anyone who asked or looked like they were a bit shy to ask. The dance floor filled up quickly, and with it came many amazing dances and an all-in-all great time!

    An eye-opening night, filled with great music and the chance to dance with many fun dancers; Friday night kicked the weekend into high gear!

    Congress Report: Night 1

    Waiting for my friends in the beautiful lobby of the Weston is a pretty nice way to start off this years’ Salsa Congress. As I sipped my Cuba Libre, one can’t help but reminisce about the past few years that I’ve been doing salsa. It seems only yesterday that I started in Ems’ level 1.

    Rushing into the ballroom we take our seats as Jennifer starts the night’s festivities. Wouldn’t you know it, but Sumeet (whom I performed with in the TDS Helper Team) is in the Pro-Am competition, and wow, he rocked it! Taking Silver, Sumeet represented Toronto Salsa in fine form! If you’ve never danced with him, ask him; or if you’re a leader, watch his style as one can learn a lot from him.

    The competition was fierce this year, ranging from Amatuer to Pro and ranging a few different dance styles including Hustle. There were so many competitors this year that we didn’t even get to dance until about midnight! I can’t complain though, as it was amazing to see dancers of such calibre. It was also great cheering for Oscar’s & Caryl’s dancers.

    One thing I found very interesting is how a crowd reacts to some performers and not to others. Many of the couples were on their ‘A Game’, but it took something special for the crowd to really show their love. A couple from Pureto Rico really blew my mind as their musicality were unmatched… mental note, ask that girl to dance.

    Speaking of dancing, it wasn’t long before the dance floor was cleared so a friend of mine and I decided that we should test it out. Spoiled from Acrobat’s floor, the first thing I noticed was that this floor was a bit ‘sticky’. Seeing how beautifully the competitors danced on it, my respect for all of them went up about 30%.

    The dancing was pretty fun although maybe it was something in the air as I was super rusty and off my game. It was fun to try out a few things from my past lesson and work on my connection as I ended up dancing quite a bit. If you’re new to the scene or a seasoned vet, come out for the workshops or dancing, trust me, it’s fun and you learn a lot!

    It was really great to see the winners of the night as you could tell how elated they were from winning…I’d love to experience that. Maybe next year?

    Till then,
    Stay Shining Salseros!

    We’re not broken, merely syncopated

    A good friend once told me that most of the people who get into salsa, do so because they are in some way, broken. Whether it’s from a failed relationship, workplace stress or simply lacking confidence; we all come to our level 1 classes searching for something. After spending many hours thinking about being broken, I suggest a revision to this concept and say that we’re not broken, but beautifully syncopated.

    For those of you who aren’t as big of a music-theory geek as I am, the definition of syncopation is as follows:
    Syncopation is a general term for a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm; a placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn’t normally occur.

    More simply put, anything syncopated in a song doesn’t conform to the regular beats. Yknow when you hear the horns play at really odd times? that’s a syncopated rhythm.

    Let’s get back to the subject at hand as having been feeling out of my element lately. Was I broken when I started? yes. Having gone through a life-altering break up, I was at a pretty low point. Overweight and about an ounce of self-esteem, I stumbled around learning my basics and that crazy ‘back-across-together’ move. I would go to socials and dance 1 or two times before feeling frustrated and heading home.

    Something happened along the way, I think it was closer to the end of level 3, where I started meeting some pretty exceptional people who started charming their way into my crazy world. Next thing I know, I’m starting to say hi to more and more people and dancing perhaps, 10-20 times a night. It’s from these people that I realized that all of the stress from work, all of the hurt that haunted me from my past and everything that ails me; it just disappears.

    While we may see ourselves as broken shells of who we used to/want to be; Salsa sees us as syncopated. We are
    not cast-aways but simply people with rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn’t normally occur. What hasn’t killed us has only made us stronger dancers.

    You see, it’s because of our stresses, our pain and remorse that makes us better dancers. Our inner demons arise and cause us to move and express ourselves in ways that we wouldn’t be able to anywhere else. I see people who you’d never suspect be great dancers start moving and just become beautiful.

    Ask anyone and they’ll tell you of one day where they could barely go on and when the music hits them; they light up and feel amazing.

    That happened to me today at Sunday Social. I had a weekend that pushed some old wounds to the surface, told me I was broken and made me believe it. Forcing myself to go to social, I saw some of my most favorite dancers, and they reminded me, through their dancing, that I am not broken; but beautifully syncopated.

    So if you’re having a rough time lately, or feel isolated or frustrated that your life hasn’t turned out like you had planned… Join me on the dance floor for some serious group therapy. This is the salsa addiction centre, after all.

    The dance floor is my rehab, break-backs are my 12-steps and coca-cola’s are my breakthroughs.

    Till then,
    Stay Shining Salseros

    October: Time for Congress and Time for Turkey!

    Now if you’re somewhat new to the Salsa scene you may be hearing about this thing called ‘the Congress’. What is it? you may ask; well, let me do my best to give you a quick overview.

    The Congress in a nutshell:
    A Salsa Congress is kind of like the Superbowl and the Oscars (but way more fun and sexy!). Salsero/as from around the world go to the hosting city and showcase their dancing skills through competitions, demonstrations, workshops and (my personal favorite) social dancing. Usually spanning over a weekend, Congresses are 1-stop shops for everything salsa-related.

    Some Highlights of This Year’s Congress:
    Opening Night Gala:
    Featuring the Canadian Salsa Championships & amazing social dancing afterwards

    Need new shoes? shirts? DVDs? They’re all here

    Dance Performances:
    Last year I saw some of the most amazing dancing performed by teams from around the world

    From Lady’s Styling, Lifts and Tricks to Cha Cha and Sexy Salsa moves…you can learn from the best

    Beginner Boot Camp:
    Still new to salsa? take this day-long workshop to get your salsa steps up to par

    Social Dancing:
    Here you’ll find hundreds of dancers ranging in all skill levels for some of the most fun dance sessions that you’ll ever have!

    Cost Factor:
    There are a ton of price options from those who want to do it all to those who just want to dance the night away. Check out the Congress website for more options, one thing that’s for sure, is that the congress is THE event for all salsa dancers!

    See you on the floor!
    Till then,
    Stay Shining Salseros!

    Readers’ Suggestion: What Makes Someone a Good Bachatera/o?

    It’s funny how many ways a question can be answered.
    Recently, a friend of mine asked me, ‘what makes someone a good bachata dancer?’
    While I’m not an expert, I have spent much time trying to improve my bachata skills and here are a few things that I’ve noticed along the way…

    I never truly understood bachata until I went to the Dominican and saw how it was properly done. I was amazed to see that it wasn’t about turn patterns but rather how the bodies speak to one another through subtle movements on the dance floor. When Shakira sang about ‘hips don’t lie’, she was definitely speaking about bachata, as all of the dancers were very close and their bodies were telling stories on the dance floor.

    The best bachata dancers always seem to have a cascading effect to their movements. From a subtle shoulder roll leads the dancer’s body’s to arc one way and then crescendo into a full around-the-world movement. To me, it’s not about doing a one cool move into another; but rather how you move when you do a cool move into another.

    Which leads me to something similar yet slightly different…
    Call and Respond
    Another trait that I love about good bachatera’s is how they respond to the movements that I’m making. If I go from a side basic into a ‘on-the-spot’ movement will she acknowledge that quickly, or will it take a few steps? If she catches that I want to do an ‘on-the-spot’ movement will she respond by accenting her body movement? This is all call and respond.

    A term used most-often in music, Call and Respond refers to when one instrument will play and then another will play in a way that it’s almost talking back to the first instrument. In Hip Hop, you’ll see M.C.’s often ask a question and the audiences will respond with an answer, which in turn the M.C. will either repeat his question louder or perhaps add a new question making the Call and Respond more of a game.

    In Bachata, great dancers feed off one another in their movement. Sometimes they are so good you swear that they have choreographed this at home, but great partners watch each other for subtle movements from the shoulders, hips and body; and move accordingly. It makes your dance sexy and shows your partner that you’re paying attention.

    Dominican dancers love to get close, but that doesn’t mean that the same thing goes here in Canada. While many people do get close, we are for the most part, an intrinsic people and getting close means that you trust your partner to show you a certain level of courtesy. I’ve heard many tales from lady dancers who complain about guys who politely ask them to dance only to press up against them in an ungentlemanly way!

    Those who know me well, know that I only have a small group of people whom I feel comfortable dancing such a close and sensual dance with. I can also name off about a dozen other dancers who feel the same way. The best dancers are the ones who will keep their space with their partners until it feels more natural to get close.

    Being Playful
    With the respect issue out of the way, I love watching the dancers who are flirty/playful with one another. In her classes, Sara, is always saying how you can flirt your dance up a little with the smallest of things. From spotting your partner just a little bit longer before you turn, or even Sharon’s motto of ‘there’s never a bad time for a hip roll’; one can really make it great with small, subtle-movements. Personally, I like to exaggerate my arm movements, as if I was underwater. It sounds weird, but makes all of my combs look like romantic gestures instead of ‘insert-arm-over-partners-shoulder’.

    One of my favourite dance partners says that her favourite bachatero’s play with timing. One thing that Emely really made apparent is that the basic is just that, a base for all of the fun movement. There have been a few classes where we would spend swaying in different rhythms and times to demonstrate how beautiful it can be when two people are just moving to how their bodies feel they should move to the music. I remember looking in the mirror in one of those classes only to marvel at how together, the class looked like a swaying bamboo forest.

    Have fun with timing. Take the full 8 counts to do a hip roll, accent the guitars by popping back and forth a few times…take a chance.

    This is to me, the most important factor in what makes someone a good dancer… no matter the style of music, it’s how the dancer reacts to the music that matters. Think of the last song (or movie, or book or photo) that made you want to cry. Someone about it just effects you and you react to how you truly felt when experiencing it. You should always dance this way.

    Dance is expression and the best dancers truly listen to how the music makes them feel. I see so many people out on the dance floor whipping through moves that don’t match the music that it makes me want to cry. This isn’t ‘Step it Up’ and we’re not out there to ‘serve’ our partners… we’re out there to express how the music makes us feel and hope that in turn, it lets our partners know how the song moves us.

    My favourite dancers speak to me on the dance floor, and if you truly listen, you’ll speak back. Bachata is a beautiful conversation that’s sensual, romantic and best of all, a conversation that only you and your partner will truly understand.

    An Ode To Beginner Salsa Dancers…

    I love going salsa dancing and seeing beginners on the floor. True, there have been times where I have not been so fond of some of the dancefloor crimes they commit. All in all, new dancers belong on the floor and there’s a lot to learn as a more skilled salsero.

    Have fun
    I think I really get caught up in taking myself too seriously. Sometimes it’s because I’m forcing myself to work on certain moves or other times where i feel like I need to be 100% all of the time. Having fun is what salsa is about.

    Being Courageous
    Newer dancers are some of the most courageous people out there. Even having danced for a little while now, I find that there are some days where I’m not brave enough to take the floor and dance it up. I love seeing small groups of people from various classes come out and try the handful of moves that they know. Salsa can be quite intimidating and seeing new dancers out there makes me smile.

    Keeping it Flirty
    Salseros build up an arsenal of flirty moves and while they usually look great, I find sometimes the flirtatious factor can fade as it can feel forced. New dancers can really heat up a floor as they’re still in the “rose-tinted glasses” phase and out to meet people and live the salsa dream.

    I still remember really monumental dances where I had my first dance with a certain teAcher, great dancer or that really cute Chica from my level 1 class. Don’t get me wrong, as I try to have one great dance per outing. I think that sometimes, we let our studies/ advancement get in our way of truly enjoying salsa for what it is… A fun and sexy dance.

    Current Latin Hits of 2010

    One of the best things about getting into Salsa and other Latin musical styles is that you discover literally decades of great music. While it’s easy to get lost in the Salsa of yester-year, I’d like to do a quick post of some hot tracks that are currently flooding the airwaves in 2010…

    Jose Alberto (El Canario) – Que me lo cuente

    While ‘The Canary’ has been around for a long time and made many of the tracks you hear while out dancing, it’s amazing to see that he’s still got it! The guitars really hooked me and love how dynamic the song is!

    India – Estupida

    While I wasn’t able to catch the Luminato show a few weeks ago, apparently India rocked Toronto! I just love the desparation and frustration in her voice for this track.

    Enrique Iglesias feat. Juan Luis Guerra – Cuando Me Enamoro

    A modern take on bachata, Enrique teams up with one of my favourite Bachata singers to make a nice contribution to the Dominican Music.

    While I personally love the Latin music of the 70s, 2010 has been a great year for new music and hopefully you get to explore more of the people who are making great tracks this year!

    Till then,

    Stay Shining Salseros!