NEW YORK – Some 10,000 salsa lovers from around the world will do their best to entice the Big Apple onto the dance floor at the New York International Salsa Congress.
The festival kicked off Thursday with a presentation on Times Square outside the hotel that is hosting the event, where colorfully clad salseros showed off their moves in front of a crowd of curious onlookers.
Overseeing the show was celebrity choreographer Maria Torres, who will offer entrepreneurship workshops at the congress through her IMPACT program, inspired by the idea that “culture can be lost very quickly and we have a responsibility (to maintain it),” she told EFE.
“I am a Latina and I want to contribute to the Latino people and the international people. I do not want to just inspire but take another step, open a path, create things,” the Brooklyn-born dancer said.
Describing her hometown as both a city of immigrants and a “dancing mecca,” Torres says she is grateful for having been able to debut on Broadway “representing my culture, as an actress and dancer.”
She is aware, however, that things have changed since those days.
“I think it’s important: the culture has to be reinvigorated. We have so many of these guys from the music who were established here in the (19)60s. They’re dying, they’re passing away, their dance is going further away from what it really was,” Torres said.
“It’s still fun and exciting because the platform that the International Salsa Congress has created, and other congresses around the world, has given them a way to express themselves. We can’t forget our past, where we came from. We have to pilgrimage, maintain that,” she insisted.
“Latinos unidos (united Latinos) can do anything, and this is a year to really stand up and represent, especially in view of everything that is happening, how we are being persecuted. As an artist, I can do it through the arts,” Torres said. “Latinos have to take a seat at the table. I am hoping to see more.”
Not far from Torres a dozen dancers between the ages of 7 and 15 are creating a stir.
One of them, Jean Paul Medina, told EFE that the group is taking part in the event for the fourth year in a row.
Oscar Calderon, who runs the Paso A Paso Art Studio where the young dancers rehearse daily, highlighted the role families play in conveying the passion for music and dancing.
“Support from their parents is very important: they like it, they keep an eye on their journey,” he said.
“This is a very Latino event, but salsa has overcome borders and everybody is dancing salsa all over the world. People from all over the world come to New York and you can take up workshops, get social, watch the shows,” Calderon said.
“In the beginning, they (the young dancers) are scared, but then they see people are clapping and they have fun,” he added.
Stage fright is a thing of the distant past for some of the professionals who danced Thursday in Times Square, such as Floridian Brielle Friedman and her partner, Connecticut resident Hunter Houde, who calls himself a gringo but speaks Spanish fluently.
“For me, this is a way to connect with people, socialize without having to drink alcohol. It is very healthy, with your own body you can feel an unequivocal joy and share it with another person. What’s better than that?” Houde said.
“This style is the most beautiful, in my opinion. I like the connection between partners and, as a performer, the connection with the audience. It is very strong and exciting,” Friedman said.
The lineup of performers at the Goya Foods New York International Salsa Congress includes Doug Beavers, Herman Olivera, Moncho Rivera, Griselle Ponce, Eddie Torres and Charlie Aponte.