Salsa in New York

I thought I would repost some stuff I posted to a salsa forum about my experiences in New York. So, click if you’re interested…

15/5/07

Yesterday I met a friend for lunch in Harlem and thanks to my research, figured out that his place was not far from La Casa Latina in Spanish Harlem. So that was my first salsa stop. The staff were friendly and helpful and talked me into buying FIVE CDs, all local and recent:

* Africando – Ketukuba
* Frankie Morales – A Toda Velocidad
* Grupo Caribe – Somos Caribenos
* La Excelencia – Salsa con Concienca
* Ocho y Mas – Juega Billar

AND I got myself an On2 tshirt – all for the sum of $98! Now, I am travelling on a real budget, but there are some things I am willing to spend money on and a) thanks to the current exchange rate, they are cheaper than CDs back home in New Zealand and b) you can’t GET them back home and ordering them would cost way more! Good rationalisation, huh? And I talked myself out of a similarly priced cashmere sweater today – have my priorities changed or what?

Alright, that was yesterday. Today, I went to a beginners On2 class with MARIA TORRES herself! Now, I’m an advanced On1 dancer, but man I got a lot out of this beginners class. It was two hours long, with the first hour being shines and the second being partner work, and a break in the middle. Maria had an assistant to help her out and everything was well organised (Maria was very late, but Donna the assistant got things going). Although it was a beginners class, the shines went from easy (female cross body) to relatively complex (toe-heel-toe type stuff, then turn and face the back and do it etc). However Maria broke the moves down heaps and repeated them many many times before putting the music on right at the end.

I like this style of teaching. Even though it can get very repetitive, it means you actually retain what you learn, and if you nail the step early, then you can just concentrate on your styling or whatever. I will definitely be going to more of Maria’s (and Eddie’s) classes while I am here.

Maria came up to me at the end and told me to come to the more advanced class, which was nice. Although I will say this – I have come to agree with many of the top teachers I know that if they teach a different style from the style you are used to, then it can be really helpful to go to their beginners classes. I got a lot out of it and learned new stuff, and it was a joy to observe Maria’s style, even though the pace was slow. I am looking forward to going to Eddie’s shines class on Sunday – I’ve heard it definitely is NOT slow!

Tomorrow (cue jealousy): I have tickets to go and see the Spanish Harlem Orchestra! Report to come on Thursday!

16/5/07

Spanish Harlem Orchestra

I just came back from seeing these guys and I am still hyperventilating. It was the album release party for their latest album, United We Swing, which you should all go out and buy because they are sizzling!

I just read on their website that I was meant to get a copy of the album with my entry price, which didn’t happen, but oh well. I don’t really mind parting with more of my money for these guys. Although after seeing them live, I know the album will never be able to replicate that experience.

As for dancing, there wasn’t much unfortunately. There was more of a mosh pit, the club was small with not much room to move. There were a few couples dancing to one side and I did dance a bit with the friend I went with. Judging from that I can say that there are some really good dancers in NY! But I’ll have to give the full dance report later. The other reason no one was dancing is that I think we were all absolutely transfixed by the band. To really experience them you had to listen and watch. It was kind of like dancing with the band though. The band was the leader and we were all the followers! A couple of times through the night members of the band would catch my eye and smile, too, I think they probably did that to everyone there. It really made it feel special.

The songs from the new album are great, a brilliant mix of tone and tempo while staying true to its Spanish Harlem salsa dura roots. I must be absorbing a little more Spanish by osmosis because I actually understood what some of the songs were about. Everything was very very danceable (although one song got _really_ fast at one stage)

18/5/07

Tonight I went to two Carlos Konig classes – his shines class (intermediate? I think) and Advanced Beginner II partnerwork. Now thanks to lots of walking around New York in summer shoes (read: not the most comfortable) I have blisters, sore feet, shins and knees. So I wasn’t exactly on form, and I was very tired. I maybe didn’t get everything out of it that I could have.

At any rate, I learned some cool shines, and a nice turn pattern. Carlos went at a decent pace, in the shines class we kept building up until we were doing several shines in a row, every time we did a new one he would put music on and after we had practiced he would do the next shine. We were free to try and keep up with him if we wanted! But then he would turn the music off and break it down for us. Once we had it he would then put some styling into it, so I learned some useful new styling. I do the same styling ALL the time so it’s nice to learn some new stuff.

The partnerwork class was where things really began to fall apart. It was an hour and a half long and I had to concentrate so hard just to do a simple double spin! But the turn pattern was cool, and again he put some nice styling into it. Carlos danced with me a bit and told me to come along to his intermediate class, which I thought was rather charitable of him considering I was having such an off night!

20/5/07

I was so nervous about going to my first salsa social! I almost went to one last night, but the aforementioned sore feet and legs persuaded me to stay at home. Anyway, I had no idea if I would know anyone there (a valid concern since I’ve only been here a week!), or if anyone would ask me to dance, or if I’d seem like a complete klutz compared with all the New York salseras, etc etc. But I conquered my fears and went out.

The social was run by La Casa de la Salsa and was at the Dance Studio 101 on Lafayette Street. The first thing I noticed when I got there was how incredible the studio looked. It is absolutely beautiful, and looks as though a lot of money has been spent on it. The ceiling is incredible. Unfortunately I didn’t take my camera, something I would kick myself for several times during the evening… The floor was perfect – nice and slippery, just how I like it!

As soon as I had my shoes on I looked around and the first person I saw was Carlos Konig, who whisked me onto the dance floor. After that he introduced me to Steve, who runs the salsanewyork.com website. I needn’t have worried about guys not asking me to dance, I was more worried about not being able to sit down at all! (and actually, I only sat down once). Carlos kept this up through the evening if he saw me without anyone to dance with, but that wasn’t very often as there were fairly even numbers there and guys kept asking me. A novel experience, I can assure you! I had gone fully prepared to ask guys to dance but it wasn’t necessary! As soon as I could get a quick break I went and poured myself a cup of the (free) wine, I was still a bit nervous and needed to relax a bit!

Everyone there was so nice, and the guys even complimented my dancing, which I thought was quite charitable of them. I still don’t feel completely comfortable with NY style. I’m still concentrating too much on the timing and the styling is quite different from LA style too. But I feel like I did ok tonight. I was definitely spinning well on that slippppery floor, although the most any guy spun me was about 3 or 3 1/2 on the spot and 4 travelling.

The performances were on a bit later, another reason I wish I’d taken my camera. Almyra, who organised the event, unfortunately couldn’t make it herself due to some (resolved) health crisis. She was meant to be dancing with Carlos, so instead Carlos danced on his own. The guy can move his feet! I have never seen anyone do shines that fast.

But the best part of the night was yet to come. Carlos introduced me to Jimmy Anton, another of the top instructors here who runs the biggest salsa social on a Sunday evening. Then he asked me to dance, but a third of the way through Jimmy stole me, and then two thirds of the way through Carlos stole me back! It was incredible. After that I came home because what could possibly top that? I still can’t believe I’m here, meeting and dancing with all these amazing people.

20/5/07 (later)

So I decided I was ready for another challenge… I’d heard about Eddie Torres’ Sunday class, and the verdict is the same whoever you ask: the class is TOUGH. It runs from 2-4:45 (almost three hours! also incredible value at $15) and Eddie basically runs through a whole lot of shines – he demonstrates them a couple of times, and then turns to watch the class do them. He generally does one simple shine then one complex shine, one after the other, after the other, after the other…. he also breaks down a couple of shines. So for the people who have been many times before, they have had most of the shines broken down for them. For the newer people, it really is a trial by fire. But hey, it’s a fun one. Maria Torres joins in too and demonstrates styling you can put with your shines.

Given it was my first time I think I did pretty well. There were a lot of shines I didn’t get but about half the class was with me on that! The only way with this class is to go every week, I think. Unfortunately for me that’s not an option.

Halfway through we had a break and watched a video of Eddie and Maria’s daughter Nadia dancing – she started performing at the age of 3! Then it was back to the shines. Then about 15 minutes or so of partnerwork, enough to learn about a 6 bar turn pattern (not an easy one, either), some music to practice that, and then – you guessed it – MORE shines. I think we probably did a hundred or more.

I am absolutely exhausted now and my feet are covered in blisters (not sure what’s up there, I think it might be the humidity here because I never get blisters at home), but it was worth it! If I was staying here I would definitely go back to that class – it’s a challenge but offers an amazing opportunity to learn a huge repertoire of shines from the man himself.

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3 thoughts on “Salsa in New York

  1. Wow, just read this, you sound as if you really got into salsa in NY no wonder you didn’t want to leave. Hope you find similar experiences in London.

  2. Pingback: What I do « fingers and toes

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