Last update: 06-Dec-2013 6:40 pm
Friday, December 06, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Cali sizzles with saucy salsa
Wake up! Smell the coffee! You’re in Colombia, so the coffee is superb. Juan Valdez knows his stuff. Try Tinto! It’s coffee and it’s the rich, dark, sweet kind. You don’t like coffee? That’s okay, ask for ludo or lulado or any other of the dozens of fruit drinks available. You’re ready? Well, let’s go dancing!
There are two types of salsa, the food and the dance. In Cali, only one of those types matter. In the city of Santiago de Cali, in the north-west of Colombia, dancing salsa is all they know.
Salsa lives in Cali, moved there sometime in the 60s and found its home within a fast-dancing, smiling, happy city filled with a mixture of European and African descendants.
Locals say it is this mixture of cultures that gives them the rhythm that other Colombians envy.
Learning to salsa is no easy task either, and the hundreds of tourists who swarmed the city during early August for the World Salsa Festival know this.
Salsa, the dance, has over 120 different steps, including pique, bachata and boogaloo that can be combined in hundreds of ways. During the festival, dozens of teachers go to places like the city’s cultural centre to teach free salsa classes for novices and professionals.
Seminars and lectures on salsa music also take place during the week-long Salsa Festival during the daytime, while clubs like Tin Tin Deo and Zaperoco are available for dancers to show off their moves at night.
Now, there is dancing salsa and there is dancing salsa en Cali. To know the difference a bit of history is needed.
According to salsa expert Gary Dominguez, in the 1950s a lot of Cubans migrated to the US and took their music with them, Afro-Caribbean music. At the same time, Puerto Ricans were also making their way to the US, to places like Bronx and Spanish Harlem. The Cubans met the Puerto Ricans. They also met jazz music which was growing in popularity in the US at that time. They mixed it up in one big musical pot, added the rhythm of the slaves and salsa was born.
That wasn’t enough for the Colombians, though. By the early 1960s, salsa music began going to different parts of the world, one of those places was Cali. People in Cali thought salsa music was too slow, so they sped up the tracks and started dancing. And boy could they dance! Quick, frenetic steps, coupled with acrobatics as women are tossed in the air and perform upside-down splits, make the dancing both untamed and technically beautiful.
Uno, dos, tres, Baile!
Sebastian Guisao, a salsa instructor in Cali, took two years of non-stop training to master the dance and now teaches salsa to young students at a salsa school in Cali.
When asked what the key to learning salsa was, Guisao said it took a lot of practice and dedication but that salsa was a sensual, passionate dance that focused on women being seductive, and men assisting to show them at their best.
“For the women, it is about the hips,” he said. “Men focus their movements in their legs.”
“The girls are the ones that shine on stage. The man’s roll in salsa is to help the woman shine.
Salsa may be a sensual flirtatious dance but Calenos (people from Cali) take it very seriously. In Cali, one can make a living as a professional dancer or instructor, despite the fact that Guisao says their government does not give much financial support to the art.
“The people here love salsa. They know how to dance from very young but they still want to learn the correct ways to do it, for fun and for competition.”
One of those competitions, is the World Salsa Festival, held in Cali in early August every year. The festival, a free event, attracts salsa dancers from several Latin American countries, including Peru and Ecuador and attracts thousands of spectators, who go to the arena of the Plaza del Toros, some equipped with drums and forming rhythm sections to support their favourites.
The salsa festival competitions this year included three days of dancing, couples, cabaret and group, and began with a celebration of Salsa icon Celia Cruz.
The show, which attracted Colombian celebrities, such as actress Carolina Ramirez was a spectacular display of undulating hips, powerful leg movements, bodies flung through the air and passionate expressions.
And if the World Salsa festival isn’t enough for salsa and dancing enthusiasts, of the many festivals in the city, there is also the Petronia Alvarez festival, which celebrates the city’s Black culture and music.
In October, the city will also celebrate Baile Cali!, a one-month long festival celebrating Latin American dance.
Kalifa’s trip to Cali, Colombia was sponsored by Pro Export Colombia.
Flights to Colombia are from Piarco via Copa Airlines.
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