A unique and different type of Congress was in session in Orlando last week and infused the city with salsa dance music and pulsating rhythms.
The Orlando Salsa Congress was held from July 5-9 at the Hilton Orlando. Michael Barbieri, one of the directors of the event, described it as a unique congregation for all lovers of Latin music.
“It’s four days of all salsa lovers gathered together that love Latin music and dance,” Barbieri said. “We have workshops during the day, and then we have performances at night.”
The workshops at the event included dance instruction on many variations of salsa, such as Colombian salsa and Caribbean salsa. Workshops on other forms of dance, such as bachata, were also available at the event. The evenings comprised dance showcases by student dance teams as well as professional ones. There was also general dancing that went late into the night. There are many different Salsa Congress events, independent of each other, that take place in different parts of the United States and around the world. Barbieri said he has been involved with the Orlando event since it began seven years ago.
“There [were] a few Congresses already, like [Los Angeles Salsa] Congress was already going on,” he said. “We just felt like, with the growing salsa community here in Florida, that Orlando would be a good place to start one because it’s such a touristy area, so that’s when we started it.”
Barbieri said student performers paid a fee of $75 for a pass to attend the entire event and that professional performers are paid to come perform at the event. For regular attendees, the full cost of attending the entire event was $250, although there were separate rates for those who wanted to attend just on certain nights.
UCF dance teams came to perform at this event. Alexandra Thompson, president of Rukus Entertainment, performed at the event with her organization. She said Rukus became involved through a former president of their organization, who suggested they perform at this event. Rukus performed a hip-hop routine that was blended with salsa. Thompson said it was her first time participating at the Orlando Salsa Congress.
“It’s something different,” Thompson said. “Rukus is about diversity, and we really like to reach out to all facets of communities, so this is a great opportunity to do this.”
Rukus Entertainment performs on the UCF campus and sometimes in locations outside the city of Orlando. Thompson said the idea of blending hip-hop with salsa came from the diversity of talent within her organization.
“We have a lot of dancers who have backgrounds in different kinds of genres,” she said. “Salsa was just another way that we [could] explore our talents.”
Rukus Entertainment regularly competes in dance competitions and has been featured on Black Entertainment Television’s 106 and Park television show.
Jordan Almazan, head instructor for Latin Rhythm, performed at the event with Salsa Knights, a performance team that is part of Latin Rhythm. He said he came on behalf of the choreographer for the Salsa Knights, who was unable to attend.
“It was a while ago that I and a few other individuals were getting into the whole Latin and salsa scene, and two years ago, I came to the Orlando Salsa Congress, and I saw the performances, and I saw everything,” Almazan said. “At that point, I really wasn’t that seasoned of a dancer, and I realized that this is something that I can see students doing. I can see the University of Central Florida sending students to come do this.”
Almazan said they then decided to attend this event.
“What we did was a fusion of some old-style jazz and some blues and we incorporated that into both a [Los Angeles]-style salsa, and casino-style salsa routine,” he said.
Almazan said casino-style salsa is a Cuban style of salsa. Their performance also included theatrical elements, such as dollar bills that were used as props and unique costumes. He said this is an essential part of their performance.
“A performance should be about entertainment. It shouldn’t just be about technique, it shouldn’t just be about that one particular dancer showing off how good they are,” Almazan said. “It should also make the audience connect and feel something, and I think that theatrical aspect of it really gives that entertainment side. And that’s what a performance, I think, should have.”
For more information on the Orlando Salsa Congress, visit www.orlandocongress.com.