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Originally posted on Salsaweb NY in 2000
Hong Kong Salsa
Thanks to modern day technologies, global communication is remarkable nowadays. It has definitely made the world a smaller place and information can now flow smooth and fast. With the help of the Internet and more realistic traveling opportunities, Salsa has spread to South America, Europe, and the Far East from the Caribbean and New Yorks Spanish Harlem. Five years ago, who would have thought that I could one day come back to my native city to perform and teach Salsa?
Over the last couple of years Salsa has boomed in Hong Kong. Several Cuban bands such as Cubanismo have visited this glamorous city saturated with cellular phones and Mercedes Benz. In August I was invited to come and perform in various events and to conduct Salsa workshops. The biggest event was "Salsa Night" which took place at the beautiful HITEC Grand Rotunda, the first column-free ballroom style rotunda hall in Hong Kong. The lighting and sound systems were superb. More than 400 local Salsa lovers attended the event which took place from 3PM until midnight. The sponsors and organizers treated us royally and professionally. My partner for this trip was Maestro Jimmy Anton and together we conducted 4 "New York Style Salsa" workshops 6 hours straight before our dance performances. Many of the attendees had enough stamina to attend all 4 workshops, with an average of 135 people each. To my pleasant surprise, they were very interested in our "shines" and kept asking for more. At the end of the evening, Jimmy and I performed two routines - Tito Puentes Picadillo and Fiesta a la King. The one thing that Jimmy and I are not used to was a relatively tame audience Especially coming straight from the Bacardí Congreso de la Salsa in Puerto Rico where the crowds screamed so loud you could hardly hear the music, this felt somewhat foreign to us. For Asians, Salsa is still a shock to their system. Most Asians are not raised to flaunt their bodies, or to express their feelings as openly as Westerners and Latinos. Hugging their parents is not done often, let alone watching them kiss each other on their anniversary. Even though the love of Salsa is established here, the people are not yet expressing their excitement as wildly as the average Latino audience. It took us a few gigs to get used to their "calm, cool, and collected applause". This does not mean, however, a lack of enthusiasm by any means. After our 2 routines the audience were yelling "Otra, otra, otra..." and we did an encore number to El Canarios "La Paella". Some were even asking for our autographs on our posters and flyers, and many expressed interest to continue learning our style. My phone was ringing off the hook with keen Salsa lovers.
After the events, I have decided to stay for a few months to carry on teaching "New York Style Salsa" here. I have since learned that many New York dance instructors have been to various foreign countries to teach workshops, yet in such a limited time frame the people couldnt absorb fully the information. When I went to Argentina last year for the same purpose and recently to Japan to attend some Salsa events, the biggest comment I have heard is that once these overseas instructors leave after 5 days of workshops, most students tend to forget and fall back to their same old routine. Therefore I hope that with my slightly prolonged stay in Hong Kong, I could assist them digest the information we brought. After all, I am one of them and I want the Salseros here to be able identify with me.
Since Salsa is still at the early stage here, people are very hungry for information. The passion is solid, and more and more venues are catering to Salsa events almost every night of the week. There are Hong Kong born instructors as well as instructors who have moved here from overseas. They each have their own styles and are active in organizing Salsa events such as the Salsa Cruise, Rueda workshops, beach parties etc. Female instructors are scarce and the ladies are yearning for more examples to look up to. In mingling with the local Salseros I have noticed that many have learnt from L.A. instructional videos. The name Salsa Brava seems to be a household name, yet our famous Mambo King Eddie Torres remains unknown to most. Aside from familiarizing the people here with more Mambo celebrities such as the Godfather himself, other things Im working on are encouraging more direct responses from the crowd. One thing I have already succeeded in is enforcing the first "birthday dance ritual" - posses from England, France, Africa, Australia and Belgium saluted an entranced Japanese Salsera on her birthday.
The most unique thing about the Salsa scene in Hong Kong is that being an international city, there is a wide range of styles. My classes comprise of British, French, Swiss, Australians, Mexicans, Germans, Filipinos, Shanghainese, and Hongkongese. Some have studied in their own respective countries and brought with them their own unique interpretation of dancing Salsa. Most of them have never heard of "dancing on 2" and are semi-fascinated, but also semi-wary of picking up something more "complicated". However, there are also a good number of "die hards" who are determined to meet this new challenge and they come to my classes religiously. Next to the partnering classes, the "Mambo Shines" classes are very well-received. Many think its a great alternative to working out at the gym and also love the way the footwork look. I have once gone into a club and found some ladies scratching their heads trying to remember a shine from the class, and when they saw me they grabbed me with such relief and excitement to remind them. Naturally there are discussions about dancing on the "2" versus the "1" - which one is more popular, authentic etc. My answer to them is that it is all about the dancing, one is not "better" than the other. Its just that coming from New York, my strength is at the "2" school. Plus after this years Salsa Congress I have noticed that more countries are adopting this style. I want to be able to give my own people the choice - at least they now know that there is such a sensational thing as "dancing on 2", and that if they want to learn it there is a source. Thanks to the genuine support of the local instructors and my sponsor, I am finally able to do so.
Back home in New York, my biggest excitement in a Salsa club was to dance up a storm with my favorite dancers. Not that I love that feeling any less, but I have now found a greater joy when I watch the students here begin to dance what I have taught. It has certainly been challenging both for me and for them, and at the beginning everyone was hesitant to try it outside of the classroom. However, the progress is happening gradually and surely. First there was only one couple struggling to dance a Mambo, then there were two couples making an attempt. In a Salsa club last night, four couples were having a blast dancing Mambo at one point. When I left I was beaming all the way home in the cab.
The Winsome Factor -
Compiled by Manny Siverio
the publication of this article Winsome has return to New York.
Click here if you are interested in getting more in on Winsome Lee.