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Salsa Gets Serious
Dancers Aim To Get More Respect For A Dance That Has Remained Just A Step Above Street Level
22 January 2005
If you're unfamiliar with salsa dancing or don't take it seriously as an art form, a unique show tomorrow called Salsa X might put this Latin dance in a new perspective. After you've seen its marathon of numbers by members of no fewer than 12 local schools, you might decide that salsa is either (a) fabulous fun; (b) endlessly inventive; (c) pretty sexy; (d) all of the preceding; or (e) not exactly Martha Graham.
Salsa still seeks a seat in the dance pantheon, where the gods are ballet and a metamorphosing deity called contemporary dance. Some foreigners like the Argentine tango are strongly bidding for membership. Even that recent upstart hip-hop gets serious consideration when performed by Philadelphia's Rennie Harris Pure Movement.
Salsa, though, remains one step above street level - a dance for nightclubs or maybe light entertainment at medical conventions. This image rankles one Salsa X performer, Caroline Pare, 29. In 2001, she became the first Canadian to dance regularly in Eddie Torres's legendary New York salsa company. In a recent interview, she admitted that she was tired of people expecting salsa to be nothing but flashy, half-clad bodies.
"That goes against what Eddie taught me," said Pare, who runs a salsa school here after commuting for three years to dance and teach with Torres, known as the Mambo King (mambo and salsa are closely related through rhythm). "I want to create a dance that people will respect in a different way. Having fancy costumes is one thing - it's part of the entertainment. But it's what you do with it. Are you doing a number that will be really intricate? Is it really done to the music?"
Pare, who choreographed the Montreal International Jazz Festival's big outdoor salsa show two years ago, promised herself that in Montreal she would never perform in nightclubs, "not because I'm snobbish, but because I want to make a vision of a dance in a theatre."
Her salsa sees fusion with dances like flamenco, tango, even tap, along with salsa's traditional shines (fancy footwork) and intricate turn patterns. Pare respects salsa's history and although she loves creative innovation, she wants her dancing to acknowledge traditional salsa (the new integrating the old, one notes, is a sign of serious art). Salsa began in Cuba and Puerto Rico and took hold in 1950s New York after Tito Puente's salsa music became popular there.
Pare also refuses to perform to recordings - they tend to disconnect people from the music, she said. Tomorrow's show has the El Nino Latin Band. Pare will perform a number with a twist - her partner is a woman, Audrey Gaussiran. They'll also perform at the world's biggest annual salsa convention in Los Angeles later this year.
Toward the end of their number tomorrow, they'll be joined by two Cubans, including Julio Cesar Hong, a member of Marie Chouinard's celebrated modern dance company.
Among tomorrow's other performers are Roberto Arenas Jr. and his partner Marie-Josee Strazzero (they won a national salsa competition in Toronto last year), Sonia Kyriacou and Moris Alvaranga, Edson Vallon, and two Polish dancers, Marcena Penc and Gregory Swodczyk, who learned salsa after immigrating in 1989.
Penc travels often to New York to keep up with trends, studying with leading teachers of the new salsa generation including Tomas Guerrero and Frankie Martinez.
Salsa X could be a launching pad for some future serious salsa exploration. At the very least, predicts co-producer and well-known dance teacher Gil Sanchez-Peralta, on a winter's day, it will warm everybody up.
Salsa X takes place tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Station C, 1450 St. Catherine St. E. Tickets cost $25 in advance, $30 at the door. Call (514) 790-1245.