Salsa > Toronto Salsa Scene

Discussion in 'Salsa' started by Pass It On, Jul 1, 2003.

  1. Pass It On

    Pass It On New Member


    Where We've Been and Where We're Going with All this Dancing on the Spot
    Reprinted with the permission of The Business of Dance and Music (part of a larger article)

    ….. Introducing Lula Lounge, the 1st Annual Canada Salsa Congress, Soles Dance Studio’s Choreography Programs

    Today, Salsa in Toronto can now be called Toronto Salsa. We have cultivated enough time and talent to develop a unique and thriving community. Despite the many varied opinions and reasons for being from this community, there are three common opinions that are shared by all who were interviewed or featured in this article:

    Salsa is a form of communication/expression.

    Salsa is a variety of many things

    Salsa must always remain a pleasure.

    However, with this new chapter in popularity and accessibility in Toronto Salsa, new concerns regarding its direction and future have risen.

    I asked Jennifer if she thought our community was ‘divided.’ She said yes, BUT, that compared to other Salsa cities, we weren’t nearly as ‘catty.’ Toronto maintains reputable good manners. Salsa performances, competitions, companies and a more global arena, naturally create more rivalry and ego.

    Nicole described the current Toronto Salsa scene, as thus:

    “I think Toronto is already well on its way to becoming a city with a roster of high-calibre dancers … without a doubt there are substantially more talented dancers on the dance floor. Most clubs have at least a 75% Salsa format if not higher … these days being asked to dance is often followed by the question "on 1 or 2?" as though you were being served sugar for your coffee. The fear of rejection or being left on the dance floor has become a reality for some. There is talk of the "mercy dance" among some of those who consider themselves to be talented. The competitions at local clubs have dropped off and Berlin seems to be the only host. Instructors are bountiful. The Cumbia style of Salsa is considered ancient and the only way to dance is New York, L.A., Puerto Rican, Cuban, hold your hand like this, style like that, lift your chest, nose over toes, more tone, spin faster, head rolls, body rolls, hip shakes, tilt your head to the left just like this, on 1, on 2, on clave, like Frankie Martinez, like Francisco Vasquez, how about a little Afro-Cuban........blah blah blah. There are 100 variations of the neck dip, there are cartwheels, flips, lifts etc. There are very few smiles and some people look down right serious. “

    “Certainly the increase in talent can be attributed to the new styles, the hunger and passion to learn more, dance more, teach and understand more about some of the most incredible music you will ever hear in your life. Knowledge is a great and powerful thing but should not be limiting nor should it take away from something that is first and foremost pure and uncomplicated FUN!”

    Nicole emphasized that, at this point in her career, her interests were far from the competitive side of the business. After 7 years of training in L.A., New York and Miami, Nicole indicated a desire to search internally rather than externally to further develop her craft. “I feel the need to stay home and focus on my own creativity with material. This is where I'm at now and I'm really enjoying the experience and the challenge. I work a lot on choreography for the studio as well as with other people and industries and this seems to be the right thing for me now. It's what I need to do to become better.”

    Roberto Sanchez, who had taken a sabbatical away from promoting, returned two years ago surprised by the “kung-fu” quality of the dance.

    “Natural body movements are less and less. And me, even now, I can still follow the timbales as though I were still a teenager.” He also noticed that Salsa events had minimal promotion and investment by the club owners. There were too many people running events without formal training in entertainment or promotion. He was appalled at the amount of ’water-drinkers’ hanging around the nightclubs and that only Salsa bands were representing the entire Latin market. “Dancers need to be dancers and get real promoters back into the scene.”

    “I also noticed a change in the crowds and the regular customers were not coming anymore. I don’t know if you remember when the Blue Jays players, many Latin government officials and others would visit Berlin Night Club. Well, today, none of these people are here anymore. Remember many are from the Dominican Republic, and their tradition is Merengue, Bachata, Rock Latino, Reggae, etc.”

    “Lets analyze! Who do we blame? Is it management that does not know what they are doing or is it the people that don’t want to visit the nightclub anymore. Here is free advice from someone with a diploma in hotel and restaurant management and also someone who has 16 years of solid experience in dealing and communicating with customers in the English and the Latin market.”

    “First of all, Latinos are converted into 20 Latin Countries. We dance the same rhythm which is a variety of Baladas, Boleros, Salsa, Merengue, Cumbia, Bachata, Cha-cha-cha, Vallenato, Ranchera, Mambo, Musica Andina, Grupero, Tejano, Flamenco, Paso Doble, Tango, Romanticas, Brincadito, Musica de protesta, Rock Latino, Reggae Latino, Hip Hop Latino, Dance Latino. If you only play Salsa, where else do these people go? Obviously you are excluding all this market and concentrating on people that like Salsa only … There is too many people deciding for what they want and not for what is needed to bring new customers.”

    Alberto, who competed with Roberto, back in the day, for the Ontario Place spot in the summer Latin Festival, echoed some of Roberto’s sentiments. When questioned, in his interview with Dance from the Heart, on the direction of the Toronto Salsa community, he said,

    “Well ... um, what can I say? It's a free country. Okay. Salsa. You know the word means Hot Stuff, means picante-hot. Right now, it's not the way it used to be. Now everyone else practically they are dancing Mambo. That's what it is, it's Mambo.”

    “I'm the founder of Berlin's and it used to be that there were thousands of people there every Tuesday night - there was a line up... a lot of energy. It was amazing, and it was growing and growing ... and, right now, if you look at it, it is competition and the clubs are getting empty. And people are saying that it's growing, but it's not growing.”

    “A lot of people who are the hard dancers, the Salsa dancers, they are not dancing anymore because they find it a little bit boring, they are not feeling that it's dancing right now; it's like so … down. I don't know ... I hardly go to the clubs anymore. I like to dance my style … Mind you there is some beautiful things with this new style as well, so no I'm not saying it's all bad, and everything has a beauty, but it's just like I said, it's different and that is the way I find it."

    Toronto Salsa was suffering an identity crisis, Frank said. As we grow so quickly in styles and technique we often forget why and where these moves come from – like speaking the language but not knowing what the words mean. “We put the tap there to help students keep time. Once the student learns the timing they can stop tapping!”

    “Be careful how you blend Afro-Cuban styling with ballroom dancing! Of course it’s beautiful but you can’t be gyrating all over the place when you decide to dance ballroom.”

    In his opinion, choreographed material should be reserved for competitions and performances and not on social dance floors. He believed that schools that trained dancers should emphasize the difference between social dancing and performance dancing. However, a bit of standardizing in musicality, timing and representation was in order. Standardizing could improve the qualifications and fairness of the way competitions and performances were arranged and judged. It is Frank’s hope that the rise of the World Salsa Federation will help in this standardizing. The World Salsa Federation has been working to enter Salsa as an Olympic sport.

    Jennifer’s passion for Salsa excellence has not waned since her initial infection and believes there is still much room for learning and growing in maintaining world-ranking Toronto Salsa dancers. The elements that have excelled Toronto Salsa – shines, styling, dancing on ’2’, L.A. styling and choreographed routines – can be developed further. Her ambition does not stem from a desire to win awards or singular performances; the only standards for excellence to live by are the ones she has set for herself. Jennifer also encourages all disbelievers to try dancing on ‘2.’ She is confident that once Toronto dancers have had a true taste for it, its popularity will grow as fast as dancing on ‘1.’

    Jennifer’s efforts have resulted in the first Annual Canada Salsa Congress in Toronto to be held in October 2003. The event will bring international acclaim for Toronto Salsa and is encouraging participation from cities in the US and UK. Recently, the Congress needed to relocate to a larger downtown hotel to accommodate the event.

    Michael shrugged at the popularity of ‘ballroomized’ N.Y. and L.A. style Salsa, saying these dancers have different reasons to dance than him. Technical finesse and challenges, performances, the desire to compete, win and be seen will always result in the need for a new level and a new challenge, which leads to dissatisfaction.

    When asked how he continued to challenge himself without competition, Michael said he simply trusted in timing, that “everything will come in its own time.” He is open to appreciating new sounds and movements – which, if it is any good, will have a lasting impression on him and come out in his dance.

    “The less you do, the more you can do. You have the room to fully explore what you have.”

    I asked him if he would participate in the Canadian Salsa Congress or want to have some influence over our Salsa community’s direction. He said that his best influence upon the community was to continue to dance and let people come to him. His interest was to teach dance as self- expression and as part of his culture, his roots and his love of life. He did not want to shout to be heard.

    With the introduction of Soles Dance Studio’s Choreography Program, our Toronto social dancers have more opportunities to advance their skills to a professional performance level. When questioned about the Choreography Program, Nicole explained, “I try to create programs and workshops based on what students at varying levels in our programs need and want in order to become better dancers. As we saw with our choreography programs, performance training really generates an entirely different way of thinking by raising the bar a little higher and setting a standard that may not be of tremendous importance to the social dancer and creating a greater awareness of self and movement.”

    Wilson Acevedo said that fusion/evolutions in Latin music and dance were good as long as we maintained the roots of the rhythm. To learn new things you needed the old first. An example of the benefits of the roots was his band’s decision to introduce a traditional acoustic instrument called the vibraphone creating as clear a sound as any other instrument plugged into an amp. “Without an amp,” Wilson repeated, proudly. The sound is very effective, too. To listen to Caché live, the ears would think they were hearing a studio recording.

    Caché, was formed in 2002. “Each member of Caché contributes his own background, creating a multicultural vibe which a wide range of people in Toronto identify with. While many of Caché's musicians have spent most of their lives in Canada, they are proud of their Canadian (St.Catherines), Colombian, Venezuelan and South African roots. Each musician has a story to tell about their past, a struggle for a better life which becomes one of the strongest influences in the work Caché does.”

    “Yes, St.Catherines,” Wilson repeated. “Many people refer to Salsa in different styles including Cuban, New York and Puerto Rican. Working together, the members of Caché have formed our own style of Salsa, which we consider uniquely Canadian.”

    “More people want to listen to Latin music and more people want to learn to play Latin music” Salsa’s popularity provided musicians like Wilson with more choices. Back in the day, it was hard to create new sounds because there weren’t enough musicians (lots of singers, not enough musicians). Now, more students were interested in Latin music and more international musicians were being encouraged to stop-over and play in Toronto. Again, the popularity of Latin pop stars was also partly responsible for the Latin dance and music boom.

    “Whether you are Latin or not, the music makes people feel good,” Wilson said. “At the heart of Latin music is percussions – a natural rhythm that lets you glide away. Not like reggae, where you glide TOO far away (heheh). City people can appreciate this differently than ‘tropical’ communities where their lifestyles are always, ‘Go, go, Gadget, go!’” In the background of our phone interview, I heard a young child demanding attention and very soon, Wilson, himself, had to go.

    Wilson’s main concern for the industry was education. Sound technicians needed to incorporate real Latin instrument sounds into their repertoire. “Conga sounds must sound like real congas. Clubs can’t cut up an eight piece Latin band to save costs. You take four players out of a band, you no longer have the same band.” Wilson applauded the efforts of Howard Laurie – Lula Lounge’s sound engineer who educated himself on the sounds of Latin instruments and music.

    In May 2003, Lula Lounge celebrated its one-year anniversary. Wilson, Michael and Sarita considered Lula to be the preferred alternative to the popular Toronto Salsa scene.

    These following quotes are care of the Lula Lounge’s website:

    “The doors of Lula Lounge blew open on May 31, 2002 to a hungry crowd of 400 Latin Jazz devotees. The night ruptured Toronto’s live music scene saturating the stage with dense polyrhythms and percussive explosions in true descarga style. 2002 was not only the beginning of Lula, but of the Lounge’s influence on the urban scene eagerly incorporating visual art and performance theatre into their billings. Born from Open City a Dufferin & Dundas arts collective and community of friends, Lula maintains its commitment to self-expression and the street level consumption of art, music and food.”

    According to Michael, Open City was the result of Jose Ortega arranging to have Michael teach Salsa at his studio in 2000. This came with a potluck and a cabaret of entertainment from the neighbours. Michael said that, eventually, this was declared by all participants as the “best Monday night in Toronto.” The community of Dufferin and Dundas responded to these events as an alternative to the Latin club scene that, in their opinion, was becoming less a pleasure and a celebration of their culture.

    “Lula Lounge hosts some of the most famous local and international acts from all genres like … Caché (Canada), Son Ache (Canada), Issac Delgado (Cuba), Lo’Jo (France), Mayra Caridad Valdez (Cuba), Ralph Irizarry (USA).”

    Sarita said that the Cuban Salsa Congress, coming in May 2004 would also have a massive impact on the way Salsa was danced internationally. “What has been hidden for so long will now be revealed.”

    She was not opposed to Salsa competitions or performances – it was a variation of Salsa that had its own beauty. However, this variation magnified Salsa as a show and a display – a product. More alternatives and options were needed to embody the term Salsa as a sauce of variety. “Remember that the core of Salsa is to communicate. The body is an instrument to express your ideas. If we all have one and the same idea ….?”

    I asked both Sarita and Michael if they thought the roots of Salsa were at risk of being lost.

    At first, Michael said, yes, but after a moment he said that as long as the countries, where the roots came from, continued to exist, then the roots would never die. The proof was how deeply ingrained his reasons for dancing were and how his own life was tied to his home roots.

    Sarita said, “Nothing can ‘ruin’ Salsa. As long as the rhythm is true, then Salsa will stay alive. Afro-Cuban music is a mixture of movement that is natural. So is evolution.”

    Ramiro Puerta said, “The point to remember is that Caribbean music is always transitional. There are new rhythms emerging all the time. It doesn't become something, because it's still becoming."

    Certainly, without such fanaticism and profit, Salsa might never have reached me and I would not be writing this article. As cities, such as Toronto, continue to expand and develop, a boom was required to draw the average city person out of their reserves and inhibitions to explore sensuous limitations. Salsa is a source of invaluable freedom, which seems harder to come by with this expansion and development. This conversion into marketable Salsa was necessary to create the boom. Profits pay for exposure, development, education and, of course, misinterpretation. The difference between dancing as a show and dancing as part of the crowd now requires more active definition. Toronto Salsa is no longer just a hobby or pastime. It is a hobby, a pastime, an industry, a consumer market, an art, a career, a history, a culture, a national, trans-national and international icon, etc., etc., etc. What Toronto makes with all of this variety is left to the next progressive step.

    I’d like to thank all the participants in this article for their time and effort. To all globe-trotting Salseros/as, please feel free to visit our city and say hello to these fine people who are the Toronto Salsa Scene. And tell them who sent you!

    © June 29, 2003

    bios and acknowledgements

    Musical Director/Founder of Caché

    Please say hello to Wilson and the Caché members on any Saturday night at Lula Lounge. Wilson has been playing Latin percussions in Toronto for 10 years. The indication of this is when searching for biographical information about Wilson, most online information leads to his name as a member in a music event or band. Nevertheless, from what I did gather from our short phone interview was that, on top of being a dedicated musician, he is also a devoted father and husband. (He should let me write bios for him and his fellow musicians.)



    Dance instructor, performer and choreographer. Steps Dance Studio

    Most striking about this young lady is the tireless energy within such a compact frame. She teaches dance instruction in various locations throughout Toronto, such as Manhattan Fuel (formerly known as Berlin) and Ice Lounge. She also welcomes all salsa-lovers to take part in the upcoming Canada Salsa Congress. She promises an event to remember. Please check out her website for more info.



    Dance instructor, performer, promoter and choreographer

    Babaluu’s, in Yorkville, is Frank’s favourite Salsa haunt. You can’t miss this man’s bright smile and slender, ballroom-esque frame. Start your opening line with something like, “so I heard you know a thing or two about salsa,” and that should get him going. Frank is currently available for private instruction and teaches group classes at Smokey Joes on Mondays. Stay tuned, as Frank has been working on the idea of opening a new Latin and Modern dance studio in Toronto. A more in-depth bio can be found at Dance from the Heart Studios


    Dance Instructor/Choreographer. Soles Dance Studio

    Nicole is best observed in her dance studio, at the helm of one of her many Latin dance classes. Not only is it a pleasure to witness this young lady’s strength of character and leadership but to hear the many original metaphors she uses in describing Latin movement to her students. The school hosts many Sole’s Night Out events at various locations in Toronto. For more information, please check out her website:



    Latin Dance Promoter/Dancer/Instructor/Actor. Dance from the Heart Studios

    Another that has shied from the Latin clubs recently, Alberto Gomez has one of the longest standing and exceptional dance careers in the Toronto Salsa community, having danced for many of the Fania Allstars, hosted and won dance competitions spanning twenty years and organized various Latin dance troupes and performances. For the full interview with Dance from the Heart Studios, please check out their website.



    Dance instructor, performer and artistic director of Ire Omo

    To witness this lady dance, is a pleasure to the eyes and ears. You can find Sarita dancing at the Habourfront Centre and Spanish Centre on Hayden St. Currently, her specialty and focus is Afro-Cuban dance. She loves to dance at Lula Lounge and Babaluu’s. Please check out her website for more info.


    Latin Musician and Film Director

    The quotes from Mr. Puerto used in this article were drawn from an article previously published in the Toronto Star. [Star in Friday, January 27th, 1989, D3 called, "Band Leader predicts Salsa boom," by Mitch Potter.]

    During his life, he was an active participant in both Toronto’s Latin music and film communities and this article pays due homage to his memory. Please check out these various websites for more information about his work.

    {links broken - removed}


    Latin Dance Promoter/Instructor/Dancer/Musician. festivaldefestivales

    “Roberto has 16 years experience in ‘Latino Night Club’ promotions and has been involved with music since the mid-seventies. He has various musical tastes including Latin, Blues, Old School, Hi energy and Jazz.” You can find him at Manhattan Fuel on Tuesday nights and is currently working on a slew of new Latin night locations on King Street. Stay tuned. Please check out his website for more info.



    Dance Instructor and Performer

    Michael is active in performance dance and theatre. Since arriving in Canada in 1994, he has appeared in production after production in Toronto dance theatre. He recently finished a production with Moonhorse Dance Company at the Theatre Centre. Michael can be found teaching Salsa at Cerveserja on Special Event Fridays and Lula Lounge. During the months of June and July, he teaches at the Trinity Bellwood Park (Dundas/Shaw) on Mondays. This man does not have his own website but search his name on and his resume will unfold.


    Thank you to the following websites for use of their information:

    Dance from the Heart Studios

    Soles Dance Studio

    Latin Percussions Inc.

    Toronto Star Archives
  2. New Member

  3. Sagitta

    Sagitta Well-Known Member

    Thanks td. :D
  4. squirrel

    squirrel New Member

    Hmmm... interesting article...

    I think this is what is happening to the local Salsa scene as well...

    The people who started dancing years ago (most of them) don't go out dancing anymore... competition is fierce (and many times people try to stab you in the back) and the meaning of Salsa is somehow lost... :( It saddens me to see it, as in a way I am from "the old guard"... I started Salsa when things were just about to change (but hadn't changed yet).

    I know there is something called evolution or change... and I have adjusted as best I could... I do fast spins, shines, styling and am trying now to learn on2... I know how to do acrobatics, but don't use them in social environment... Still... there is something missing... something I see in old school dancers, or when I watch young Latinos (without proper dance training) just moving to the beat... I doubt they know how to do a double spin, let alone 40 multiples... I am sure they cannot follow or lead most of the advanced moves... but they have something... I call that SABOR or FLAVA...
  5. Medira

    Medira New Member

    For those of you in the Toronto area, this is the weekend for Salsa on St. Clair. I'd check it out if I wasn't going to be away all weekend long.

    It starts at 7pm tonight on St. Clair, just west of Bathurst and continues throughout most of the weekend. :)

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