For dance addicts like me, there is no better mini-vacation than attending a congress. I’ve danced salsa off and on for years but in recent moths I’ve developed a love for another Latin dance called Bachata. If you ever go out to Latin clubs, you’re probably familiar with this romantic Dominican dance, as most places will mix in the occasional Bachata with the constant salsa music. It’s very different in feel from salsa, which is more showy and tribal. Bachata is all about your connection with your partner and when done right, it’s completely addictive.
So instead of choosing a salsa congress (of which there are about a billion) for this list item, I decided to join the performance team and some other friends from my studio Salsa Con Todo at the San Francisco International Bachata Festival this past weekend.
The atmosphere of a congress is something like trade convention meets dance movie meets summer camp. During the day the various instructors brought in from all over the world for the festival host workshops all day long from 10 am to 6pm after which there are a couple of hours of performances and social dancing until 4am.
Our own Vassili was there to perform a few songs (he’s the lead singer of a band called Children of the Revolution) and teach some workshops, including one for a new dance form called Oaxia (which I mentioned here). People seemed really excited about it and it was fun to see what we do in the wee hours of Friday nights being exported beyond our little circle. I felt a thrill at the thought that a dance form I watched being born might one day be danced all over the world.
Bachata itself is a relatively new and quickly evolving dance and in addition to straight up Bachata classes, the workshops at the festival revolved around the many kinds of dance that are being fused with Bachata, things like Zouk, Kizomba, tango and lap dancing. Yes, lap dancing.
What lap dancing has to do with Bachata is a question no one seemed to know the answer to but it came to the festivals courtesy of a dancer from Tucson called Summer Sando and the workshops are so popular that they’ve become one of the most anticipated, and most infamous parts of Bachata festivals. She teaches them to men and women along with Alejandro Reyes (aka Big Hondo), a heavily tattooed Mexican whose build resembles a cartoon superhero come to life.
Tangentially of course, these workshops have something to do with partner dancing in that they test the limits of your comfort level with both your own body and your partner’s, something that is essential for dancing Bachata or any other close embrace dance.
I was grateful to have a group of friends to do this with (some brave souls just rotated partners) not least because it was a little hard for me to keep my composure during the male portion of the dance. This was fine as my friends knew I was not laughing AT them (boys, your moves were divine) but I think I would be a terrible, giggly strip club patron.
I wasn’t so much laughing as terror stricken during our portion of the class. The adorable Summer Sando took all of the ladies into the next room where they’d provided adult beverages (thank god) and gave us a chat about the art of lap dancing and a secret signal to make to the bodyguard if anyone got too handsy.
My guy friends who helped us out with this were both respectful and admirably composed during the dancing with one small exception. We ended the routine with a turn and a slow walk away from our guy and as I was making my exit I gave my friend a sultry little nod over the shoulder, only to run smack into the chair of the couple in front of us. My friend laughed so hard he almost fell out of his chair. I definitely feel closer to all of those friends who participated and it’s fair to say I have a whole new respect for exotic dancers.
Spending a whole weekend dancing and watching others dance will give you a new appreciation for the human form and what it’s capable of. Body types along the spectrum were represented and it was inspiring to see all of these people who were so comfortable in their own skin. It felt uninhibited in a positive way, not in a drunken Girls Gone Wild way; though one girl did toss her underwear at the judges during the amateur dance competition the final night; maybe the lap dance class went to her head?
I got about seven hours sleep the whole weekend and was completely spent by Monday. But by Tuesday, I wanted to go right back.