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Brean Sands Salsa Weekender 1999

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This was to be my second Pontins Salsa weekend and a bit more of a trek from Liverpool than the fifteen minutes it took me to get to Southport last time. We ended up setting off after work, with three of us in the car. It took some work to fit everything in the car, what with everyone's food for the weekend and the numerous changes of clothes and shoes we'd all need. Perhaps next time I'll eat at the on-site places and save some luggage space.

The other two in my car were sharing a chalet with three others who had set off in the morning. That meant they had already been booked in and didn't need to queue. I, however, had to queue for about 45 minutes before I got the key to my apartment. Then I could go in to rest, before the evening's festivities started. The thing I noticed immediately was that there wasn't the same atmosphere as at the last event. This was due to the time of year and there is nothing the organisers can do about it. At the Southport weekend, in June, there were beach barbecues, impromptu games of cricket and rounders and people were generally around a lot more, sitting outside their apartments, windows open with music coming out. This time, everyone closed all their windows and doors, turned the heating up full and you only saw them as they ran from their rooms to the dance halls.

There were two halls in use for the whole of the weekend. Celebrations was the larger and that was for Salsa all the time, whereas Shades was meant to be more mixed. I headed straight for Celebrations. Each evening, there was a disco, a live band playing two sets, a dance display and some sort of competition. On Friday night, the band was Sexteto Cafe, the competition was the Mario and Maria and the `show' was a fashion show by Xenon. On Saturday, the band was Orquesta Cache, the competition was the Mixed Doubles and the show was provided by Homero Gonzalez's Fantasia Cubana (a Cuban-style cabaret show). Saturday also saw the Carnival 2000 Procession, led by the Bath School of Samba. Sunday had Salsasonica providing the live music, Angel Ortiz giving a show of NY style salsa and the Intermediate and Advanced Salsa competitions.

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The competitions were all interesting (even for me, who isn't really interested in competitions), providing entertainment, comedy and drama. The Mario and Maria competition is the one which is, perhaps, closest to typical Salsa dancing. You enter the competition as an individual and the men and women are randomly paired off. You dance to the DJ's choice of track and the best couple is selected by the judges (basically, the teachers who are at the festival). It looks like a lot of fun, but you are subject to the luck of the draw.

Saturday's competition was the Mixed Doubles, which perhaps provided the funniest moments. The rule for this competition was that any couple could enter, as long as it didn't consist of a man leading a woman. Out of the couples who entered the competition, three were selected for a `top three dance off'. One couple consisted of Leon Rose being led by Mario from London, another was two women dancing together (the leader was from Switzerland, I think) and the third couple was another two blokes, both of whom are excellent dancers from London. This last couple went on to win the competition, camping it up to an incredible degree.

Sunday brought the standard Salsa competitions for Intermediates and Advanced. Intermediate was for those who had been dancing for less than a year. It seemed to me that this was quite an unfair ruling, since it meant that the Advanced competition covered everyone from those who had only been dancing a year to professional dancers. Perhaps more categories are needed. Anyway, the heats were held in Shades at 9:30 (well, 9:30 Salsa time, which worked out at 11:00 in real time). From these, six couples were to be selected for the finals as midnight in Celebrations, in both the Intermediate and Advanced categories. As it happened, there were only seven couples entered in the Intermediate category and eight in Advanced. That made it seem a bit harsh for those who didn't get through to the final.

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The final brought drama to the competition. An excellent dancer from Birmingham, Lydia, had entered the Intermediate competition and got through to the final she had to be the favourite to win (she could even have held her own in the Advanced competition), but when the final came around, her partner was nowhere to be found. Lydia was really worried that she wouldn't be able to compete and it would have been totally unfair if that had happened. It was decided that she could be partnered by someone from the Advanced competition. It all turned out okay in the end, because she won. A special mention to Billy and Sharon who came second; keeping Liverpool alive on the Salsa scene. The Advanced competition was won by a couple who had come all the way from Holland. They amazed the crowd and judges by putting a flip in their routine (perhaps we'll see more LA-style acrobatics in future competitions).

The workshops looked great (although I didn't manage to actually get to any). Kerry Ribchester was teaching Cuban style (Casino style) Salsa, with plenty of dile que no and other street stuff. Homero Gonzalez also gave Cuban style lessons, but in the cabaret show style, with lots of dips. Angel Ortiz demonstrated some Eddie Torres New York style Salsa, with loads of shines. Robert Charlemagne gave lessons in his own, sexy style Salsa. Robert gets better every time I see him, pushing the class on to things they didn't think they'd be able to do.

To finish, I'll just say that I enjoyed the weekend. I danced until 5am every night (until I could no longer make my legs do what I wanted them to). I danced with a whole load of people I knew from Manchester, Birmingham and London and I danced with people I'd never met before. I'm looking forward to further innovations, like the choreography competition at the Southport event and I've already booked my place for the next Pontins Salsa Festival.

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