The First European Salsa Competition

(Photo: Ashley Alymann and Cristina Aragon)
Ashley & Cristina
Beginners, second place
On 24th October 1998, Club Latino (at Chillies 2, Liverpool) hosted the North West heat of the first ever European Salsa Dance Competition. I decided to go along to see what a Salsa dance competition is like (having only seen one on TV before). The Liverpool Salsa scene is quite small, so I reckoned that it would be interesting to see my friends competing.

There were to be three categories: beginners (couples where both partners had been dancing for less than a year), intermediates (for other couples) and blind date (where couples were randomly put together by drawing names from a hat). Personally, I was most interested in seeing this last category, since I felt it would capture the spontaneity of Salsa and test the skills of leading and following. The winners would qualify for later heats of the competition.

When my wife, June, and I arrived at the club, the lesson was just finishing and the place was packed. Not only were there the normal Thursday crowds, but there were also people visiting from exotic, faraway places (like Manchester and Birmingham) just for the competition. The normally crowded dancefloor was even busier than usual.

(Photo: dancing)
Some pre-competition dancing
After some dancing (tunes courtesy of Maverick from Birmingham), the competition got underway. There was to be no blind date category, just the beginners and intermediates. The beginners walked onto the dance floor, complete with numbers pinned to them. Unfortunately, this made it look like `Come Dancing', but I guess there's no other way! Jose Cardoso (DJ and leading light behind Club Latino) took to the floor to explain the rules. Maverick was to play one track and all six couples would dance to it at the same time. The judges would, at the end of the track, pick four couples to continue.

Everyone in the club had now crowded around the dance floor to watch. It must have been incredibly nerve-wracking for these couples, some of whom had only been dancing a few months, to now `perform' for such a large audience. However, they all pulled it off like professionals. Myself and my wife (like everyone else, I expect) were making up our minds as to who we felt should progress to the next stage.

(Photo: Paul John and Jackie Cullen)
Paul and Jackie
Beginners, first place
After a few minutes (although I guess it felt like hours for the competitors), the track finished and the couples left the floor. It was now the turn of the intermediates. There were eight intermediate couples and the same rules applied; four would go through to the next stage. Again the audience were making up their own minds about who should go through, whilst the judges were trying to make the decisions for real. When the track finished, the judges left the room to confer, whilst Maverick played a couple of tracks for people to dance to.

About ten minutes later, Jose came back to call the beginners back to the floor for the next stage. He only called the names of those to go through, which meant that those who had to drop out could do so unnoticed. The rules for the next stage were that each couple was to dance to a track by themselves. The judges would then rank the couples from first to fourth.

The judges had a very difficult task, since there was a range of styles to choose from. Some couples danced just as if they were at a Salsa club, putting moves together as they went. Other couples had more choreographed routines. Which way would the judges go? Would they favour the spontaneous dancers for capturing the spirit of Salsa or would they reward the time spent choreographing a routine? During the competition, there was a very supportive atmosphere from the audience. One couple who had only been dancing a few months lost the rhythm completely and had to stop, stand still and start again. When they started dancing again, the audience clapped as loudly as possible (led by some of the most accomplished dancers there).

(Photo: Zemmy Lala and Irma de Filippi)
Zemmy and Irma
Intermediates, first place
After all the beginners had danced, Jose took the floor again and announced the four intermediate couples who would now dance to a track each. Again there was a wide variety of styles, some laid back and some extremely energetic. The audience was just as supportive for the intermediates as they had been for the beginners. Every impressive move was applauded loudly. Even though I could see many people in the audience who could do far more complex things in their sleep, they were often the ones clapping loudest.

Finally, the judges once again left to discuss their individual decisions and reach a mutual agreement. I will say nothing about their decisions, except to note (smugly) that I had picked the same winners. All that remains is to wish the Liverpool representatives the best of luck against the winners of the other heats.

The Results

1st Paul John & Jackie Cullen
Place in the last sixteen (20th November)
One year free membership card for two at COPACABANA Manchester.
From Bacardi, 1 G-shock watch and 1 pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses.
2nd Ashley Alymann & Cristina Aragón
One month free entrance at Havana Manchester for two.
From Bacardi, 2 bags full of bacardi drinks.
3rd Frank McNany & Brenda McNany
Dinner for two at Salingers Restaurant, offered by The Village Hotel & Leisure Club.
4th Martyn Davidson & Carol Barrow
Two haircut vouchers complete with hair styling from X-IT, Bold Street, Liverpool.
1st Zemmy Lala & Irma De Filippi
Place in the semi-finals (4th December)
Two tickets to Juan Carlos y Los Dan Den at Cream (6 Nov 98) offered by Africa Oye.
From Bacardi, 1 G-Shock watch and 1 pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses.
2nd Paul Anthony & Dominique Hebden-McKenna
Place in the semi-finals (4th December)
Two tickets to Juan Carlos y Los Dan Den at Cream (6 Nov 98) offered by Africa Oye.
From Bacardi, 2 bags full of Bacardi drinks.
3rd William Spenser & Sharon Kelly
Two tickets to the Midlands Salsa Fusion in Birmingham (24 Oct 98)
From Roger Morris, two tickets to Carnival at Cream.
4th Brian Singleton & Karen Graham-Dosanjh
2 hours of private tuition with the Club Latino Team