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A Week in London

It can't be denied that the best Salsa dancers in the UK are in London. What's more, the standard of dancing is higher overall than anywhere else. I guess it's to be expected given the size of the population and the number of Salsa clubs. Ian Brown, the Salsaweb correspondent for London, recently calculated that there are more Salsa clubs in London than in New York and Los Angeles combined. So, my advice to anyone wishing to improve their dancing is to take a trip to London. Below is a brief description of a few days I spent in London, which may give you some ideas.

A Salsa Cruise on the Thames

I started my visit to London with a boat trip on the Thames on the Friday (27t August). This was organised by Salsa London and promised an evening of Cuban and Colombian Salsa on the Thames. I met up with Anna (the Moscow correspondent for Salsaweb) and we made our way to the pier to board the boat. Like any other Salsa event, it started a bit later than advertised, then we had to sail to another pier to pick up some more people, but it wasn't long before the evening kicked off properly.

There was a mix of people on the boat, some dancers and some groups of people containing complete beginners. As such, dance lessons were given early on, beginning with merengue. This meant that the music early on was all merengue. After that, there was an introduction to Salsa and some Salsa music was played. The music through the remainder of the evening was a mix of merengue, Salsa and some Latin line dances. Not really what I look for at a salsa club, but there was a good atmosphere and I got to see the Millenium Dome and that Ferris Wheel thing (still being constructed and laid out flat).

When the boat docked and we disembarked, Anna made her way to Docklands for the opening evening of the Docklands International Salsa Festival. I made my way back to my parents' house to see my sister who was also visiting for a couple of days.

The Docklands International Salsa Festival

After a family lunch the next day, I made my way to Docklands in search of the Salsa Festival. This was organised by Louie St. Clair, who I met at the First Salsaweb Convention. Louie is an excellent DJ and also runs the Salseros web site. During the afternoons, the Salsa was to take place outdoors at a boat club in Docklands, moving indoors to the Britannia Hotel for the evening. I arrived at the boat club quite late, but managed to catch the last band of the afternoon. They were excellent but, unfortunately, I can't remember their name offhand. I met up with Anna again, but I couldn't see anyone else I knew there. I listened to the band, got some dances in and enjoyed the sunny afternoon.

When that all finished, I made my way to the hotel, where there was a brief lull in the proceedings before the evening do started. So, I ended up sitting with a group of salseros in the hotel foyer, chatting. A group of Sheffield dancers wandered along (who I seem to meet everywhere I go) and we chatted briefly before they went off to get some food. They told me that the dance the previous evening had got really hot and that the dancefloor was incredibly slippy. Then, some friends from Manchester turned up and we got chatting, trying to coordinate the arrival of other people from Manchester.

Soon after, the doors opened and we made our way into the club. I was surprised by the number of people I knew. Apart from the Manchester and Sheffield groups, there were people I'd seen at the Pontins weekend in Southport and people I'd seen in Birmingham. Jean and Robert who I'd met at the Salsaweb Convention were also there (in fact, Robert was the DJ for parts of the evening).

For the Salsa Festival, Louie had brought across dancers from New York, LA, Washington DC and Holland. These dancers put on displays during the evening and you could see the difference in styles between them. Sammy and Duplesy from the Eddie Torres school in New York had a very precise style of dancing, but still fun. Edie and Raul from LA, on the other hand, had a very showy style of dancing, with flips and other spectacular moves. Ricardo and Elba from DC had a way of dancing which managed to include a lot of humour. The dancers from Holland, Leo and Monique, were also excellent, but they were overshadowed by their eight-year old son, Josh, who stole everyone's heart over the weekend. In ten years time, he'll be the most phenomenal dancer!

As well as the Saturday night dance, I went to the Sunday night one, which was very similar. Great, driving Salsa and excellent dancers. Sunday also saw the awards ceremony. Over the past few months, Louie has been collecting votes on Salsa personalities and events. Awards were given to the winners. I don't have a list, but I can remember some of them. The best male teacher was Robert Charlemagne (could there have been anyone else). Best female teacher went to Susanna Montero. I'd never seen her before the Salsa Festival, but just from seeing her there, I have to say she is a really great dancer. I got to dance with her later in the week and she's great fun to dance with. Nelson Batista got an achievement award, Edie got an award for her Salsaweb site and Mario (whose second name I don't know) got the best new teacher award, closely followed by Leon Rose. Most of the other awards, I can't remember. To be honest, they seemed very focussed on London, so many of them didn't mean much to me.

The other high point of the night was when Ricardo from DC took over as DJ. Not only was his music great, his personality came across in a way that I don't see with most DJ's from the UK. Rather than just playing the music and keeping quiet, he'd add comments and get impromptu competitions going. One nice thing he did was, when he found out it was someone's birthday, was to get her into the middle of the floor and then, in one record, get loads of men to dance with her in turn.

Overall I had a great time at the Docklands Festival. It was a pity that I couldn't make any workshops, but the dancing was great. I also have to say that the music was excellent. The DJ's were really giving the dancers what they wanted. For an alternative view of the event, you can read Edie's comments or Raul's comments.

Carnival

On the bank holiday Monday, I made my way over to Notting Hill for Carnival. I headed for the Latin sound system, but there was plenty of time to take in the other sound systems to catch some Soca, Reggae and to see some of the floats.

When I found the Latin sound stage, I quickly found some friends from Manchester. Despite what I'd heard from other people about there being loads of non-Salsa stuff being played, the DJ's played almost all Salsa while I was there. There were gaps where they played some merengue or some of the Latin-influence chart stuff, but that was a good time to find some drinks and food.

There were plenty of dancers there and an incredible party atmosphere. A load of people I recognised from Docklands were also there and I got some really good dances. At one point, I noticed a massive, dense crowd had formed in one part of the street. When I finally got to where I could see, I found Edie and Raul dancing in the centre with everyone watching them! They then started an impromptu dance class!!

Mambo City

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I spent the next couple of days not dancing at all, but by Thursday my feet were itching to dance again. When I saw Jean and Robert at the Carnival, they'd told me about their new club in Wembley, called Mambo City, so that was where I went on Thursday. Fortunately, Mambo City is in a pub just across the road from North Wembley station, so it was easy to find (the pub is called Bootsy Brogan's).

I arrived at the end of the lesson, which looked like it had been great fun, and so I got to dance almost immediately. It's a friendly, low-key event, with Robert doing the DJ-ing. Robert and Jean were the perfect hosts during the evening, going around dancing with everyone and offering little tips to the beginners. I have to say that they are two of the nicest, most genuine people I've met. Jean told me that they're trying to get a club going with the same sort of atmosphere that Salsa clubs used to have a few years ago, where everyone's having fun and there's no attitude. They've certainly succeeded, judging from the night I was there and I wish them luck with what I hope will turn into a popular club.

Salsa Fusion and Salsa Palladium

I decided to round off my visit to London with a trip to a couple of clubs I'd heard loads about; Salsa Fusion and Salsa Palladium. Salsa Fusion happens every other Saturday at Notre Dame Hall, just off Leicester Square. Salsa Palladium is every Saturday, just around the corner, in a club next door to the Equinox.

I went to Salsa Fusion first and, to be honest, I was a little disappointed. There were plenty of good dancers, but the music wasn't really what I was after, with loads of slower stuff. To be fair, it was a good club, just not as good as I'd been led to believe. The club itself is actually a ballroom (dating from the 40's, I understand). They only have a drinks licence to 11:00, but they stay open until 2:00 and you can still buy soft drinks until they shut.

Susanna Montero got up on stage at one point and said that one of her friends was about to leave London. They got her into the middle of the dance floor and got a load of men to dance with her. When Ricardo did this at Docklands, he said that he hoped he was going to start a new custom in the UK. Judging by this, it looks as if he has.

At about 1:00, I left Salsa Fusion and went over to Salsa Palladium. It was a completely different experience. Whereas Salsa Fusion was a really large ballroom, the Palladium was a small room. Salsa Fusion was decorated in a vintage way, the Palladium was really modern. To me, the biggest difference though, was the music. It was much more hard-edged and just what I wanted.

I really enjoyed myself at the Palladium and, after 2:00 when Salsa Fusion closed, a load of the dancers that I'd seen there also came in. In fact, I thought I saw the DJ's and the doorman from Salsa Fusion there too. Eventually, as it started to empty out, I made my way to my night bus home

To finish, I'll just say that you have to visit the Salsa clubs in London. The standard of dancing down there is better than anywhere else I have visited in the UK. What's more, people on the Salsa scene in London seem really friendly. Whenever I asked a really good dancer to dance, I never got turned down. People I met at one event would say hello to me at the next event I turned up at. So, if you get the chance, go dancing in London. You will come back a better dancer.

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