The Freestyle Salsa League

The Freestyle Salsa League (or FSSL for short) is a new type of competition which aims to bring the UK salsa community closer together. It's the brainchild of Joseph Davids of Latin 8 productions who has tried to create a competition which reflects the way salsa is danced in the clubs.

Many people dislike salsa competitions, saying that they don't capture what salsa is all about. They say that salsa is about spontaneity, with each dance reflecting the music which is playing and the person you are dancing with. Competition, on the other hand, is about a highly polished performance which has been rehearsed many times and is directed towards what the judges want.

The FSSL has tackled all these problems head on, with the format being devised to address these criticisms. It should also be noted that the FSSL is not saying that their's is the only way to run a competition. They feel there is room for both traditional competitions and the FSSL approach. All they are trying to do is provide an outlet for those dancers who don't like conventional competitions.

The first thing to realise about the FSSL is that it is a team competition. Each team consists of four followers and four leaders (in the two heats I've seen, the followers have all been women and the leaders have been men). Currently, there are two teams from each region to demonstrate how the competition works (for example, in the North there is a team from Manchester and one from Leeds). It is hoped that leagues will eventually be formed in each region, with each league consisting of many teams.

The competition consists of two preliminary heats and one final. In each heat, two leaders from one team dance with two followers from the other team, and vice-versa. The couples are randomly assigned and the track they will dance to is unknown until it starts playing. This is meant to capture the spirit of a typical dance in a club. To keep things natural, there are no judges and no complicated rules. Instead, the audience are given voting slips on which they write the numbers of the couple they think are best and second best.

At the end of the each heat, the votes are tallied and the two highest scoring men and women from each team go through to the final. For the final, the whole process is repeated, with one couple emerging victorious.

However, this is a team competition, and more important than the winning couple is the team score. Every vote received is added up to produce a score for the team, so every dancer (including those eliminated in the heats) contributes to their team's final score.

At both the heats of this competition I've seen so far, there has been a great atmosphere and all the competitors have been really friendly. This is what the FSSL has set out to achieve. They aren't offering prizes (apart from certificates), just giving dancers from Birmingham, for example, to the chance to show Wolverhampton what they can do. This can only be a good thing for the UK salsa scene, drawing it closer together.

It will be interesting to see how the Freestyle Salsa League develops over the coming months.