Southport Salsa Weekend '99

I'd booked a place on the Southport Salsa Weekend at Pontins ages ago, but it had drifted to the back of my mind in recent months. However, in the couple of weeks leading up to the Salsa weekend, I'd started looking forward to it more and more. I even took the Friday off work so that I could get there early and beat the queues at the registration desk (something I'd been warned about by my friends who'd been at the previous Salsa weekend in Brean Sands).

Of course, at the time I had planned to be at the Pontins centre, I was still in my flat, ironing my weekend's supply of black t-shirts! Still, it wasn't a big problem, since it only took me about a quarter of an hour to drive there and when I arrived at about six, the queues weren't too bad. Of course, the queue for those with surnames beginning E-M seemed to be the slowest of them all, but eventually I had the key to my apartment and, my precious wristband which would get me in to all the events of the weekend.

The only good thing about queueing was that I kept seeing people that I knew and chatting to them. Naturally, being so close to Liverpool, a large number of these people were from Liverpool, but there were also a load of people from Manchester and Birmingham that I knew too. I even bumped in to a few people from London who I'd met at the Salsaweb convention. This was one of the nice things about the weekend, meeting friends, some of whom I literally hadn't seen for years.

Anyway, after I'd moved my stuff into the apartment (including a crate of food, my sound system and my Salsa tapes), I wandered back to the main building to wait for other people I knew (including Demetris, who was sharing my apartment). In fact, as I walked back, Demetris was just arriving, so I waited for him to register (he also got to join the slow queue) and then we went back to the apartment. After some food (and watching the tennis), it was time for the first event; a disco until 5 in the morning.

The opening night disco was quite good, but I found the music a bit variable. Some of it was really good, but some of it I hated. I guess that the DJs had to try to accommodate everyone's tastes. The Liverpool crowd soon found the coolest table in the dance hall (which got quite hot at times) and we set up camp there for the weekend. Although I enjoy dancing with my friends from Liverpool, the weekend gave me a great opportunity to dance with other people from all over the country, so I started to circulate. I have to say that I didn't notice any `attitude' all weekend. I was worried that people might be a bit cliquey, but I didn't notice any of that (although some people told me they had).

At around midnight, the Mario and Maria competition took place, where male and female volunteers were randomly paired off, so that their leading and following abilities could be tested. This was in three heats of ten couples, where three couples from each heat went through to the final heat, from which the winners were chosen. This was a good competition for the first night, with a relaxed feel to it.

I eventually left at 4:30 in the morning, being physically unable to dance any more. Every time I stopped moving, I started to feel sleepy and when I tried to dance, I had no coordination left ... time to go! It was really strange walking out of the dark Salsa `club' into bright morning daylight.

I woke up at about lunchtime on Saturday, and after making myself human again (mainly by drinking large quantities of coffee), I made my way over to the main hall again to see what was happening. There, I met my friends who had been spending the morning doing workshops (either because they left the dance early on the previous night or they just had more stamina than me). They told me all about the great workshops I'd missed.

In the end, I didn't take any workshops during the afternoon, but I did spend most of the day hanging around in the main ballroom, chatting to people. A nice touch was that there were gaps between the workshops, during which the DJs played Salsa, so there was plenty of opportunity to dance during the day.

For the evening, before the main event (with Merengada), there were a couple of workshops. I took the first one, in which Robert Charlemagne showed how a man could dance with two women. I've seen him dance before, but never taken one of his lessons. I really enjoyed his teaching style and learned some good moves for dancing with two women. I then went back to the apartment to get ready for the evening.

As I said earlier, I wasn't really impressed by the music on Friday night, but Saturday night was a major improvement. Not only was the music great, there were a load of displays which were great fun to watch and Merengada played two sets. In fact, there just wasn't time for the dance competition which was scheduled for that night and it was postponed until the Sunday. This time, I stayed until the end at five, going back to my apartment in the early daylight again and remembering to set my alarm so I could get to Robert Charlemagne's class on Sunday morning.

After about four hours sleep, I woke up on Sunday morning to my alarm going off and promptly fell asleep again. I came to at about quarter past ten, leaving me with fifteen minutes to get showered, dressed and over to the main building. Needless to say, I missed the start of Robert's class, but when I got there, I'd only missed a couple of basic moves. Fortunately, I was able to find a partner and join in with the remainder of the class. It was good fun and I picked up a nice variation of a move I'd been shown at the Salsaweb convention. Robert finished with a warm down, including a number of shines (some of which I've stolen for later use).

I didn't fancy doing any more classes, so I just stood around chatting to people, drinking coffee and then went back to the apartment to try to get stuff packed ready to leave. At two, the final disco started, including the competitions. There were three categories in the competition: women leading, intermediate and advanced. The women leading was really good and it left me wondering whether men would be needed in Salsa clubs in another year's time! The most fun to watch was the couple where the follower was actually a man (rather than a woman as with all the other couples). What's more, the follower wasn't just any man, but Leon Rose, one of the best UK salsa dancers I've seen. Leon really camped it up as the follower in this couple. The winners were a couple of women from Birmingham (as, I think, the runners up were too).

The other two competitions were also great to watch, with the judges seeming to be in line with audience opinion in most cases. The only real disagreement which I had (and, I think a lot of the audience had) was with one of the couples in the advanced competition. This couple (from Birmingham, I think), put up a good performance, with a load of good moves (including some Tango leg flicks; a reference to the previous day's Tango classes), but failed to finish in the top three. Most of the audience, I think, feel that this couple should have placed somewhere (although I don't think there was any doubt about who was going to win).

After the competitions, the prizes were given out, including prizes for the Mario and Maria competition from the opening night. Then, the music started and we got a last opportunity to get some dancing in before we were thrown out!

I enjoyed the weekend so much that I've already booked my place on the next one, in Brean Sands in December. To finish with, I took the opportunity to ask Cressida Childs about her thoughts on the weekend and her plans for the future.

What do you think makes these weekends so popular?

People are immersed in a Salsa paradise for two and a half days/nights with no distractions except enjoying themselves, meeting new dancers, learning some new technique or move or style of dance, and spending time with friends for longer than a few hours at a noisy nightclub! The success is down to the organisation really - all the ingredients have to be in place. As an ex school teacher and single mother, I'm used to juggling and "multi-tasking"!!! People have to be impressed with the price too, as there's nowhere you can get what we offer! Jive weekends with a fraction of the "action" cost over 80.
What will you be keeping the same next time and what will you be changing?

I like to use teachers that are popular and have something different to impart, but at each event there is always at least 2 new faces; same goes with the djs. I like to support different teachers etc from around the country. Likewise with classes, each event hosts a new dance style for people to try (we had Street Jazz at the last one!) Maybe some international teachers in the future?
Are you planning on future weekends at Southport (or elsewhere in the North)?

Yes - next one will be sole occupancy so extra classes, 2 ballrooms etc. We will be offering 4 events a year around the country.
What was the highlight of the weekend for you?

I was very busy and so missed what was happening in classes. I thought the cabaret shows were very well received and I loved the bit where a man was led in Ladies Leading! The atmosphere was terrific!
Any other comments?

Keep coming!....I'd like the event to become international (we had a Dutch party over in Feb)