LA-Style salsa competition brings back the original flavor to the LA scene as it takes flight for its 2nd year!
The warm light illuminates the empty dance room as the dust clears. The barre creaks as pressure is placed against it while a few dancers are stretching in some remote area in the studio. The halls reverberate with infectious Latin beats originating from the class downstairs. In the meantime, the line of guests entering the hugely popular night spot begins to form. It is 8:30 pm, Friday night, January 8, at the illustrious Granada in the City of Alhambra, and last minute preparations are being made for the evening’s event. Famous for its 3-story, massive dance hall and classy ambiance, The Granada is one of a few venues that support, nurture Latin dance in Los Angeles. Every day a dance class can be found being held; while, the weekends are packed with mobs of attendees filling every corner of the facility. On average, 500-600 bodies may fill the main floor on a regular Saturday night. Special events and dance competitions are held frequently; while, live bands consistently grace the stage almost every week. It’s no wonder why this venue is the perfect spot to hold the inaugural evening of the 2nd Annual LA’s Top Social Dancer competition.
This is a salsa dance competition in the style of a Jack and Jill format. The competitors are randomly paired up with partners on the evening of the competition. No set choreography is established, and only the DJ will select the song to which the dancers will dance. No real preparation can be made prior to the contest. Therefore, the dancers are judged based on how well they dance while in the moment. It’s truly a test of the dancers’ skills. There are 6 weeks of preliminary rounds (or heats) where competitors may qualify for the finals on February 19. Each week of the preliminaries, couples are selected for the finals based on audience applause. “There is no cap on how many can qualify, but only 2 or sometimes 3 couples may be selected.” There are 5 couples each week, and they may dance together in a group or individually to a 1:30 minute edited song. Lifts and tricks are not allowed; one foot must remain on the floor at all times or risk disqualification. Unlike the preliminary rounds, the finals are the ones that are judged by professional judges who have remained undisclosed until the evening of the final competition. In addition, multiple rounds may occur prompting eliminations per round until the final 3 couples are left to battle it out amidst a sea of spectators cheering them on throughout the contest. There are two divisions where competitors may qualify—professional and open. Professionals are those competitors who are paid to teach or perform on an ongoing basis, choreographed for dance companies or won competitions. The open division includes all of those who have never been paid to teach or perform. All competitors are judged on seven categories: Musicality, Partner Connection, Timing, Technique, Style Representation and Enjoyment, Presence, and Audience Response. Winners and runner-ups are awarded $2000.00 in prizes, trophies, and medals.
Considering the success of last year’s competition, a large waiting list of dancers have signed up for the following weeks ahead promising an array of spectacular dancing and heightened energy that is exciting the event’s organizers and spectators. Talks have (in fact) been made to include a Bachata division after the conclusion of this contest soon thereafter inspiring possibly the inclusion of other styles in the future. All will depend on how well this year’s competition goes. If social media is any kind of an indicator, the YouTube videos of last year’s professional and open division finals alone received 12,428 and 1,409 views respectively. (https://youtu.be/3NGhkcBh7eE & https://youtu.be/aMlITmsvdKQ). International competitors particularly from South America have also approached organizers requesting that they write them letters of invitations for visa applications in order to compete in the competition. 104 Facebook members have shown an interest in attending the current competition while 79 have confirmed that they are going to attend.
The event itself was organized by the Granada’s event coordinating staff, the owner Earl Miller, and famed dancers and event organizers Laura Luu and Alejandro Delatorre. Last year’s competition took almost a year to prepare, implement and market in order to bring the excitement, energy, and quality to the audience. The same will occur this year. The environment surrounding the whole event (according to Ms. Luu) is synergetic. Everyone competing are good friends or frequent acquaintances who have been around the salsa scene for years and have gathered to discover what new creative ideas have sprung out. The event is about discovering the new energy that is currently in the scene while bringing back the energy that initially attracted salsa dancers back in the day that inspired them to reach a higher level of dance.
One such dancer is Laura Luu, the event’s organizer and host. She has been dancing for over 20 years getting her start in jazz and ballet, and then salsa entered her life. “It was love at first sight,” as she described it. She initially didn’t know what the dance was and didn’t care. She knew only that she had to do it. She had a corporate job, but left it to pursue dance full-time. Eight years later, she hasn’t looked back. She has competed in Pro-Ams, team-level, and couples-level competitions, and she has recently opened a dance studio (Moving Arts Studio) in Montebello where she holds daily classes. The fact that she had competed many times over in her professional career gives her a unique perspective on the competition. She emphasizes her empathy towards the competitors and what they go through emotionally and physically, and she is always open to offer advice and answer any questions they may have. For her, she’s there to motivate the competitors to give it all they have in this competition; so that, they can shine and add to the energy of the whole experience. Ms. Luu was kind enough to take the time to discuss the competition, what was involved, and what role it has taken in the LA salsa scene.
James Daza: How did the concept of organizing the competition come about?
Laura Luu: Alejandro Delatorre of The Granada actually approached me, and I have been fortunate that The Granada as a whole has reached out to me with a lot of projects. I love doing events, especially those that bring a lot of great dancers together and represent LA. My heart is in LA. The dancing is here. It’s great here, and whatever we can do to represent it is a good thing. So, it was a collaboration between the Granada, myself, just ideas about what we can do to bring the energy back to when you first started to dance salsa. What was that energy like? And I think we’ve captured it.
JD: Since we’re on the subject, what was the energy like a few years back?
LL: Oh my gosh! When I first started dancing salsa, it was when you could go to Steven’s Steakhouse and see top dancers just doing a lot of just…freestyle on the dance floor. Really, really great dancing and just changing partners. You get so many ideas. I don’t know where or why it has changed, but it’s not like that as much anymore where so many great dancers are in one spot. That’s what it used to be. You could go out to and…well back then there were less clubs. So, on any particular night there’s really one hot spot. So, everybody was there. So, you could see a lot of great dancers all together. So, that’s what we’re trying to bring back.
JD: What is the biggest difference between this competition compared to the current competitions that are out there right now?
LL: In this competition, you don’t have to necessarily prepare although there IS preparation. Being a great dancer takes more than just a week preparation. This is a culmination of everything that has lead you up to this point. I think that’s what makes it exciting because for you as a dancer, this is a test of everything you’ve known up until this day. It’s not putting together one routine to one song. Someone can just learn movement. Someone can learn to look a certain way, but this is the essence of who you are. This is everything that you’ve trained up until now. So, that is the biggest difference.
JD: Who were last year’s amateur and professional winners? Will they be coming back?
LL: Yes!! It’s so exciting! Last year, Alex Ordaz won in the Open Division and Danielle Woods was his partner. In the Professional Division, Cristian Oviedo was the champion with Savannah Malone. In week 1, both Alex and Cristian are both coming back to defend their titles.
JD: How does that change the format of the competition because you have the reigning champions competing?
LL: I think the stakes are definitely higher, and but that’s what we want. Last year we laid out the foundation and now we’re building on it. We are along for the ride with everybody else. We set it up, but now it’s about the energy that everybody brings. Competitors coming back to defend their title is always a game changer. It’s going to definitely up the stakes but I think it’s going to make it a lot more exciting too.
JD: How would you describe last year’s ambiance/vibe of the event?
LL: Wow, I don’t think there are enough words to describe it. On the night of the finals, I came away with such a buzz and such a reminiscent feeling of when I first started salsa dancing. When you first start, it’s like that beautiful euphoric feeling of discovery, of something that’s life-changing. If you watch the videos that capture the finals and that winning moment, you could see the people in the audience reacting and cheering on the dancing. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen that kind of energy. I don’t know if the city is jaded because we’ve seen so much talent here, but it was a different kind of reaction & energy…It’s that spontaneity. When you see dancers who have never danced together before in their life and look at what they’re doing. Oh! My God! It just brings people back to that feeling of joy, that sheer joy of just going with the music, of going with your partner. No script. And then for new dancers – they get inspired – that this is where I can go with this. This is the level I can attain. It’s very exciting.
JD: Do you feel that creativity has lagged behind over the years or do you think the creativity is still there but we haven’t seen enough of it?
LL: That’s a very interesting question. I think creativity is always there. I think that in LA, we are so lucky to have so much talent and when you see talent at such a high level, all the time, people regard it as an everyday kind of thing. But if you are outside of LA, people don’t have access to that kind of talent and that many classes and those many events, and so the energy is very different because they know it doesn’t come around every day. In LA, if there is a great class or a great event, you know that maybe next week, there’s going to be another great event. People think, if I miss this one, there’s another one around the corner. But that doesn’t mean that creativity has to lag. I think people just need to keep on reaching further. Keep pushing the envelope, and remind us of why we first did this. Why we first started dancing.
JD: Would you say that events like this that promote creativity more or less define the LA style now compared to others?
LL: LA style is always evolving. I think now there’s more of a curiosity about Mambo, On 2, but I think LA style has always been exciting and energetic, flashy. Even though there is a movement in Mambo, I think when people see LA style, they still get very excited even though they might not have a name for it. They know what they like, and LA style has always been like that. That’s what put us on the map. Back then, it meant tricks and flips. It doesn’t necessarily mean that anymore. It just means energy, excitement, lines, dynamic energy to the movement.
JD: Do you think with this competition it’s going to help further salsa and Latin dancing? Do you think it has given it the attention that it needs?
LL: I think that anything that sparks excitement in people is a good thing. I think that yes, our vision was to spark excitement, and anything that does that is going to put more eyes on it. So, absolutely, I think it will make people very excited about the genre and hopefully get into it because I’m all about the next generation. It’s like the College Salsa Congress that I do. It’s all about the next generation because we always have to keep growing, and that’s what it’s about. Bringing in new dancers into the scene and inspiring new dancers.
On the first week of the competition, Rudy Mancil, Joseph Alfarero, Alicia Vera, Emily Hoffman, and Angela Medina passed to the Open division finals. Both reigning champions, Cristian Oviedo and Alex Ordaz are also among the finalists. The next round of preliminaries is sure to step up the game for another fantastic finals contest. The salsa scene is a very nebulous circle that continues to grow in popularity all over the world inspiring new dancers while preserving the essence of the dance. As more events pop up promoting the music and the dancing, more need for creative innovation and expression increases yearning for the next wave of exciting, new expressive interpretations of the genre. Like anything in art, the need to connect to others and share in the human experience of personal expression binds communities together forging long-lasting relationships that help society flourish and grow. It’s a beautiful experience that is not easily articulated through words but best understood through active participation. Therefore, to really experience this world, one has to get up and step onto the dance floor and let the music and people around you move you to that state of musical, physical euphoria that is called….SALSA.
The Granada is located on 17 S First St, Alhambra, CA. 91801. For details concerning the competition or classes and events, you can visit http://www.thegranadala.com or call 626-227-2572. If you want to contact Laura Luu, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her websites at http://www.movingartsstudio.com & http://www.SalsaIntocable.com She’s also on Facebook if you want to look her up.