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All the smart moves
1:08am Monday 10th September 2007 in News
The Rueda Congress - one of Europe's biggest salsa events - was held in Brighton and Hove at the weekend.
It is the first time there has been such a large-scale event in Britain dedicated to the popular Cuban form of the dance - which involves dancers forming a human wheel - and organisers said the city was picked because of a thriving underground salsa scene many of us are unaware of.
Katya Mira took her two left feet down to a few of the classes to see what all the fuss is about.
Grevel Lindop went to Cuba to learn how to salsa because he believes English people are not naturals at the sultry dancing style.
He said that as a nation we struggle with the co-ordination needed for the complex dance and his only chance of mastering the art was to go to its homeland and be completely retrained in how to move.
The writer, who is so passionate about salsa he travelled down from his home in Manchester for the congress, said: "It is a matter of learning how to move your hips and your upper body independently so they are co-ordinated but not going in the same direction, which is quite difficult for an Englishman to do.
"I had a gruelling two-week training which completely changed the way I move every part of my body and showed me how to make everything more fluid."
The salsa fanatic's words echoed as I stepped on to the dance floor for a beginner's class and found myself tripping over several feet, including my own.
The congress, which attracted more than 200 salsa experts from across the country and abroad, involved four days of non-stop workshops, performances and competitions at the King Alfred Leisure Centre in Hove.
There were 14 hours of beginner, improver and advanced classes and the dedicated had no reason to put their feet up after full days of dance because every evening there were salsa parties giving everyone the chance to practise their moves into the early hours at various venues across the city.
The Rueda Congress was organised by Norwegian salsa group Salsanor, which each year selects a salsa-influenced city in Europe. This year they joined forces with Brighton-based Cubashe, which runs all types of salsa classes along the South Coast.
Despite my class being the most basic of the many levels on offer, I soon discovered I was the only one who did not know what they were doing and, as Grevel had forewarned, my arms, legs and hips flailed around like an out-of-control puppet.
Rueda involves pairs of dancers forming a circle and following dance moves which are called out. Often the ladies are spun around the circle to perform each round of steps with a different man.
This meant I had to flutter apologetic eyes at one dance partner after another as I shocked them with my graceless stumbles and when I came upon teacher and event organiser Leo Henriquez the class actually came to a stop as he asked why I was so bad.
Leo, originally from Havana, has been dancing since he was four but disagrees with Grevel that English people can't dance.
After my humiliation in the class he said: "I don't think dancing is about nationality. It is not about where you come from it is about the dancer themselves.
I believe music and dancing is something you just have, like rhythm."
The teacher, from Portslade Road, had been spearheading a salsa movement in Brighton and Hove since he moved here ten years ago and said he hoped the Rueda Congress would raise the thriving scene's profile.
He plans to make it an annual event.
Leo said Rueda was the perfect form of salsa to learn by. "It is fun, it is fantastic.
When you learn Rueda you have no choice - you have to have rhythm because you are working as a team. Maybe if you dance by yourself you can miss a step or whatever but in Rueda everyone has to be doing the same thing at the same time.
"It helps you remember all the moves."
Patricia de Souza, of Hertford Road, Brighton, said she had been hooked on salsa for more than seven years and it was a social life as well as a passion.
She said: "I needed a hobby after splitting up with my husband and I have been dancing ever since. I just got the bug.
"There are so many clubs in Brighton that do salsa but it is not very well known.
People are not aware of the scene so having events like this makes it more visible to everyone.
"There are a lot of people who love to dance in Brighton and this event brings them together. People have also come from London, Cambridge, Manchester and even Norway. We are all learning lots of different moves and getting to know new friends from all over the world. It is like one big happy salsa family."
Mark Leonard, from London, agreed the dance was addictive. He said that since he went to an adult learning centre to sign on for a counselling course and found himself redirected to the salsa room, his life had been transformed.
He said: "It gives me exercise, a new skill, a whole new group of friends. It doesn't matter if you have two left feet or don't have anyone to go with.
"I went by myself to this class in Tottenham Road where there was about 200 people. It was quite nerve-wracking but before I knew it I had all these new moves and friends and was having a great time.
"This weekend has been brilliant. We learn all these moves during the day then dance the night away with them at parties."
Ingrid, 20, and Kirsten Hansen, 15, came over from Norway.
Ingrid said: "We love dancing anyway and especially Salsa. It is really funny."
- Visit www.cubashe.co.uk for more information about salsa in Brighton.