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Editor's Note: Siobhan Mortell is what I might call the "SalsaFreak" Of Ireland. She was the Salsaweb Cityguide Representative for Ireland and has been kind enough to contribute material for me in the past. This latest piece is about her experience at a Salsa Dance Competition that took place in the Summer of 2000.
It all happened at very short notice: In August I decided to go salsa festival in London. Looking up the website, a competition was scheduled. A friend in the UK was also going, so we decided to enter. There was very little time to prepare and choreograph a 3 minute piece. All that intensive work and practice. It was very hard work, but also great fun. We went to the festival, learned millions of new moves and got great tips on all sorts of things.
The competition was on the last night of the festival. I went through all my nerves 2 hours ahead, forced a dinner down with difficulty, and couldn't bear to watch the couple that danced before us in case they were spectacularly wonderful and put me off. But then when the time came, I just got out on the floor and strutted my stuff. What a thrill! Although we were not the best dancers in the competition (we had imagination and variety but needed polishing), we were strong on personality and got a really positive audience reaction. What made it for me was not so much the prize (we came third), but the great reception we got.
Because the competition was a heat for a bigger national competition, and only the first and second prizewinners in each heat went through, we thought that was that. But then there was a surprising development: I got a phone call one Tuesday afternoon several weeks later inviting us to the final the following Sunday in London. Talk about no advance warning. We hadn't even danced properly together for a month, but we took the bull by the horns, and off I went to London. I flew over on Saturday midday, and on Saturday night we went out dancing in Salsa Palladium - small and intimate, not intimidating, and great fun. Guys constantly asked me out to dance, including some really good dancers, and it all went really well. My partner and I danced so well (compliments to him for making me look good on the dancefloor!) that - guess what, a wonderfully stylish dancer (well known in London) asked me out to dance. This guy can be a bit elitist about his dance partners; only dancing with amazing dancers, among whose ranks I do not (yet!) count myself. So for him to ask me was quite a thrill and the dance went fine. My partner was very impressed - he thought it looked fantastic. It didn't feel like it did, because I struggled to keep up with all sorts of really fast moves that I had never done before in my life. But it was fun.
On Sunday we checked out of the B&B, took all our bags and went to relax in the sun watching the pigeons on Trafalgar Square. (how interesting!) We tried to go the portrait gallery but couldn't because there was no place to put our bags, and then, after some confusion as to which bus to take, we made our way to the competition venue. My partner and I spent a lot of time together over the weekend, chatting about all sorts of things, deciding where to have breakfast, lunch and dinner, where to go out dancing, dragging suitcases around the streets of London, and being under lots of pressure with this big competition about to happen. But I was only impressed by him - he is very calm, intelligent, interesting, and easy to be with. It was a pleasure.
The competition final on Sunday night was fun, lots of hype, lots of glamour, being in the changing room with all the other couples (80 or so, two couples from each of forty heats all around the UK), women and men scurrying around, preening themselves in front of the huge mirror, women spraying themselves with body glitter and hairspray, guys with cummerbunds, gold and silver dance shoes, debates about who would get through, television and video cameras suddenly there and then gone again, major adrenalin rush, waiting for your number to be called, etc. Exciting!
We were up in the third set of dancers, ten couples on the floor at a time, two minutes only of freestyle to whatever track they played. Thirteen (THIRTEEN!!) adjudicators - oh my god, all flitting around the floor taking a good look at you! Our first dance went really well, we hoped we'd get through and we did. Lucky for us we got a good lively inspiring song, because some of them were slower and a bit blah. It was interesting to see what the general standard was like, and it was quite obvious from the start who was going to get through to the final rounds. Our number was called for the second round but we didn't dance as well this time so that was it for us. However, I prefer to view it as representing home among the top 40 dancers in the UK! Time to relax and enjoy the rest of the night's dancing.
By the time the semifinal (twelve couples I think) came round, the competitors really upped the anti. This was where all the cool, dramatic, BIG moves came out of the hat. Some of them changed costume. It was quite impressive. They all only got 30 seconds freestyle on their own on the dancefloor, then all 12 together, and the same procedure for the 6 finalists. The main rule was no lifts or 'aerials', which I thought was good. I personally find all that a bit too acrobatic for salsa.
Later in the evening there was a demonstration by a Cuban dance troupe. They did a mambo number and a Cuban Rumba number, and boy, they really could move - they could have been made of rubber as far as I was concerned.
I flew home on Monday 7am for a day's work on 45 minutes sleep. (ZZzzzzz!)
It was a fabulous experience and I would do all again tomorrow (even tonight) if someone gave me the opportunity.
- Siobhan Mortell