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Taking without permission:
When Dance Routines are Stolen

More on Videotaping & CopyCats 
Text Organized & Compiled by Manny Siverio

During the past year SalsaNewYork Magazine has published 2 articles. One pertaining to the Pro’s & Con’s of Videotaping; the other on Mambo dancing Copycats. Both articles have garnished much attention from our readers. I've collected some of the more interesting emails on the subject to illustrate both sides of the coin. People think that the stance against videotaping performances is unfair and unjust. Here is an example why many professional New York Dancers feel the way they do about the topic. Specific names have been eliminated by SalsaNewYork to avoid unnecessary mud-throwing, finger pointing and name calling. – M.S.



From the SalsaNewYork Emails database.......... 

·    The Message that Started it all:
A Message from Santo Rico Dance Company Director Thomas Guerrero
”This is an e-mail I received from one of my ex-members, “bla…bla..”, who now lives in “the west coast”.  Has this ever happened to you???  I ask because it's not the first time I've heard this.  I'm curious.  Wuzup with dat???

It's funny, a few weeks ago, I was scanning through the 2001 LA Congress tapes and noticed that someone also used the identical jamboree that I choreographed in the 99 Puerto Rico Congress.

Santo Rico”

From Another Dancer to Thomas Guerrero

Speaking of the devil!

”……..” now, the reason why I thought of you is because this past Saturday I went to a concert commemorating Tito Puente. It was pretty big, there were lots of bands and “local area” performers. Well, I know you will get upset but you don't think that 4 guys went up to dance while the band was playing and they did the male solo to YOUR Mama Guela???? THEY TOTALLY COPIED IT from beginning to end! You should have seen me, my jaw was on the floor. I recognized the choreography instantly and there they were, on stage, doing the steps (never as clean, of course!) and they got a banging applause! I don't know who they were, they weren't announcing dancers but I thought I'd let you know. I don't know what kind of rights you have about copyrighting choreography, but I am sure this is not the first time you hear of this happening.

On another note, you can take it as a partial compliment! I assume they got the choreography from the west coast congress tapes since there were some dance teams from “bla..bla.” out there. but I was sooooooooooo blown away, I was buggin! Well, keep in touch. Say hi to the team for me, please.”

      From NY Mambo Mamas Dance Director Abbey Plotkin
”We saw the SAME thing happen in the 1st Montreal Congress.  A Canadian team copied Johnny Vazquez & Olivia's routine STEP FOR STEP, same music, even to the point of the female smiling and looking to the audience at the same time as Olivia did!!  I think it is DISGUSTING!!!!  Now, if they said before or after the performance that this is the routine of “so & so” or “so & so”, it would be one thing, but to try to pass this off as one's own and take the applause of an unknowing audience should be a criminal act as far as I'm concerned.  Dance teams work WAY too hard and already get less than their deserved respect from lay-people without being ripped off by other dancers! Obviously, nothing's new and dance has been around since mother Africa but to rip someone off step for step is unnecessary.  At least switch the steps around and use different music!!!!!
Just my opinion...
Abbey, THEmambomama”

From A West Coast Dancer
”I have a question for everybody especially
choreographers and performers out there.  How do they
feel when somebody steals one of their routines. I'm
asking this because as many of you would know Rony and
I have a situation right now.  We have won several
competitions with the Matrix routine and a lot of
people know that. Rony and I were in Mexico for Luis
and Joby's wedding and while we were there we got
several calls saying that “another known L.A. Dancer” copied our
routine and he was promoting it as his own idea, and
that really bother me because Rony and I worked really
hard for that routine.  Some said it was the same
routine and other said it was only the beginning and
what pisses me more is that he was saying that it was
his own idea.  Come on, you would think that “this other
would have a brain to do his own concept, he has
taught salsa for like 200 years I imagine he can make
a routine of his own.  Like somebody told me yesterday
coming up with the concept of a routing is like 50% of
the routine, you want to be "ORIGINAL", clean, select
music and customs. I don't think is fair just to put a
video in a VCR and copy the ideas and the customs of
somebody else and dared to say it was your idea!!!

So just because “so & so” liked our routine he copied it
and made it now saying it was his own idea, so watch
out all the choreographers out there he might come out
with a routine like soldiers routine from Rumberos, or
Angels & Devil from Salsa Brava or who knows maybe the
Egyptian routine from Eddie and Al. Don't be surprise
if he does come out with those routines and say its
his own creation!!!!!!

I know none of us own the concept of these routines
but remember that copies never come out as good as the
originals!!! “………………”.

Los Rumberos Dance Company!”

 Videotaping: The Pro Side of the Argument
-by DC Mambero Shaka Brown

(Editor note: Click here to read: The Pro’s & Con’s of Videotaping)

”Ah..another Starlite event, one of the much heard about dance nights in
the Bronx, el Condado de la Salsa. In reviewing the email (though I dont
know how I got onto the mailing list) I see that there will be more top
performances from some of NY/NJ's best, and it promises to be another
heart pounding, sweaty, intense experience, hosted by Luis Zegarra.  And
at the bottom of the email the terse warning- "No videotaping!". *sigh*
Being a social dancer, performer, instructor, and observer, I have come
to realize that video taping can be annoying. Video taping can be
intrusive. Video taping can be abusive. And for the benefits gained, I
wouldn't give up videotaping to save myself from the harm that it does,
because ultimately I think it's advantages far outweigh the annoyance.
Imagine a video of Tito Puente's first performance at the Palladium. To
actually just get a chance to see what the event was like, how people
dressed, how they danced, the music they listened to, the mistakes, the
flairs, the gangsters at their private tables, the fights, anything that
gives us a window to that era. How intangibly invaluable would something
like that be?

What if there's a video of Eddie Torres' first dance competitions that
he was winning back to back, coming with a different show every time,
doing things that no one had ever seen. Seeing Eddie when he was smaller.
When he could move even faster. When he was playing with concepts that
hadn't been touched before. How many appointments would you cancel in
order to be able to watch those tapes with someone?
How would you like to watch a complete video of the Fania All Stars
concert at the Cheetah? Not the cut-and-take, edited for content version,
but the raw footage. Missed cues, cracked voices, inspired soneos, the
intensity of seeing the event unfolding?

What about a descarga recorded en El Monte?
Edie the Salsa Freak when she was learngin how to do a right turn?
Ismael Otero break dancing?
For some of the above events there are snatches of recordings, and they
become more valuiable as the years turn,because they are recordings of a
time, of a point in the learning experience, ultimately of history.  Yet,
none of these things are being (legally) captured at the mambo showdowns,
because of the "no video taping" rule. They tell us that the rule exists
to protect the dancers, protect the routines from being stolen.

If no one captures them, then the worst thief will be time. I vaguely
remember the performances from the Mambo Showdown almost a year ago, in
January. I know I got some good dances in, though I dont really remember
with who. Had I been able to bring my camera and been able to capture some
moments of the event, then I wouldn't have to try and remember who was
where when I'm telling my grandkids about the days I used to dance more.
Without fast forwarding so far, even when I return to DC and tell people
about the great time I had in NY, they want to see footage. They dont want
to believe that there are girls that can easily spin 15 times on a dime.
They can't imagine Ismael dancing so in tune with a song that you suspect
he was in the studio when it was originally laid down. They have a hard
time seeing a girl do a syncopated pachange in heels.  I try to keep that
in mind when I go to a social that does allow video taping. I will take a
break for a few songs and just walk around and record people, not because
they're doing turn patterns that I will dissect and copy verbatim, but for
posterity's sake and to spread the fever.

I was recently in a performance that the director forbid videotaping,
and forbade anyone from pulling out their camera when our performance
started. There was to be one camera, which belonged to the director. Our
performance was awesome. We caught every cue, kept our positions. Guess
what? The one recording we had didn't turn out well at all. We lost the
entire show. I had a friend that had his camera in his bag but didn't
take it out because of the rule.

At the East Coast Congress, video taping was once again disallowed. I
performed there and saw that the congress was being officially recorded.
Yet it's now several months later and I've heard nothing about the video
being available to anyone. So who has the recording? If that recording
doesn't come out, if the tape get's lost, or the studio burns down, then
once again, a world-class event will exist only in fading memories.  How
does that protect the dancer?

Recently the Santo Rico dance company had a large part of their footwork
copied and performed on another side of the country. The director was
furious, and rightfully so. The recording was most likely taken from their
performance at the LA salsa congress, where video taping of the
performances is allowed. However, think of the hundreds of other cameras
that were recording the event and taking it back to show people in
Holland, Germany, Hawaii, Brazil, Japan, Chicago, Alabama. To have one
person copy a section and perform it is not nearly as high a price to pay
as only having the few thousand people that were able to fly to LA that
weekend ever see your show.  If more people had seen the Santo Rico
performance on tape, then the possibility of someone ripping it off and
performing it goes down dramatically, since they would be caught so

I have one tape from the 1999 Congress in Puerto Rico. It was the only
video I had while living abroad for 7 months. It's got some of the
greatest dancers on it. Felipe Polanco, Eddie Torres, Frankie Martinez,
Ismael Otero, Santo Rico, Jai and Candy, Los Rumberos, Salsabrava. I
studied that tape intensely for 7 months, looking at what the best people
do, how they dance, the moves, the style. Guess what? I still don't dance
like any of them. But I use the tape every time I want to show someone how
good it's possible to get. And I'm sure that if the dancers on the tape
knew how many people they were influencing, they wouldn't disapprove.

I would hate to see some of the greatest dancing events in NY be forever
lost, in this day and age that anyone can purchase a camera with 20x zoom,
that can capture in pitch black, correct for shaking hands, and fits in
your breast pocket. Perhaps some compromise can be reached on the "No
videotaping" rule at the Starlite events. Prohibiting videotaping of the
performances, but allowing it for the social dancing. Or a sign that says
"Please ask before video taping people".  Every event that doesn't get
recorded is a lost opportunity to show future generations "how we used to
do it!" I look forward to your response.
Shaka G. Brown”

SalsaNewYork’s Final Note: 
Both sides seem to have valid reasons to do what they think is best for the art, craft and hard work of dancers and their performances. Speaking as a professional performer and member of four separate performing unions (SAG, DGA, AFTRA & AFTRA), the best thing to do is to first secure permission from the artist/artists in question. Not just because this is the right thing to do, but because it’s a matter of professional respect. We have no right (legally speaking) to tape people without their consent and that's the bottom line. That's why the professionals in the business usually secure a release/waiver when recording people.
– Manny Siverio






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