Video by Javier Guillen.
As the park began gearing up for the The Salsa Session this Memorial Day, one thing became abruptly clear: this gringo didn’t know the first thing about salsa!
I’m intrigued by salsa dancing, the history of latin jazz music and Afro-Cuban rhythms, but these have never been things I have sought out. I thought to myself, “how can you begin to engage with an event at Grand Park that you know little or nothing about?” I was suddenly on a mission.
The one thing I did know above anything else is that true salseros and salseras are cool. They are WAY more cool than I could ever hope to be. I’m talking on the level, like James Dean, Miles Davis or Aretha Franklin cool.
I wouldn‘t be able to master any dance moves or suddenly bring a conga drum to life in a few short weeks, but maybe I could find that special something that separates salseros from the rest of us. I needed to harness that look in the eyes when you find a partner on the dance floor, the confidence that rolls off a person when they move and the sense of passion that can give you goosebumps: I needed to find the secrets of salsa swagger.
I set out to see what I might uncover at a weekly dance class taught by Erica Bowen, Director of Arya Movement Project. She unveiled my first revelation: salsa lives in the hips of women and the shoulders of men. Additionally, she began to connect the dots between the rich Afro-Cuban history of Rumba, the Colombian-born styles of Cumbia and the emergence of Salsa in the United States and elsewhere.
Armed with these first secrets of salsa swag, I set out to see what Los Angeles had to offer. I hit the dance floor and got a dose of Cumbia as we caught Viento Callejero’s set during Mucho Wednesdays at La Cita.
I took in the salsa and sunshine as I got a chance to see a bit of Rumba while standing around the drum circle during Presencia Cubana en Los Angeles at Echo Park Lake. While there, I ran into Albert Torres, the founder of LA Salsa Fest, who agreed to give up some secrets of his own: most importantly, that salsa is all about pasión and comes from the heart.
I caught Oscar Hernandez, Music Director of the Grammy award-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra, who spelled out a long list of musicians he attributes his salsa swag to.
Lucas Rivera, the Director of Grand Park even gave his advice. He reminded me to keep an ear out for the clave, and to be aware of the rhythms of your heart. Did you know Lucas is a dancer and a DJ?! Yup, he’s on the level too.
Ultimately, the most important thing I’ve learned so far is that salsa swagger can’t be taught by any other means than experience. The best dancers and musicians devoted to the salsa tradition got to where they are because they live it in every facet of their lives. Salsa lives in every breath, the movement of the hips, shoulders, feet and most of all the heart. You can experience it for yourself at Grand Park’s Salsa Session this Memorial Day from 2pm to 6pm.