2017 Chicago Salsa Congress

The 16th Annual Chicago International Salsa Congress (CISC) by SalsaChicago correspondent Shirley Fastner.


Glad people found the Congress with the location and date change scramble for a rousing year 16!  Though we experienced our warmest CISC yet, the East Coast, nonetheless, was hit with a snowstorm which delayed some of our participants – among them “Mambo King” Eddie Torres – but he more than made up for the missed first workshop with extended sessions on Saturday and Sunday.

We had new performers and instructors and were missing other favorites. Some are transitioning to new interests and/or family commitments/new responsibilities while there are those who just move on…We had farewell performances from two regular sets of participants.  Brandon and Serena, who have been performing at the congress for 15 of its 16 years, announced that this would be their last show together.  Gifted Souls also performed their final extravaganza as their director, Rocky Quinones, moves on to family priorities after 10 years with the group. Still others have simply changed cities and may have new directions such as caring for aging parents or have returned to their original city but continue teaching and participating in our congress.  Hopefully, even if these talented individuals stop attending Congresses or stop teaching and performing, they will NEVER stop dancing, which is the fountain of youth!

Grupo Alafia, who came together to do our Congress from all over Italy – Bergamo, Parma and even smaller towns – were here for the first time.  They gather to go to various Congresses and when I caught up with them after their Pachanga class on Friday, the five Italian men comprising the group shared with me that they were very happy to be here and had actually managed to get downtown for about three hours and see some of Chicago.  When asked about the name “Alafia,” according to them, it is an African word that means something like “good will.” Their five-man choreographed performances were well-received as were their classes.

One of the most crowd-pleasing performance groups of the Congress’s 16-year history was back again for their sixth visit – the beloved Sondeluz. Their talented director/manager, Luz Ayde Mocayo, received a Keeper of the Flame award Friday night.  Most of us are enthralled by their Cali-style Speedy Gonzales salsa footwork and though we witnessed quite a few acrobatics from many of the performers throughout the weekend, this ensemble really seems to take their professionalism to yet another level.

Fuego, one of the most original performance highlights of the congress with their Bollywood theme, had a visually SPECTACULAR choreography of a panorama of East-Indian style visuals. They were deservedly chosen to move on from the Sunday afternoon to evening dance showcase. Also fantastic was Rocky Quinones’s swan song “Lion King” show with the final performance from Gifted Souls. Rocky is hanging up his director’s hat after 10 years guiding this popular group.

Miguel Mendez was back to host the afternoon shows and Zeke Rubalcava was highly entertaining as the evening showcase host.  Zeke stated that he has been here at the CISC since 2004 and has done it all– performing, teaching, producing, costumes and now hosting! He danced in the showcase once again as well.

At times, such as for the Friday afternoon performances, the volume was so loud our hearts were vibrating – scary indeed! That might be an area of concern. Another possibility for class schedules for the future might be to specify whether the class will entail partner work of if you will just be following the instructor in a routine in the dance offered.

For the live band performance on Friday night, Tromboranga, who have only been around since about 2012, and are based in Barcelona, Spain, were warmly received with their great Cuban sonero, Diego Coppinger. Trombonist, composer and bandleader Jimmy Bosch, the “Emperor of Salsa Dura,” and his Orquesta with vocalist Yoko “la Japonesa” performed Saturday night. Nuyorican Bosch, who is a regular at our congress featured “local guy made good” Edwin Sanchez as a special guest. Herman Olivera headlined Sunday night with his first appearance at our Congress. Best known as Eddie Palmieri’s sonero, he was accompanied by tres player Nelson Gonzalez (who graced our stage last year) along with Jimmy Bosch and his orquesta.

The legendary instructor Eddie Torres, “The Mambo King,” who has not been back here since 2006, more than made up for his snowstorm-caused cancellation of his Friday class by staying as long as people wanted him to after his Saturday class. I managed to spend some time with the busy Torres, still dancing away and performing at 66 years young. Known as the “teacher’s teacher,” he was happy to be back at the Chicago congress and we had fun discussing the old New York scene. Torres really got his start dancing with Tito Puente’s band and he said Puente used to say “mambo is something you dance, salsa is something you eat!” You won’t find a more loquacious guy.

Saladeen Alamin, Co-Producer/Artistic Director (who along with his lovely wife Rosita Ragin-Alamin, Executive Producer make the CISC happen) commented how different the dance world is now but remarked that he was doing acrobatics with his mambo back in the 50’s and they thought he was crazy and now it is all over the place!

The Congress really is pulled off by all of the volunteers who make this thing possible. One such volunteer is Terese Potthast, a salsera who has been helping out at the congress for about 13 years. She was a PE major who enjoys assisting at the door of the classrooms all day and observing the students and instructors.  She likes being a part of it all every year and seeing all of the familiar faces and states that “you just hope the long weekend never ends.”

JR Molina is another who does this as a labor of love with the constant emails, phone calls and getting contracts signed.  He starts as soon as one congress ends to look into bands for the next one. They put together a wish list of perhaps 15 bands and then go through the process of elimination as many bands have to obtain visas or don’t want to commit yet and it is much simpler if a band is already based in NYC, for example.  Finally, about three months before the CISC, contracts have to get finalized and so those who cannot commit are out.

Regulars Dr. Robert McSay and his wife, Ganka, have been attending the congress since 2005. They loved Billy Fajardo, Ola, Fuego, the Lion King and appreciate the old and the new as salsa evolves from the way they originally learned it from Miguel Mendez as it keeps changing and they are now dancing on2 and still taking classes at the Dance Academy of Salsa.

Maricza Valentin produced the evening showcases once again while Dennis Lopez and Jorge Alvarez handled the afternoon shows creating wonderful, smooth-running performances.

Stay posted to www.chicagosalsacongress.com for updates regarding the 2018 Chicago International Salsa Congress.