17th Annual Chicago International Salsa Congress February 8 – 11, 2018
By SalsaChicago correspondent Shirley Fastner
The heatwave that was the 2018 Chicago International Salsa Congress (CISC) arrived with the usual winter weather and snow storms, but that did not stop the salseras and salseros from attending en masse per usual! As I state every year, what better way to spend a long, cold February weekend than dancing, hence the Congress was a grand success once again. It is suitable for all, from those who are just beginning to seasoned salseros, there is something for everyone. The format works and there were a few, new additional separate bootcamps/workshops this year. To refresh for those of you who have never attended this Congress, there are workshops of all types all day long from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.; then dance performances at 4 p.m. and at 8 p.m. followed by the opportunity to practice your enhanced dancing skills all night to live music and DJs until 4 a.m. now! There is a salsa as well as a bachata dance contest mixed in there for good measure, too. The winners of the bachata contest continue on to the Oaxaca Salsa and Bachata Festival in Oaxaca, Mexico and the salsa contest winners go on to compete at the Puerto Rican Congress which must take place in Panama this year due to the hurricane in Puerto Rico, unfortunately. Sleeping is greatly overrated and really hardly possible until the Congress has ended!
All of this could not occur without the dedicated volunteers, some of whom have been along for the ride since year one! I spoke with Mark Scollar, one of the original Congress consultants, who is still organizing the Rueda Summit at the Congress while splitting his time between Minnesota and Cali, Colombia. As one who has been a part of the CISC since inception, he explained that the planning has to start 2 years ahead for hotel contracts and about 6 months out for dance instructors as they all have very busy schedules. There are probably about 30 people involved in putting on the CISC all together. Bands are booked about 6-9 months in advance with contracts not actually signed until about 4-5 months beforehand per JR Molin, the stage manager and music consultant. You can see what a big commitment this Congress is….and doing it all for 17 years! No one is getting any younger…!
The workshops were great and performances top-notch as always. This year we had bachata star JR and his New York Bachata Band to kick off the Congress on Thursday night. Friday night we had Orquesta Guayacan from Colombia which was created about 30 years ago by a former trombone player of Grupo Niche, Alexis Lozano, who is now playing bass with them. On Saturday we were treated to Sonora Ponceña, from Puerto Rico, which has been around since 1954, and formed by Enrique Lucca Carabello, who recently died at the age of 101! It is now led by his son, known best as Papo Lucca, who received an award at the Congress. Incidentally, they also graced the stage of our very first Chicago International Salsa Congress in 2002! A Master Jam Session closed out the Congress Sunday night this year directed by Edwin Sanchez and Angel Rodriguez while featuring Wito Rodriguez (originally from Chicago) along with a lineup of 30-plus local musicians performing throughout the night. As always the live bands are in the Grand Ballroom featuring DJs in between sets and two additional rooms are also available for dancing–one for kizomba and one for bachata. There is something for everyone!
Some highlights to be mentioned:
A special guest, the Consul General of Colombia, Dixon Moya, was in attendance Friday night with an entire contingent to accept an award for Jorge Ortega, director and founder of the ever popular Colombian Fest held in Chicago every July, who was unable to be present. (Colombianfestchicago.com)
Luz Ayde Moncayo graced the CISC once again with her group of show-stopping performers, Sondeluz, direct from Cali, Colombia and they are always a huge crowd pleaser. She taught a class on Saturday afternoon that was beyond jammed as she teaches salsa caleña style which is so impressive–the lightning fast footwork that keeps our eyes transfixed on Sondeluz’s performances along with their consummate professionalism. They were well-represented in the dance competitions as well.
There were multiple MCs, particularly, perhaps because usual MC and instructor Miguel Mendez missed the Congress for the first time in 17 years due to a severely sprained ankle and his wit was missed by all. Along those lines, a well-known salsera could not attend the Congress this year as planned as she had her foot destroyed by a wayward stiletto the week prior to CISC at Alhambra which should never have happened. This is why one should take dance lessons and come to the Congress to master the art of staying in your dance space (also known as dancing in the box, the slot or a straight line) and at the very least learn to say “excuse me” when you render someone unable to walk due to your carelessness!
Saladeen Alamin, Congress co-producer, confirmed for me that the 2019 Congress will take place same time, same place–at the Westin O’Hare, February 7-10, 2019. The hotel contract has been signed for this venue, so mark your calendars! And as always, the sooner you buy your tickets, the better the price! (Chicagosalsacongress.com).