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The Toronto Star

Salsa Lovers Head To Puerto Rico For A Hot Time

Heather Greenwood Davis

May 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Toronto Star. All rights reserved. 

If your appreciation for Latin rhythm runs even slightly deeper than Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin, why not take your interest to its source at the annual World Salsa Congress.

For the last six years, salsa lovers - the dance not the chip dip - from around the world have gathered in San Juan, Puerto Rico to soak up the sights, sounds and passion of the groove.

For the last three of those years Jennifer Aucoin has been among them.

A salsa teacher at Steps Dance Studio in Toronto, Aucoin is one of the more than 70 Canadians who head down each year. Once there, the Canadians can expect to meet up with over 2,000 other salsa enthusiasts from more than 42 countries.

Japan, Germany, Thailand, Trinidad, the Czech Republic, China and Hong Kong all have participants at the congress.

"It's inspiring," says Aucoin. "You get to meet people from all over the world. It's like a reunion every summer."

All ages and all levels are welcome at all times and everywhere. Aucoin recalls her elation at watching a group of child performers from Italy dancing on stage in the afternoon and her surprise at seeing the same boys dancing around her at a party at 3 a.m.

"It kind of revitalizes you," she says. "It's a time to party and have fun."

Richard Goenaga, one of the Congress's organizers since its 1997 inception, says that for 10 days in San Juan, the love of the dance reigns supreme.

"The purpose was to create a convention where salsa dancers would unite and have a place for themselves," he says. "The best instructors in the world, the best historians, the greatest seminars and the best parties are all here."

The Congress has been such a success that it has sparked smaller versions of itself over the years in Chicago, Spain, Italy and Paris.

Then last year, the first Salsa Open was added to the Congress's lineup. The Open runs three days at the beginning of the Congress and is a competition showcasing the best and brightest from around the world.

This year the Congress is sponsoring local competitions as well. Salsa dancers in five Canadian cities (Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Edmonton and Toronto) will compete head to head and toe to toe. The finalists will head off to compete in Puerto Rico in front of some of the top professional instructors in the world.

While there is no doubt that the competitors enjoy the dance, the fact that there are over $40,000 (U.S.) in prizes to be won means the competition is serious and the shows (for those who love to watch but have two left feet) spectacular.

"About 7,000 people fill the Roberto Clemente Coliseum to watch the grand finale," Goenaga says, adding that the majority of the spectators are Puerto Ricans who are often amazed at the fan base that their native dance has attracted.

"Locals get so excited because there is such an international flair to the dance," he says. "The first thought is: 'Who would think that the dance that we are famous for is being danced all over the world?' And the next thought is 'Say, wait a minute, some of them dance it better than we do!'"

With over 20 hours of salsa activities daily, both Goenaga and Aucoin advise newcomers to the Congress to pace themselves.

"If you do everything you'll be exhausted by Day 3," says Aucoin.

The World Salsa Congress offers workshops for all levels from beginner to professional and runs for 10 days from July 25 to August 3. A full pass entitles you to dance presentations and social dance admissions each night as well as participation in more than 50 workshops and conferences and entrance to all daytime shows and activities and more. ($350 U.S.).

If that seems too rich for your blood, try the night pass for ($200 U.S.) which gets you into five nights of social dancing and five nights of dance presentations as wells as a discount meals booklet and rechargeable calling card.

To learn more about the World Salsa Congress or the Salsa Open, visit or phone 787-274-1601. For information on the Toronto Salsa, visit

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