June 11-15, 2015 had me getting No sleep, No food, & losing my voice from– you guessed it- no sleep & no food while running on 24/7 fumes taking workshops, watching performances, social dancing, and dance shoe retail therapy for 4 nights straight pretty much sums up my GLORIOUS Experience at the 2015 DC Capital Congress. This congress is sized just right for passionate dancers of Salsa, Bachata, & Kizomba of ALL Levels fostering a friendly mostly non snob atmosphere where you can generally approach anyone for dance with little worries of rejection or feeling inadequate. The intimate size also fosters real interaction and connection with dancers BEYOND the dance floor right according to the Master Plan of organizer Shaka Brown, who styled this Congress as an extension of his Legendary Latin Dance House Parties from back in the day that would have people coming from up and down the East Coast to Dance with each other. All of these factors and more contribute to making this an International Event Destination that excels at providing the right exciting mix of performers, instructors, & music for anyone requiring highly stimulating social dancers of physical attractiveness and varying skill levels for heightened social dancing experiences.
THIRTEEN RANDOM THOUGHTS, BEST OFS, & OBSERVATIONS OF THE 2015 DC CAPITAL CONGRESS IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER.
1) LIVE MUSIC IS A MUST. New Swing Sextet did what New Swing Sextet Always do- They Rocked the Freaking House! Highlight from the Band Set was when they called dancers to the stage to show their stuff while the band played BEHIND them AND when Shaka danced on stage with Ana Paula- AWESOME! Perfect intersection of why LIVE MUSIC is the heart and SOUL of the Latin Dance Experience!
2) TRIFECTA AWARD FOR BEST BASIC, BEST FOOTWORK, & SEXY ARSE DANCER. A Woman’s Basic and her footwork tells me ALL I NEED TO KNOW about the quality and desirability of her dance. The extras of styling & pretty arm flourishes PALE next to a sexy well constructed Basic Step and Footwork. Usually- but not always- a strong basic is ALWAYS assisted by a strong prep ready for any turn pattern or spin combo and therefore predicts a strong follow with above average dance skills. Based on the aforementioned criteria, there were FOUR WOMEN who met my HIGH STANDARDS for a SUPERIOR BASIC and SEXY DANCE. The first THREE Nominees are connected in some way, shape or form with Caribbean Soul Dance Company- Melanie Castillo, Clemence Derival, & Jennifer Rosado. I’m sure that the Caribbean Soul reference point is not a coincidence since I would also include Desiree Godsell, former Caribbean Dance Member, who also typified this elite quality if not for the small fact that she wasn’t actually AT The Congress This Year. The fourth nominee is Dani Vasquez, performer with Universal Mambo out of Orlando, Fl. Some may wrongly ACCUSER-MOI of picking these 4 women because their bodies are built not unlike award winning sculptures of IDEAL FEMININITY but you would be wrong, my friends. Naturally, it doesn’t hurt that they have incredibly sexy female forms BUT the truth is that these women all share GOLD MEDAL STATUS in the SEXIEST Basic Step & Sexy Dance Game because they always give PRISTINE Playfully flirtatious Social Dances to every partner and I can claim intimate knowledge of this because I have stalked each of these girls RELENTLESSLY! For me, Their dance is just GOOD SEX on the dancefloor without even trying. Simple cross body leads left me positively transfixed by their footwork and mouth agape. Even if they missed a lead (which was RARE), Even THAT was beautifully executed (or missed). The Look of their Dance is a Bar that I would ideally like to reach for myself. Only then, will I feel complete.
3) SUPPORT THE HOME TEAM, MI GENTE! I have a question, “Where in the HECK were the majority of the DC/Baltimore Salsa Social Dancers???” DC Area Bachateros were definitely representing but it seemed like there were alot of missing local faces from the DC Salsa Scene. At one point, it appeared that there were more out of town dancers than there were local DC area dancers. This is great for marketing purposes but was shameful in terms of HOME TOWN PRIDE. Its not often that local dancers get exposed to a high caliber of dance talent, workshops, and performances in Latin Dance and EVERYONE in the DMV should be in attendance at this yearly congress to expand their horizons and get RE-INSPIRED in the Dance!
4) BEST GIRL FOLLOWS. I spent a huge swath of time each night watching the social dancing in the Salsa/Mambo Ballroom on the hunt for good video footage to capture. Based on my observations, the following girls have mastered the art of truly following and not anticipating while looking effortless- Ana Paulo Rodrigues (Brazil), Dani Vasquez (Orlando), Kandance (Atlanta), Both Girl members of Iran Castillo’s Son y Passo Performance Team (San Diego), Adriana Aparicio (Houston), Jinny Choi (NYC), and Danielle Melendez (Miami). Special Mention to Shiha Park who danced and followed FLAWLESSLY with one arm in a sling!
5) LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD. Shaka Brown took time out from a full plate of top caliber performances on Saturday night to recognize one of the pioneers of the DC Salsa Community. This year, my father, Tommy “Mr. Mambo” Smith, was awarded this honor not only for founding the longest running social in DC, The Mr. Mambo’s Salsa Social, but for being a constant contributing member of the DC Salsa Scene as an Instructor, Performer, Musician, and Social Dancer who can say he actually danced at NYC’s Palladium during its Mambo Heyday back in the 50s . All I can say is that Tommy Smith deserved the recognition, I’m proud of my Dad, and I thank Shaka Brown for giving my Dad such an honor.
6) BEST NIGHT FOR SOCIAL DANCING. Sunday night, hands down, was THE BEST NIGHT for Social Dancing. No pretentious preening about like a Peacock in Cliques or as Head Rooster in charge like you would normally see on a Saturday night, just a naked desire to dance as much as possible to get in every last drop til the end of the weekend.
7) STAND OUT PERFORMANCES. Shaka Brown has a finely tuned talent for exposing up and coming dance talent to the masses before they blow up. This year was no exception with his introduction of Brother and Sister Dynamo Performance Duo, Elan and Jordynn. They were the closing acts for Friday, Saturday AND Sunday for good reason- They are Massively Talented and KNOW how to put on a show that NO ONE should follow! The other two performances that sent shivers down my spine were Art in Motion’s Domestic Violence Piece and Leon Rose & Samantha’s Saturday Night Performance. Both of these shows focused on the tug of war of relationship dynamics although each spanned the opposite end of the polarity pole.
8) MY BEST DANCES. For the most part, I had very enjoyable dances every night of the congress. But four guys had me reach a strong Salsagasm because of the connection with the partner. I met Johann Castillo, a Universal Mambo Performer from Orlando, Thursday night and EVERY DANCE with him was just heavenly from the clear lead, engaging turn patterns, and the playfulness in his dance. I felt very relaxed dancing with him and this freed any self doubt or inhibitions on my end. New Life long Dance friend made. Jose Luis Gomez of Carribean Soul is one of my perennial favorite social dancers and I’ve ALWAYS felt a great connection with him during our dances which makes me smile from ear to ear. It doesn’t hurt that his smooth lead coupled with tricky moves make me throb within. From my perspective, he’s the total package when it comes to social dance partners. Jonathan Tronscoso gives a girl like me such good energy and connection when he dances with you. He makes you think that this dance with you is the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS. The last dancer is unknown to me in name although I believe that he did perform during the shows Friday Night and was a bespectacled white guy of indeterminate middle age. UPDATE: I just learned that his name is Balazas Zombory. He asked me to dance 2 Xs and I’m reminded of the old maxim that you can’t judge a book by its cover. We shared a Cha Cha Cha Dance Sunday night that was simply EPIC! It was filled with Play, Drama, Creative Juices, and Explosive Movement. This amazingly transpired with him in bare feet and me somehow managing to not STOMP DOWN on his feet during some of the sudden stops and other trickery he executed. Sublime.
9) MISSED ENCOUNTERS. There were a number of guys on my internal hit list who I missed getting a Salsa social dance with due to a large queque for their social dance services, me being too focused on getting videos, or just me waiting too long to work up the nerve to ask them due to fatigue or separating them from their protective group to pick them off for my dance. These missed opportunities include Iran Castillo, Shaka Brown, Charlie Garcia (who spoke to me several Xs so I have no freaking excuse for not seizing an opportunity and going in for the kill), Bryon Stroud– a Bachata Pro- who I was hunting for a Mambo Dance (San Franciso), the UMDA member with the bubble butt, Angel Peguero (who asked me for a dance but I declined at that moment stupidly to film someone else), Eric Baez, Ismael Otero, Darlin Garcia, Watson Saintulsane, and Eric Jones Santana, a local who I couldn’t catch because he basically became one with the Bachata Room.
10) SEX IN THE BACHATA BALLROOM? POSSIBLY. The Bachata Room was Steamy Hot, Steamy Sexy, and Steamy DARK as HALE in there. I wanted to get some footage but instinctively knew that the moment I shined my bright Alien Light (Trademark Renzo) on the crowd, the beer google eyes would come off, the grinding would stop, the body rolls would cease, the dominican footwork would abruptly shut down in mid step. I didn’t want to expose the MAGIC created in those dark crevices to the harsh light so I mercifully left that room to their own devices for the sake of the groove, for the sake of the dance, and for the sake of the potential One Night Encounters that would result later that night because I am many things but I am NOT a Cock Blocker. You are welcome, Bachata Ballroom. I leave you with a performance video to marinate on.
11) DJ WHO STOOD OUT FROM THE CROWD. Its MIGHTY hard to distinguish yourself in DC as DJ because the DJ talent pool is EXTREMELY DEEP and filled with seasoned spinners of Latin Dance Magic who are respected WORLD WIDE. This rang true at the Congress as all of the DJs played award winning mixes that kept the dancefloors full and the dancers HAPPY. Mad Respect to ALL OF THE DJs! But I must confess that the one DJ who really had my neck snapping around and my musical ears perked up and buzzing was IRAN CASTILLO from San Diego. Every time I heard something intensely musical, interesting or exquisitely pleasurable, my head would swing towards the DJ Booth and mouth an inquiry to DJ Renzo who was spinning. The answer the majority of the times was DJ Iran Castillo. Consider me now his SUPER FAN.
12) DC PERFORMANCES REPRESENTED. I was proud of All of the Dance Teams and Performers from the DC area who performed at the Congress. However, The performers who really made an impression on me and the audience and had me puffing my chest out in DC Pride were pretty much ALL of the shows by Ferocity Dance Company Directed by Kat Arias, Kim Torrence’s Afro Latin Dance Project, Sentimiento Dance Company, & Cazike Dance Team.
13) I CAN’T HANG ANYMORE. There was a time when I was able to fully participate in ALL ASPECTS of the Congress experience at FULL STREAM doing most of the workshops, viewing all of the shows, and planting myself in the ballroom for social dancing allowing for only 2 bathroom breaks to tide me over til the last song played each and every night. This was accomplished with the singular mentality and fervent zeal of the most rabid suicide bomber and a room at the hotel that could facilitate easy access to all of the activities with the assistance of a shower and bed to keep me going. Now, although I still maintain a pathological passion for all things Salsa Congress Directed, I reluctantly have to bail on actually PARTICIPATING non-stop in all of the activities. I usually leave a full hour before the end of the night, I can barely manage more than 2 or 3 workshops total each day, and I sometimes zone out during performances from sheer exhaustion in a ossified zombie state just trying to last long enough until the music starts for social dancing to give me a 3rd jolt of energy to bring me back to life. I absolutely ADORE the Salsa Congress Experience but having done them long term (8 straight years in my case), they are taxing on my body and tough to soldier through. Even still, I can’t WAIT until the next Congress I attend (Probably NY Salsa Congress) and will endeavor YET AGAIN to do EVERYTHING on the schedule and/or FALL ON MY SWORD TRYING because I LOVE THIS MUSIC and I LOVE THIS DANCE.
FOR MORE VIDEOS FROM THE CONGRESS, SUBSCRIBE TO MR. MAMBO’S SALSA SOCIAL YOUTUBE CHANNEL: