I first published this article on June 12th, 2010…
Women’s Liberation Movement in Salsa Dance!
“Ladies and Gentlemen” is the common phrase announcers begin with when announcing an act, but in Salsa the roles are always reversed. When announcing a Salsa Dance instructors couple, the announcers start 99% of the time with naming the men first. No wonder: the Salsa Dance teachers and performers submit their names in that specific order.
Sometimes the announcer does not even know the name of the female part of the duo. In such case they are announced as “Male Salsa Dancers’ name & Partner”. If you do not believe this statement, then just go through the long list of hundreds of Salsa Artist duo’s worldwide. The ladies having a prominent role stand on their own. This phenomenon is strange if one considers that more women are taking Salsa Dance classes than men. To properly understand this inaccuracy we will have to take a look at the history of Salsa Dance instruction and the changing role of female instructors.
History of Women Teaching Salsa
The first Salsa teachers were Latino men. This fact alone explains a great deal of the ‘problem’. The Cuban Son is the first Salsa Dance style taught by Cuban men outside Cuba. Men have a very dominant role in Cuban Son, which in time evolved into modern Cuban Casino dance. The ladies role was – and still is (!) – to complement the dance of their male partners. Cuban Son evolved into Porto Rican Mambo and LA Style Salsa on1, but the ones responsible for this evolution were all men. In the 1950’s and 60’s, during the ‘Golden Era’ of the Palladium in New York, it was mostly men who took the stage to execute intricate shines. The women wanting to dance Salsa were attracted to the way men – or male Salsa Dance instructors – lead other women when dancing together. Western women asked these Latino men to start teaching Salsa, and they were honored with their roles as ‘mere’ assistants. Most Salsa Dance choreographers of the Copacabana shows in Cuba and the emerging Salsa show teams were all men.
It was, oddly enough, a man who converted Salsa dancing to make it more ‘women friendly’, which in turn jump-started the ‘Woman’s Liberation Movement in Salsa Dance’: Eddie Torres.
Woman’s progression from Assistants to International Salsa Instructors
When Eddie Torres invented his own version of Mambo Dance in the beginning of the 90’s, he intentionally also boosted the role of women in Salsa dancing. The women have a more dominant role in New York Mambo ‘on 2’ Eddie Torres Style. The shines are done in ‘ladies timing’, the women break to the front instead of the men when they start dancing together, and dancing Mambo without the man grabbing the woman’s wrist and hands gave her more freedom to execute her own styling when dancing. The woman became ‘the painting’ and the man became ‘the frame’ instead of the other way around. Some of the former female students of Eddie Torres such as Addie Rodriguez from Razz M’ Tazz Dance Company, New York, started teaching “Ladies Styling” classes in New York, and they also made Salsa Instructional videos for ‘ladies only’. As the role of women grew in the dance, so did the solo Salsa Dance activities of the ladies pioneering in LA Style Salsa on1 such as Joby Vazquez (now Joby Martinez), the self-appointed “Princess of Salsa” Josie Neglia, and Susanna Montero from the U.K.
In this videoclip, the shy and warm-hearted Susanna Montero shows her small Ladies Styling dance routine at the end of a workshop.
Josie Neglia is one of the first female Salsa Dance Instructors having several of her own male partners as assistants. But there is one woman who has been soaring on top of the game for years and inspiring a new generation of female Salsa students to become Salsa Dance instructors themselves: Edie ‘the Salsa Freak’.
Edie, and Women’s Liberation in Afro Latin Dance
The phrase “there is a strong woman behind every successful man” is rule of thumb in the Salsa Dance scene. Most of the successful male Salsa Dance instructors have their assistants to thank for their superior status. Female dancers partner(ed) up with already known and promising male Salsa talents, became their (non-speaking) assistants during their classes, and did all the hard work such as administration, promotion, and networking. This setting can be compared with magicians: the men present the illusions while their assistants do the hard work making the illusions possible. This was also the case with Edie the Salsa Freak. But she is one of the first international female Salsa instructors to invent Dance Moves for females while partnering. Her drive for achieving a more dominant role of women in Salsa dancing made her go against the basic rule of Partnering Dance – the men lead and the women follow – by teaching women to ‘Back Lead’ ( = women lead the men) with her so called “Highjack” Dance moves. Many of her female students around the world became more obsessed with showing their own Salsa Dance skills when dancing together with a male partner instead of following the lead of their male dance partners. Edie heard the complaints of men, recognized this problem, and fixed it with her invention “Musicality”. Now all women are required to not only follow the man’s lead, but they also have to react accordingly to what the music dictates.
The following video of Edie teaching Basic Ladies Styling is out of synch, but has some great tips.
Edie also made a large step in the Women’s Liberation Movement in Salsa when she came out with her “World’s Best Lead” DVD series: she chose good leads from around the world to teach their ‘magic’ together with her.
Salsa Students deterring the Independence of Women in Salsa
Most Salsa Dance students in the world pay for only one Salsa instructor. If they have to choose between the male or the female Dance Instructor, most of them will choose for the man. It has taken years and hard labor before some Salsa Dance instructors finally acknowledged the role of their assistants and started calling them Salsa instructors. This is also the case with male Salsa instructors giving their female counterparts a voice while teaching Salsa together.
The future of Women in Salsa
There is still a long road up ahead for women. The situation has not changed much. Female international Salsa instructors such as Magna Gopal have a great name because they are not depending on male partners. The new Bachata stars such as Troy & Jorjet still maintain the tradition of putting the men in first place. Jorjet Alcocer is without any doubt a better instructor than Troy Anthony, and he knows it. The male part of the dance couple stays popular when an (international) Salsa instructors pair break up. Luis Vazquez is still popular while his ex-wife Joby Martinez has practically disappeared from the international Salsa Dance arena.
This is a videoclip of Jorjet dancing Salsa as the leader.
The situation will remain the same as long as men lead and women follow when they dance Salsa together.
UPDATE ON MARCH 8, 2020 ON THE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
The international Afro Latin dans scene has grown exponentially in those 10 years. And yet, women still have a long way to achieve a proper dance status.
- Not long ago the organizers of a Kizomba dance festival decided that women should pay a higher entrance fee than the men in order to solve the shortage of men at the parties.
- There was also a big scandal concerning Kizomba DJ’s and festival organizers filming their sexual acts with a lady in a car without her consent. They then proceeded to spread this video among themselves on WhatsApp.
- And a Sensual Bachata dancer had written a blog on Facebook complaining about men who dance Bachata in a very disrespectful manner with women.
And these are only a couple of examples. Do you have more examples?
SYMBOLS OF AFRO LATIN HOPE
The number of influential women are growing steadily. In my initial article I omitted to mention Jamie Josephson. She wrote an entire salsa dance syllabus with which has the same structure as the (Ballroom) Latin dances.
The First Afro Latin Promoters Summit was held in Budapest from the 4th until the 6th of September 2019. Nearly all of the participants were men. There was one woman as a speaker: Ania Chagowska of El Sol Warsaw Salsa Festival: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dGkCSfX-Bs
Annetje Riel organized the First European Salsa Congress way back in 1998. Since 2006 she’s organizing the Dutch Salsa Dance Championships. Annetje also runs the official Dutch Salsa Dance Teacher’s education center (SON). Annetje is also a big supporter of ‘All Inclusive Dance’. The competitors at the Dutch Salsa Dance Championships include the Same Sex category, in which women can dance together as couples. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tt48Kkwtrls
AFRO LATIN WOMEN INDEPENDENT!
Most women dancing partner dance wish to dance as followers. Many times they are compelled to dance as leaders when there is a shortage of men. And sometimes the women like to lead. To ‘dance as a man’ is a common phrase being used when women mean that they dance in a leaders role. But there are many teachers who are starting to use the terms leaders (or leads) and followers (or follows), which take the gender out of the dance role.
And there’s another movement rearing it’s wonderful head: switch dancing. That is: the switching of dance roles whilst dancing together as a couple. It seems that this trend is gaining some momentum in the Brazilian Zouk dance scene. And I created a dance concept I call the Ocho Dance in which you can switch the dance roles by applying Musicality to make the switch. Here you can see the complete dance tutorial I made together with the ladies of the ‘Ladies Styling and Leading’ salsa dance course of Amanda Torres at Happy Salsa in Den Helder (The Netherlands): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-KSqdIBD0E&t=618s
Everything is now in place for women all around the world to become truly independent afro latin dancers… if they so wish to!
I wish all women a Happy International Women’s Day 2020!