Our experience at the World Salsa Championships, Las Vegas 2005
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Written by Azucena Perez   
Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Carlos and Azucena competing at the World Salsa Championships 2005
Las Vegas - Dec, 2005.

Got up at 5:30am, prepared luggage and took a cab to airport… it turns out that our plane was not allowed to take off due to a storm in Houston. So instead of leaving at 9:30am, we left Austin until 3pm. We were seriously freaking out because we needed to be in the Orleans hotel by 2pm for interviews. But oh well, not everything goes as planned. We finally made it to Houston but had to literally fight to get in the airplane to Vegas. It was a serious mess! But finally 12 hours later, we were landing in Las Vegas all safe and sound. We went to get registered and then had dinner with a few of the other participants and got to talk to Albert Torres regarding logistics for the competition and such. We were absolutely beat. Went to zzzzleep around 12:00am...

Thursday, Dec 15th (Semifinals - On1 and Cabaret divisions)

We were required to attend a meeting for all competitors at 12:00pm. Albert Torres, Billy Fajardo and Katie Marlow explained the rules of the competition for each division, the structure of the semi-finals and finals, and details regarding costumes, possible interviews, etc. Albert announced that only the finals will be televised on ESPN and that the shows (one hour show per category) themselves wouldn't be on TV until April of 2006.

We got to test the Arena floor, rehearse a bit and get a feel for the immensity of the place and the importance of this historic event. As Albert Torres put it, "you are part of history; you are part of the First Annual World Salsa Championships," not many of us get to be part of the "first" anything nowadays. Carlos and I were so excited and honored to be there, to be part of this important event and celebrate our music, our dance, our Latin roots.

The on1 semi-finals were on Thursday, as well as the semi-finals for the cabaret division. We got to sit back, observe, learn, and cheer for our fellow dancers down on the huge Arena. The Arena sat up to 9,000 people. It was enormous! We found it intimidating to perform in such a large floor. The dancers looked so small in comparison; like players in a football field!

There were about 10 to 11 couples in the on1 category; 8 of them made it to the finals, including Joel and Erika from Oaxaca, Mexico. In the team division, Salsamania and PB&G both from the Bay Area made it to the finals along with teams from Saint Tropez, Korea, and Australia.

Friday, Dec 16th (Semi-finals for the on2 and team divisions)

The semi-finals for the on2 category were taking place this night. So first thing in the morning we packed ourselves with energy (breakfast) and got ready to rehearse by noon. Many dancers were rehearsing on the Arena, including Jhesus Aponte (Puerto Rico) and his partner, Marielys Molina (Venezuela). This lady just takes my breath away; she's one of the most trained, beautiful, graceful dancers I've ever seen in person. An amazing performer and highly trained dancer, she was truly an inspiration to watch during the cabaret competition. (Seeing her dance made me want to quit my full-time job and become a serious professional dancer ;)… ok, back to the story.

All the competitors in each category got to freestyle for 1.5 min before the choreographed routine, then another 1.5min of freestyle after the routine. We were needless to say, a handful of nerve endings on electroshock. That is to say, very, very, very anxious! We were not only at the freaking World Salsa Championships but we were also competing in front of TV cameras and many people who had NO clue who we were. It is one thing to compete in front of people who know you and support you in some way, and quite another to compete in front of a highly critical audience. But there we were; backstage we chose a number and got #1, so we would be the couple to dance the routine first, right after the 1.5min of freestyle. We were a bit relief to go first because we really wanted to watch the rest of the couples and cheer for our friends John & Liz. The semi-finals went smoothly for us and later that night, we were told that we had made it to the finals. Yuppie!

Saturday Dec 17th (The day of the finals for all divisions)

We spent most of Saturday resting, stretching, and rehearsing. Since it takes me around 3 hours to get ready for a performance, I started getting ready by 4:30pm. The finals would take place from 8:00pm through 11:00pm and all competitors had to be in the dressing rooms by 7:00pm. No one knew the order in which the competition would take place. You could be first or last… so we all made sure to be there on time.

It turns out the first division to compete would be on1, then teams, followed by on2, and finally cabaret. In our division there were 6 couples during the finals: a couple from Korea (national champions in Korea), national champions from Argentina, John & Liz, Junior & Emily, Oliver & Luda from Australia, and us. I thought the most impressive division to watch was the cabaret division. Those lifts were just amazing! As well as the incredible flexibility exhibited by the dancers.

Carlos and I had just decided to have fun during the finals. We were going to go all out and just enjoy the experience. And so we did. We felt that our performance was better than the previous night, mostly because we were a lot less nervous and more confident about the whole thing. As far as we could tell everyone else had a great performance as well. Oliver and Luda rocked the house as well as Junior and Emily. It was inspiring to watch these people perform; many things to learn from them and the entire competition experience. Oliver in particular left us speechless; that guy is truly smooth on the dance floor, great precision on his footwork, and highly trained in ballroom as well. We got a chance to talk to him backstage and he was really approachable and a true professional.

For the first time, Carlos and I realize the huge difference between competing and performing. During a competition, one is evaluated from the moment one places foot on stage, until the moment one gets off. Even if a couple's routine is amazing, if at some point they are a bit off time or they are not precise throughout, they are penalized and they may not even place! We got to look at the way each judge scored our routine and it truly was a humbling experience. All competitors (except Oliver and Luda) received very low scores at some point or another. We were all a bit taken aback by that. But that is the nature of the beast. Competing is about perfection, creativity, musicality, and technique. Not to mention audience reaction. Unfortunately, they only announced the first 3 places in each division. They told us they were going to post the collective results later on.

On a side note, our friends John and Liz (Salsamania) were simply amazing! They not only prepared to compete in the on2 category as a couple, but they were the only 2 people competing in two categories, team and on2. They had to compete with their teams and within minutes had to change costumes to compete in the next category. And they placed in both divisions! Our hats go off to them for so much dedication, hard work, and true showmanship.

Special thanks to Albert Torres who was so supportive of every one of the competitors and who has given it all for the sake of salsa music and all the salsa dancers in the world. Also, many thanks to Jorge Mercado who organized the Texas Salsa Open competitions that allowed us to qualify for the World championships. Jorge, thank you so much for your support!

Will we do it again? Heck yeah! You bet we will. And we hope some of you do too. It can be so rewarding to compete and stretch your dancing, even if you're not the winner. Thank you for reading this far!

Yours truly,
Azucena & Carlos

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