The-Corporatization-of-Salsa-Dance-in-Chicago_2One of my favorite things to do when I’ve traveled to a new city or place is to see all of the local culture and unique sights, sounds and tastes that come from the soul of the city. On the contrary, I’m not so keen on seeing ANOTHER McDonald’s, BK or Subway. While those places have a right to be there, they aren’t really what I consider to part of the identity of the city, rather they are just there doing what they do which is sell to the masses. To give a better idea of what I mean, many, MANY people had an issue with McDonald’s being part of the taste of Chicago because, history aside, they aren’t really a representation of our local cuisine and culture as something like Kuma’s, Big Jones or A10. These places live, say and breathe what we as a city are about and for that, they are unique and special.

What does this have to do with dance?

There are so many interesting changes of wind in regards to the Chicago Salsa scene. I’ve been witness to the humble era of our scene before the advent of the Salsa Congress. I vividly recall how the outside influence let us know we had work to do. I’ve seen the rise of legitimate Chicago powerhouse groups and I’ve also seen many of them fall. There are few constants in this scene as in life and the only thing I can really be sure of is that things will continue to change. One of the newest things that I have seen pop up is the influx of outside dance groups setting up shop and make satellite teams in Chicago. Naming names is irrelevant to this post but if you’re aware of the happenings of our community, you’ll have a good idea of the type of things/groups I’m referring to.

Before I write any further, this isn’t a matter of “don’t hate the player, hate the game.” This is more of an issue of looking at the long term effects of what these outside groups bring to us as a Chicago dance society.

What are the repercussions of having groups come in where the founding directors aren’t present or just drop in periodically?

Think of this sales pitch: Beyonce is coming to town! She’s going to start a Beyonce group here and wants the fiercest women in the city to come and join her group. Thing is, when the auditions happen, there is no Beyonce, just the girl who has been picked to run this project who happens to be from Chicago, worst thing is this girl is talented and has the ability to do something like this for herself yet is relegated to running this group where her name isn’t really going to grow or her work and unique contributions to dance won’t be cultivated because she’s following a video and showing it to others for a monthly fee.

I’ve long wondered why the talented LOCAL people who run these groups just don’t do their own thing. The community is ripe with talent and the last thing we need is that talent and leadership wasted on someone else’s vision for what dance is. The beauty and curse of this dance style is that it’s so free, there is no true “right way” to dance it. You have the opportunity to work with people who have learned through blood sweat and tears what THEY feel the dance is and experience their unique and personal interpretation. Once we start getting all of these outside companies coming in, what happens to Chicago Style? What happens to the voice of the people who could have easily done their own groups and developed their own choreography skills? It seems like a waste.

I am aware of the fact that connecting bridges between communities is a great thing. We can and should learn from others to round out our own abilities. Problems arise when we don’t take action and let these ideas and inspirations lead us to do our own work, our own art. I would suggest it would be more of a benefit to the community to have outside people come in and coach work that is being created locally and to help refine it. This is similar to having a rock star farmer come into a local farmers market and share his thoughts and tips on refining things that the local farmers might not have thought of vs. just having everyone buy from him.

How does the local, Chicago dancer benefit from this?

Has anyone even considered this? More and more choreography dancers are flooding in the scene who can’t social dance and are missing the fundamental understanding of what they are doing. Yes, I get that it isn’t glamorous, but neither was basic English class and I’m pretty sure you’re glad you did that as ordering a meal at your local restaurant would be a bit of a challenge. The fact that our community is growing is fantastic. Personally, I can’t be more amped to help to add value to our community and help create better dancers, I would hope that other teachers with the talent and know how to develop new dancers would aspire to as well.

It might also come off like I’m taking this all way to serious but when this is my livelihood and my hearts desire, I SHOULD take it seriously. We can help up and coming dancers, even through performance as long as they are being bettered by the process. We should let our students know WHY and HOW and not just WHAT. Training is a real thing my friends and training and choreography are two different things. Step A and then step B and so on and so forth.

It’s one of my personal missions to get this city to regain and pass the high standard we developed in the late 2000’s. The talent is here and the knowledge has been passed down and refined every year. We as educators would be wise to take a close look at the bigger picture and begin to challenge ourselves by leading rather than following in the shadow of others. This might of made sense in 2004, it really doesn’t make sense now.

We aren’t a ‘second city,’ we are a world class Salsa dance community that could be heading down the path of mediocrity if we don’t mind the course of our ship. We require to be world class and I am happy and proud when I see Chicago style represented proudly so others can see how WE do things.

I salute the Latin Rhythms, Modern Claves, Gifted Souls, Urban Vibes, B.A.S., Legacy and Latin Street dance companies in our city.

Lets do our thing guys, we are the sh!#, let’s act like. Let’s lead wisely and make sure we leave a dance scene behind that is the envy of the nation.

Is that far fetched? Not at all. we have no clue of how far we can really take it until we get there.

Onward and upwards, Chicago style baby.

What do you think? Share with others and let’s open up this discussion!