CT Salsa Festival Grows Into International Affair

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When the CT Salsa Festival debuted almost ten years ago, if 350 people turned out for the event, it would have be considered a lot, event organizers recalled. But now, the festival has morphed into a must-see stop for salsa lovers.
Now in its ninth year, the CT Salsa Festival organizers have spent the last nine months prepping for more than 100 teams and thousands of guests coming not from just across the country, but around the world.
“If you go to Boston, New York, New Jersey, Philly. . . they all have a Salsa Congress. We were just a bump in the road,” organizer and host Luz Otero said, recounting the genesis of the festival. “We go to all these places for these events, so we thought ‘Why don’t we have one here?'”
And the idea for the CT Salsa Festival was born.
Otero’s partner Luis Lopez, a dance instructor who owns his own studio in Hartford, called her with the idea. No one in Connecticut has ever done anything like the festival, he told her during the fateful call ten years ago. Five months later, they were in the planning stages, contacting performers and dancers and had a website set up.
This year, Otero expects 3,500 to come out to the Stamford Mariott Hotel to partake in the action this weekend.
“People hear ‘salsa’ and they think Latinos, but it’s very diverse,” Otero said. “Salsa is big right now. It’s been around for a long time, but little by little, it’s growing.”
In the beginning, the festival was limited to local teams from the New York and New Jersey area. Last year, teams came from as far as Itay, France and Spain. This weekend, attendees can expect dancers from Puerto Rico, Canada and Venezuela. About 20 adult teams will perform per night, along with youth shows at night and a free community party on Sunday.
The festival also features workshops with professional dance instructors for levels “never heard salsa, never danced salsa” to “tricks and flips and dips”, Otero said. There will be additional workshops for children incorporating basic salsa and hip-hop moves.
For Otero, the highlight of the festival is the youth performances. Watching 5, 6, and 7-year-olds doing splits and flipping each other across the floor is “unexplainable”, she said. “They have cute little costumes and you’re just in awe, thinking ‘How can they do this?'”
Children are highlighted during the festival not just as performers, but they benefit from the event as well. Organizers hope to raise $20,000 for St. Jude’s Hospital during this year’s event during the festival’s silent auction and cocktail reception benefit on Sunday.
Over the past four years, the festival has raised a total of $40,000 for the hospital.
This year, the fundraiser will also include a performance by a dance group that put together a tribute to the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Otero said choosing to donate to St. Jude has been a very personal decision. “Not that I am a parent who’s had a child there, but I could’ve been,” she said. Her son was born with a tumor on his face, she explained.
“St. Jude is very important to us . . . we have many kids that come, many kids from St. Jude, that don’t have the opportunity to dance on the stage.”
For the first time, local youth approached the festival to organize a “teen night” party. Otero said the kids wanted to donate all the proceeds from the dance party, which will mix moder and salsa music, to St. Jude’s as well.
“It’s not just a party. You meet people from all walks, cultures, and ages,” Otero said. “It’s hard to put it into words, you just have to experience it!”
For more information on the CT Salsa Festival, visit their website at http://ctsalsafest.com/. The festival runs from May 24-26. 
(Photo by jackie0828 via Flickr)

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