Dancers connect as salsa festival grows

By Joseph Aldridge


Sensual beats and swinging hips filled the Otumoetai Action Centre as latin dancers from around the country flocked to the Bay Salsa Festival.

Attracting dancers and trainers from as far away as Dunedin, the festival has grown over recent years to be the second biggest salsa festival in New Zealand.

Te Puna dancer Amanda Leonardo, attending for the fourth year in a row, said the Bay Salsa Festival was known for its friendly, non-competitive feel.

"In Tauranga we're a club and we operate a little big differently [than a dance school] because we're all volunteers, so there's less competition and a really good vibe."

The festival brought in a lot of New Zealand's best salsa dancers and participants were keen to learn as much as they could, Ms Leonardo said.

"If you were in Auckland you could go out dancing every night of the week whereas in Tauranga it's a bit harder so I definitely try to soak it up as much as I can."

Over the weekend, participants were able to attend workshops covering a wide range of dance styles and skills, such as salsa, samba, West Coast swing, zouk, hip hop and burlesque.

Dean Christie, one of the organisers, said the festival had been a major success with the largest number of participants to date.

"People love coming here, it's a friendly environment and we're just here to have some fun."

One of the highlights was the showcase at Tauranga Racecourse on Saturday night where groups from clubs and dance schools displayed their moves.

"There were more performers last night than there were people in the audience, it was amazing. When we had the finale the stage was completely full," Mr Christie said.

Salsa music attracted a wide range of people and made them want to dance, he said.

"For me, I feel in love with the music. You feel it and there's this great connection with your partner but it's not a choreographed dance.

Salsa was more than a dance, it was a form of communication," Mr Christie said.

"Dancing is a language. The guy says something in the way he moves, the lady responds in how she moves. I've danced with people and you go to speak with them afterwards and neither of us can speak the same language."

Dance instructors Reuben Watkins and Lise Aakjaer from Christchurch said they loved coming to the Bay Salsa Festival.

"It's a brilliant atmosphere [here], people are so open and friendly, it's one of the events where people are most relaxed and willing to meet other people, they're not here to impress, they're just here to have fun and learn," Ms Aakjaer said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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