How I got even MORE Salsa than I bargained for on the Salsa Cruise!!
By Fiona Ortiz

By the third night of the seven-day Salsa cruise, my legs and body were aching from so much dancing, and I was wondering how much more I could do. But at the same time my mind was in a panic because I realized only four days were left and I wouldn’t have time to dance with all the excellent dancers on board before the cruise was over. My husband’s knee was aching from so much dancing, and we were trying not to feel old.

The exhaustion was actually good news because before boarding the Carnival cruise-line Elation boat in Los Angeles, we were not sure that we were going to get all the Salsa we wanted. One Dancer Hangout review of the 1999 Salsa cruise in the Caribbean said that it was not quite the dance fest expected.

But the 2000 Salsa cruise was a well-organized, excellent orgy of dance for 149 dancers, including nine teachers.

And even so, some Salsaholics complained there was NOT ENOUGH DANCING.And I thought I was addicted....

Dancers on board told me they were ecstatic to meet other Salsa dancers -- from as far away as Greece, New Zealand, Oxford, Hawaii and Florida -- and that they picked up loads of moves and technique and inspiration at the classes. Video cameras were out all the time as Salseros recorded new patterns.

“Taking this cruise is like finally admitting my total addiction,” Robert Primo, a dentist from Houston, told me at dinner the first night. That was how I felt. Primo’s cabin-mate -- they didn’t meet until they got on board for the cruise -- Alfredo Navejas, a business representative for Cosco Wholesale from Buena Park, California said he was cruising for the Salsa and “everything that goes with it.” Meaning the social scene, meeting people.

One great thing about the cruise was that at the dances in the evening, I could dance with people like Robert and Alfredo and practice the patterns we had learned the same day. It was a great way to cement what we had learned.

The major highlight of the trip for me was a night when the cruise directors gave the Salseros permission to take over a wooden deck up by the swimming pool area. The DJ moved up his equipment, and we danced in the open air for hours. I’ve read Dancer Hangout for years and I confess Edie is my idol. Watching her fluid dance style as she lead a spontaneous footwork workshop under the stars on the deck that night, I was more impressed with her than ever.

On another evening, a fantastic performance put on by the instructors was another highlight. Everyone on the cruise was invited to come to that exhibition, and the performance was so impressive that it blew away the dance troupe that the Elation boat hired to perform for us.

I was so exhausted from so much dancing that I fell asleep on Friday night and missed the Salseros pajama party. But I hear that another cruise highlight was my husband doing a strip-tease act, wearing MY bathing suit. (If anyone has a video, contact me at [email protected] )

All of the classes were magnificent. On the three days that we did not go to shore, and even on one of the days that we did, we took two to three classes a day. I can’t believe everything I learned, from styling from Joby (of Los Angeles) to turning techniques from Cheryl (from San Diego), to timing tips from Luis (Joby’s husband/partner from L.A.), to hand movements from Edie (the Salsafreak), casino rueda moves from Jose, attitude from Elizabeth Lee (of San Diego), and some new merengue moves from Alma Frey (also from southern California). The teachers were all open and friendly. They showed up at the dances, mingled, danced with everyone, and threw in tons of free tips and teaching time.

The Salsa cruise organizer, John Riddle, has been doing dance events for seven to eight years, and formed his Dance Fun business 18 months ago, to put on dance events for pure diversion, without a competition element. He organizes, country, lindy, swing, Salsa and other events.

Riddle did an excellent job of organizing Salsa Cruise 2000, and I know some of the 1,800 other passengers on the boat (just regular cruisers, not Salsa dancers) were wondering why the Salsa group was having so much fun. He even arranged it so we could dance on shore on two days. In Puerto Vallarta there was a welcoming party from some Salseros from Guadalajara, at a beautiful outdoor restaurant. At Senor Frogs in Mazatlan (one of those zany drinking-culture restaurants I usually avoid like the plague) we all got totally crazy and acted like a bunch of kids on spring break. But we didn’t stop dancing Salsa.

Of course, the Elation is an enormous ship with shops, laundrettes, hot tubs, dining rooms, and oodles of entertainment and social activity, but I missed almost all of the other activities (as did most of the Salseros) because Riddle did such a good job keeping us busy.

D.J. Tony, and travel consultant Tom Brewster (who works with Dancefun) also helped make the whole week a success.

I interviewed about 20 people who went on the cruise, and some of the suggestions for a future cruise were:
  • wood floors
  • teach casino one of the earliest days and then have someone call casino during the dances, so people who want to casino can do so in one area of the dance floor
  • bigger dance floors - a lot of the classes and dances were held in pretty small discos on-board ship
  • more evening dancing. some of our dances were only a couple hours long and did not continue after dinner. or if they started after dinner did not go on too long. but that doesn’t mean Salseros didn’t turn the hallways into dance floors.
  • more beginner lessons
  • less beginner lessons
  • more time and space for private lessons
  • switch seating each night at dinner (the Elation dining room did not allow this because of the way they structure their tipping system, but several Salseros said they thought the Salsa group should have gotten special permission to switch around each night, so that they could meet more people in our group)
  • a whole boat of Salseros (not just 200 out of 2000)
  • teachers from New York and Miami (not just L.A. and San Diego)

For intermediate to advanced Salseros I think the cruise was ideal. It was quite dominated by L.A. style. Some beginners seemed a bit frustrated, but I think they were given plenty of chances to throw themselves into the fray, and the instructors set up mixers so that we got to dance with new people. So people who were not out there dancing, it may have been their own fault.

The date is not set yet, but Riddle said he hoped to do the Salsa cruise out of New Orleans next year, to Caribbean destinations.

I personally, was ecstatic to find other Salsaholics, in various stages. Most of them told me they learned about the cruise on Dancer Hangout.

Our wonderful dining room companions, both from Ontario, California were Cristina Bermudez, a sales associate for Robinson’s May, and Esther Morales, head of human resources for Specialty Chocolates. They both said they were beginning Salseras who were a bit intimidated by the crammed classes on board, but they got plenty of inspiration, and plan to keep taking Salsa.

Mata Pappas, of Athens, Greece, and her husband Nikos, have been dancing Salsa for about five years. They won a prize on the last night of the cruise, in recognition of traveling the farthest to come on the cruise. They flew three hours to Paris, and another 12 hours to Los Angeles. In their non-Salsa lives they are a fashion designer (she) and marketing manager (he). They seem to arrange all of their holidays around Salsa. They went to Cali, Colombia in search of Salsa, as well as Havana, Cuba. Nikos was up for even more dancing than was offered on the cruise.

The runners up for traveling furthest to join the cruise were Ann and Graeme Giles of Blenheim, New Zealand, who tied the cruise in with a conference the following week that they were going to in San Diego on health and nutrition. They were very disciplined about video taping all of the classes on board, to take home moves for a Salsa group that they belong to. Accustomed to a South American style of Salsa, the Blenheims’ first job on board was tackling the cross-body lead. Something tells me when the Giles get home, the cross body lead is going to take over New Zealand. The Giles told me there aren’t really clubs to go Salsa in N.Z., so they run a social group -- of up to 120 people -- who get together to dance and meet people.

One group of four from Oxford totally impressed me with their moves, their dedication, and their spirit. Anabelle Menochet, a data scientist, Justin Mills, an application sales engineer, Sylvia Costa, a nurse, Giles Eadle an electrician. Sylvia just can’t help but move when she hears the music and she has a gorgeous, cheerful dance style. Justin and Anabelle told me that Giles’s Salsa addiction has got them going to clubs more and more.

Two dancers from Atlanta, Georgia, Fran Radosta and Kassie Greene (aka the “curly girls”) blew me away. They are both beautiful dancers, with spirit, attitude and technique. Fran told me about watching her parents jitterbug when she was small. And then she told me about her weekly dance schedule in Atlanta these days. If I remember correctly, she’s out about five days a week doing Salsa, West Coast swing, and other dance styles. All of a sudden I can’t wait until my 3-year-old is all grown up and I can have all that freedom again!

“My expectation for this cruise was for an immersion in Salsa. And that was fulfilled,” Steve “Zephyr” Broos, a carpenter from Maui, told me. He said he liked the chance to take a private lesson from Elizabeth (the hardest working woman in the world of Salsa) but he also got a lot out of just “rubbing elbows” with a large group of Salsa dancers.

Honeymooners Paty and Rick Rivera of San Diego, with their contagious friendliness, set the tone for the Salsa group in a lot of ways. They had a small wedding on Saturday, the day before the cruise left. On the cruise they made a lot of new friends to dance with in the San Diego and L.A. areas. They are great dancers, but said the cruise made them even better. “We’re both Puerto Rican and my husband thought he knew it all. He found out he didn’t. He didn’t like dips and we’ve learned things that are so neat. He didn’t like classes, but after our first class on board he said, `when’s the next one?’” Patty told me.

As for myself, I don’t dance L.A. style very well. I’m fairly new to it. So I was really excited to find that men I had difficulty following at the beginning of the cruise were a lot easier to follow at the end. I want to thank everyone I danced with for their patience and apologize to all those whose feet I stepped on.