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Congress party

Vijay Kumar twirled around in his red-sequined jacket, reached out and grabbed his partner by the waist, then bowed. As an audience of 2,000 applauded, the 58-year-old “semi-retired” businessman felt like a star, writes Shrenik Avlani.

india Updated: Aug 16, 2009 01:17 IST
Shrenik Avlani

Vijay Kumar twirled around in his red-sequined jacket, reached out and grabbed his partner by the waist, then bowed. As an audience of 2,000 applauded, the 58-year-old “semi-retired” businessman felt like a star. From the front row, his wife applauded shyly. Her husband had just completed a Salsa performance at the 4th India International Salsa Congress —the biggest the country has ever seen. The three-day event saw 425 participants and an audience of 2000 people.

There were disc jockeys and dancers from Paris, San Francisco and New Zealand, rubbing shoulders with marketing executives, techies and even nursery school children in an unlikely gathering made possible by an even more unlikely passion: A dance form where strangers grab each other in places only married people are traditionally allowed to touch.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons it’s catching on. But catching on it is.

For instance, one of the finalists in the current season of India’s Got Talent, where the viewers’ vote counts, is the salsa of Richard Tholoor and Sneha Kapoor. Both are co-promoters of the Salsa Congress. "I first decided to organise this congress in 2006," says Lourd Vijay, the director of and brain behind the meet. "My classes in Bangalore were filling up faster than I could handle, and colleagues everywhere from Pune to Indore and Calicut were seeing the same thing."

Age no bar

Some came for the exercise, others for the adventure, still others because “mommy said I would make many friends there”. Aditya A., all kitted out in a hoodie and little biker’s glove, is just five and he’s performed too — a move his parents hope will give him confidence, but in “a fun way”.

Twenty-five-year-old Nanda Kumar from Ooty, a marketing executive with Oracle, is also hoping to make a friend, but perhaps of a different kind. “Salsa is fun, high energy and a guy and a girl dancing in close contact,” he grins. “What more could you ask for?” Nanda moved to Bangalore two years back and one of the first things he did was enroll at a Latin dance academy. “It’s just a great way to meet people, work out and have fun,” he says.

Lourd says he sensed the growing interest and decided to offer the “community” a platform where they could meet, exchange ideas and perhaps entice more people to join the party. India has needed no persuasion.

Each of the audience-members at this year’s congress paid a couple of thousand for registration and some more for accommodation.

And the number of participants has grown every year. “India is getting hooked,” says Lourd. “Today there are Salsa schools in Indore, Calicut, Mysore Jamshedpur and Nagpur. I have conducted workshops and performed in many small cities. In fact our studio ran a school in Mysore for a year.”

Salsa for shaadis

This year’s congress features dancers from Hong Kong and San Francisco too, all exchanging tips at the day-long workshops. “It’s not all fun and games,” says Aditya Upadhya, founder of Vive La Salsa in Kolkata. “Some of these dancers are giving new shape to the form, adding Indian elements like Bharatnatyam and/or techniques like B-boying and African’s tribal dance.”

The trend is even spreading to the Great Big Indian Wedding, with brides-to-be entreating parents to shell out thousands for Salsa performers to spice up the proceedings. “It’s ridiculous the amount these guys are willing to shell out for a single six-minute sequence,” says Shaneel Mukherjee, a Salsa instructor at Vive La Salsa and an education consultant for autistic children.

An indication of the trend —in the absence of any official statistics — is the fact that the Lourd Vijay Dance Studio alone (it now has 25 centres in Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi) has trained 1 lakh students in the 10 years since Vijay opened his first dance school. “I’d say about 60 per cent came in the last three years,” he says.

Upadhya’s favourite Salsa stories, though, have nothing to do with the numbers or the dance form. “I met two ex-students at a Salsa festival in Goa last year. They had met at a class of mine in Ranchi. And they are now engaged to be married.” He adds, with a smile, “That’s what Salsa is like, it’s a vibrant art form that brings people together.”

By the way

Salsa and freestyle dancing have spawned a self-sustaining mini-industry in India. Dance studio owners and instructors mix their own music, design their own clothes and import shoes and other accessories to sell to fellow dancers and students. Kaytee Namgyal, one of India’s first instructors, designs his own clothes. “I don’t like what is available in the markets and malls. I create the designs and get the tailoring done in Delhi,” he says. His range of special Salsa and dance outfits are available at his friends’ two stores in Mumbai. “I can’t afford the Rs 80,000 in rent for a little shop in Mumbai,” he jokes, “but my friends help me out.”