Salsa festival brings about 500 to dance workshops

By Dave Kern, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Dancers on Sunday heated up the Vancouver Convention Center to that infectious Latin beat.

An estimated 500 participants from the West came to dance and learn from the professionals at the Rose City Salsa Festival and Timba Too! Instructors at the three-day fest came from the East Coast, Detroit, California, Seattle and Portland. Two are originally from Cuba.

”I like the music, that for me is the first thing,” said participant Paula Mara, 57, from Davis, Calif. “I like the physical activity and the social aspects, and it’s an activity you can do all your life.”

She said it is fascinating to hear dancers say, “We do it this way in Miami, or we do it this way in Seattle.”

Why salsa dancing?

“Great exercise,” said George Caceres, a festival organizer from Portland. “It’s a very inviting environment.” He added people were at the festival because of “the love of the music and the love of the dance. … It’s an opportunity for two people to connect.”

This was the second year the festival has been at the Hilton Vancouver Washington.

In one room Sunday, students were in an Afro-Timba class. Timba is Cuban salsa. Leading the class were instructors Duane Wrenn of Detroit and Katie Hernandez of Los Angeles and originally from Cuba. A woman in the front row of the crowded class wore a pink T-shirt carrying this maxim: “Hips don’t lie!”

“Suzie Q,” called out instructor John Narvaez of Oakland in a room as he taught “footwork/styling.” Suzie Q is a step and others include cross body lead, hook step and shimmy.

Caceres said salsa dancing is great because it can be enjoyed from childhood until well into the senior years.

He said some festivalgoers were from Clark County and he said dance lessons are offered at studios in the metro area. Two popular Portland clubs are Santa Fe Taqueria and Aztec Willies.

Caceres said dancers love the “old school” music of the late Celia Cruz and the late Hector Lavoe and the contemporary sounds of Los Van Van of Cuba and El Gran Combo of Puerto Rico.

Dancers paid from $25 to $150 to attend sessions.

Caceres said the out-of-towners enjoyed the Hilton, downtown and especially the Vancouver Farmers Market. He said dancers will be back at the Hilton in 2013, from April 11-14.