On Feb. 26 hotel heiress Paris Hilton arrived in Havana. Her hectic schedule there included learning salsa in nightclubs and attending the 17th Annual Cigar Festival, in which she took selfies with Fidelito, Fidel Castro’s oldest son. The socialite was preceded by two weeks by comedian and TV host Conan O’Brien, who botched his attempt to dance salsa down the streets of this Cuban capital by bungling his pelvic thrusts.
Conan could have avoided this public embarrassment had he taken, prior to his trip, salsa lessons in Central New York with the talented instructors and co-founders of La Familia de la Salsa, one of the largest Latino organizations in the state: Brian Bromka and Roberto Perez. Bromka is also La Familia’s artistic director; Perez is also its executive director. In addition, Perez is the disc jockey of Havana Night Latin Dance Party, held at Bally Bay Bar at 550 Richmond Ave. in Syracuse. Previously, it took place at Munjed’s Mediterranean Restaurant and Lounge at 505 Westcott St.
Besides hosting the dance party every Friday, La Familia offers salsa classes at the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels in venues such as St. Clare Theater at 812 N. Salina St., One Village Dance Centre at 117 Harvard Pl. and Pensabene’s Casa Grande Restaurant and Catering at 135 State Fair Blvd.
Another program of La Familia is its outreach program to the community at large. For example, last year La Familia teamed up with Syracuse University’s Program on Latin America and the Caribbean to present the roundtable “Origins, Politics and Practices of Salsa,” facilitated by Enver Figueroa, then a Master of Public Administration candidate at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, hailing from Peru.
The roundtable was billed as a “discussion among salsa scholars, dancers and musicians looking at how salsa music and dance started and spread, and how and where it is practiced today” and touching “on topics like the politics of salsa in the United States and Cuba, globalization, and Latino culture and community in Syracuse.”
The conversation was followed by a workshop on salsa dancing in the Strasser Commons, conducted by Bromka.
“Let’s start at the very beginning / A very good place to start / When you read you begin with A B C / When you sing you begin with Do Re Mi,” sang the novice Maria (played by Julie Andrews) in the 1965 movie “The Sound of Music.” At the workshop Bromka also started at the very beginning. “When you dance salsa you begin with grabbing your partner’s hand,” Bromka said. “The man holds his partner’s hand by putting his thumb on his partner’s palm sweet spot, on the base of her thumb, and then wraps his other fingers around the back of his partner’s hand.”
Aside from Bromka, Perez and Figueroa, another participant in the roundtable was Sydney Hutchinson, an assistant professor of ethnic musicology at SU, who was formerly a dancer with Razz M’ Tazz Mambo Company in New York City and a one-time salsa pianist. She researches and teaches about Caribbean music and dance.
“Cali, Colombia, is the world capital of salsa,” Hutchinson said. Perez added another capital: “Lima, Peru, is the world capital of Cuban music.” Perez explained that Cuban music is very popular in Peru, especially since 1980. He said, “That year 3,000 Cuban people went to Peru after they broke into the Peruvian embassy in Havana.”
About the author: Miguel Balbuena is a writer in the academic, scientific, journalistic and literary fields (in the fiction and non-fiction genres).