About Salsa & Money.. SalsaUtopia
This article is a bit long, so I will write up front what it's about and you can make up your mind whether you want to read it in full or not.
Below I explain how SalsaUtopia might work and give some motivation of why it should even exist. Before that there is an important notice. If these people are right [1, 2], whether you like or despise this idea may have very little to do with your attitude to salsa, and much more with your overall attitude to life and people. As a result, some people will love and others will hate this idea independent of its own value. This article is mostly for the remaining readers, those whose attitude towards these sorts of ideas is not too entrenched and who may give a thought to how this could work for their own local community.
Here is a true story. When I moved to Australia to study I met a fellow student from Zambia. The guy was homesick, lonely and, like most students, penniless. In fact, he was more penniless than other students, since part of his meagre scholarship was going back to Zambia to help the family. In a particularly lonely day, he told me that part of his loneliness was due to the habits of western society. “In Zambia” he said, “if I feel lonely, I just go out in the street, meet someone and start to talk. Here, if you want to socialise, you need to spend money: you go to a cafe and pay for a coffee, go to a pub and pay for a drink, go clubbing and pay the entrance fee, go to a movie, etc…” you get the picture. For this guy, no money = no social time. It left a mark on me.
We can easily see how this also applies to dancing. In several salsa songs, you can hear the words “..se formo la rumba..”. This refers to the custom, in old Cuba, of some percussionists getting together at a street corner, calling for other musicians, attracting the occasional passerby; the voice would then spread in the neighbourhood resulting in an impromptu dance party in which, importantly, no one pays anyone. And surely none of the dancers at this old style rumba party would have paid for tuition to learn to dance: they would have learnt from relatives or friends. This is far cry from the salsa communities as we know them today. How much does it cost to learn salsa? A few thousand $ at least. My Zambian friend would have been able to attend the Cuban rumba, surely not to join my local salsa community. Does it have to be this way? Can anything in salsa be organised without money passing hands?
How would it work
Here is the idea. We take a dozen expert, advanced, passionate and knowledgeable salsa dancers. This team needs to include dancers who not only love dancing but also love salsa as a music form. Some may be the type who continuously want to improve their dancing, they have taken classes, practiced together in groups, they watch YouTube clips, learn from DVDs and occasionally travel to congresses. Others may be the type who love salsa music, have a good understanding of it, collect music and know all salsa genres and the main artists. There are many such people in any salsa city around the world.
Of course there is a minor cost associated with this: a venue needs to be rented, music and sound equipment need to be bought. This needs little money, which could be covered by donations; better still, the team could seek a sponsorship as a non profit organisation from initiatives like HealthWay, Quit Smoking or similar (since dancing in SalsaUtopia is strictly alcohol and smoke free and obviously healthy).
Formal (paid) instruction and DJing
Let’s get this straight: there is nothing wrong in being paid to teach and DJ salsa. It is only because it is possible to live from salsa that we have Eddie Torres, Frankie Martinez, SuperMario and the like. The same goes for salsa organisers like Albert Torres. We are all indebted to them.
Who contributes to a salsa community
At the risk of overdoing it, I want to hammer this point over again. The crucial point is the one of contributing to a salsa community. And it is important to understand what contributing means. It may mean two things. Let’s say I organise a salsa party on Saturday. I could say that I am contributing to the salsa community. However, let’s suppose that a salsa party has already been planned for Saturday. Am I still contributing? If the people who would potentially attend my party are the same who would go to the previously organised one, then no, I am not contributing. At best I am not providing anything above what is already there; at worst I disrupt it.
Relation between SalsaUtopia and local instructors and DJs
Ideally this relationship is one of collaboration. SalsaUtopia will make information about local instructors and local events available to all salsa dancers. It has no reason not to. Local instructors will acknowledge this and as a result will all be interested in linking to SalsaUtopia. SalsaUtopia instructors may very well one day decide to move on and become paid instructors. They may want to do so because they may decide to try to live from salsa income. There is nothing wrong with this. SalsaUtopia will have provided the opportunity for them to learn how to teach and they will carry this experience with them.