I have been involved in Salsa events and organisation for the past 8 years. I do not work in Salsa for money but for the excitement and the joy of bringing people together. I do not find much enjoyment in doing the same thing over and over again for too long and I am always looking for something new. Recently, my quest has been to host the perfect Salsa night.
Salsa is massively subjective so the definition of a perfect Salsa night will vary from person to person. However, my aim is to ensure that whoever walks through the door will have an amazing experience, and more importantly, walk away with renewed enthusiasm for Salsa and excitement which is contagious.
I am still learning and working on my formula for an amazing night, but in this article, I am going to document my latest attempt. This attempt happened on Thursday 26th Jan 2017 and was called PSS, or the Private Salsa Social.
Today, my learning in Salsa comes through my conversations with various dancers on my travels. I have been in this game for a while so I have a lot of friends who are organisers, promoters and teachers and we share notes on what works and what does not.
For most of my friends the key ingredients for a successful night are:
- Space – This means that the floor is good, the atmosphere is welcoming and there is enough space to dance without worrying about collisions.
- Music – This is subjective but within my bubble, we all like the same subset of Salsa music. Music that is rich and intricate enough to have something to play with.
- People – Again subjective, but having ego-free dancers who just want to have fun and dance makes the night great. Having entitled dancers, or those that are not willing to sweat creates a strange and somewhat hostile vibe.
For the remainder of this article, I will share my thoughts and eventual choices about the three items above.
London is one of the most expensive cities in the world and Salsa is one of the cheapest activities you could do. Most people within Salsa are used to paying between £5 and £10 per night. So finding a good and affordable venue was extremely challenging.
I looked at a few venues and, in the end, I settled on the Saw Swee Student Centre based on the price and a convenient location; this venue is also used by Erick for I Like It Like That so people already know it. Furthermore, the venue frequently hosts music events so the speakers are great, the equipment is readily available and the walls are built to absorb sound.
The venue gave a total capacity of 850 people, that means 850 people standing upright and shoulder to shoulder. I normally divide this number by 4 to ensure there is enough dancing space. Also, while most events will have some form of turnover during the night (people coming and going), I had a feeling my event would not, so I had to ensure there was space enough for everybody.
I targetted 200 dancers. I booked the venue and then proceeded to inform people.
Music is very subjective, however, Jamil Bacha was an instant pick for me. Jamil is an excellent DJ and knows how to play to my audience and is also extremely consistent. For the other two DJs, I decided to use the Wisdom of Crowds.
I messaged ten of my most music-grumpy-picky friends and asked them for their top 5 DJs. Once the responses were in I saw that two names stood out. Once of them was Loic Thomas, who I have known and supported for years, and booked him immediately.
The other name on the list was Patrick El Classico. I vaguely remember hearing him in London, but I was a little too drunk to remember him fully. So I messaged and asked some of my experienced DJ friends about him and they all said that he was up-and-coming and amazing. As such, I proceeded to book Patrick.
The hard part was putting together a DJ rota that would give all DJs a chance to really shine and also to get people through the door early. I put forward the following rota.
20:00 – 21:00 Patrick
21:00 – 22:00 Jamil
22:00 – 23:00 Loic
23:00 – 00:00 Patrick
00:00 – 01:00 Jamil
01:00 – 02:00 Loic
Asking people to fly to London for a single night is just not realistic. However, given that Stars of Salsa 2017 was happening in January, I thought I would leverage this by creating a Thursday night party. This was still challenging as people would need to come one day earlier than normal, but I had verbal support from a lot of my friends.
For this one-off event, I aimed for 100 dancers from overseas, 50 dancers who frequent TNT and the remaining 50 dancers from London. Once everything was booked, I created a private event on Facebook and gave 5 friends, from around Europe, the ability to invite people; I asked them to invite dancers who would enjoy such a night.
I knew going into this that there would be people upset because they did not get an invite, but I believe that if you are going to do something worthwhile people will be angry with you.
I booked everything around 7 months in advance; this was to give time for my international friends to make arrangements. Within the first month of creating the event, I had around 40 bookings, mostly international friends and some Londoners who support my crazy ideas. I knew that people would book nearer the date and this party would hit full capacity, so I did not chase people.
But then something happened which encouraged people to book. We normally get so many Facebook events that we ignore them all. However, an incident took place which made all my friends check the event, when they saw it and read it, they booked.
As they say, all publicity is good publicity, and another London promoter decided to launch a vicious attack against me. I gave a single response in the form of a blog to answer their accusations and then bookings started raining in. From 40 bookings, I had close to 140 by the end of November, and at this point, I had not yet contacted many London based dancers; I had not planned on asking Londoners until January.
On the night, we had a total of 232 people, 82 dancers from aboard and representing 23 countries. For me, the atmosphere was perfect, the energy in the room made people want to dance, the music was amazing and the feedback was heart warming.
“The social last night was amazing! I felt like a little kid in a candy store the whole time! Thank you, Toan!”
“Absolutely amazing night yesterday, thanks a lot to Toan for organising, the DJs for awesome music and oh! the dancers for so many wonderful moments !”
“I think I had a dream last night of an amazing social with heavenly music, great dances and a vibe beyond description. Toan, you made this a reality – well done and thank you!!”
It has been a week since PSS and now things have calmed down and are back to normal. I can only smile and feel thankful for the ability to host such an event and having all my friends enjoying themselves is something magical, rewarding and gives me a feeling I cannot put into words.
But was PSS a perfect night? No, not in my mind, but I am getting closer. The questions floating around my mind is what next? Is there going to be a PSS2? Am I going to run a congress? Well, for that one I will keep you guessing…
Why did I decide to write this blog? Because I wanted you, the reader, to know that there are people out there, all around the Salsa scene, who like me, have the guts to try something new. The courage to believe in what you are doing and not turning back. For those that are challenging the status quo and pushing boundaries, I want you to know that you will always have my fullest support in your endeavours.