published on Salsaweb NY
This past May 6-10, 1999 I was fortunate enough to travel to Zurich, Switzerland as part of Addie Diazís Mambo dance team. The group consisted of our leader Addie Diaz (Manhattan based Mambo Instructor), Mario Diaz (Manhattan based Mambo Instructor), Jorday Rivera (Queens based Mambo instructor) and myself (Salsaweb New York Correspondent). We were all very excited about our trip because it was the first time that a NY style mambo team would perform there.
The mystery of not knowing what to expect added to our excitement. For example, we all know Switzerland for many things like its famous neutrality, Swiss bank accounts, Swiss chocolate, Swiss watches & Swiss cheese, but never for its Salsa/Mambo Dancing. Our most gracious host and promoter of Addieís trip, Stefan, gave us our crash course in basic Swiss knowledge. Imagine our surprise when he told us that there was a fairly large Cuban population living in Zurich and that it was the Cubans who were mostly responsible for igniting the Swiss peopleís interest in Salsa music. We also learned that the Swiss do not truly have one spoken language but rather several. Because Switzerland shares boarders with Italy, Germany and France, many Swiss speak Italian, French and German. Furthermore, Stefan told us that the population of Zurich favors German due to its proximity to Germany. This prompted Addie to learn how to count in German from Stefan so that she could better communicate with the students in her workshop. Needless to say, I heard Addie and Jorday practice counting in German for the duration of the trip. Luckily for Mario and myself, we were able to just get by using our English/Spanish to communicate with the locals.
The Swiss people we encountered in the local Salsa scene where very warm & friendly. This was especially true of the Cubans and the Italians. I guess it must be a language thing since we understood each other the best. But more importantly it was the music and dancing that truly bonded us together. While there, we performed at a local Cuban club called EL CUBANITO. By the way the music they played at this club was slamming. It made you want to go out there and dance till you dropped. The crowd received us very well during all three of our performances. As a matter of fact, we were so well received, that the crowd cheered us on for an encore performance during our second night. As usual Addie exploded on stage with a stage presence few other performers have. The crowd immediately fell in love with her. As a matter of fact, the whole team did well, something I was personally very happy about. You see, I considered myself the weak link in the group because even though Iím use to working in front of cameras during stunt scenes, performing on stage is a totally different story. I danced on stage before but donít have the years of experience that Mario has or that of Jorday. Luckily Mario and I work together well and he was kind enough to give me some pointers on menís styling. Something Iím very grateful for.
Anyway, after each performance we would cool down in the dressing room, take some pictures, talk to some of the locals we befriended, change into our clothing and got ready to hit the dance floor. The local Salsa crowd was very curious and some were dying to meet with us. Many came to talk to me as Iím sure they did with Addie, Mario and Jorday. I had fun dancing with several woman who proved to be very good at following my lead. During one occasion I stopped to cool down and noticed that Addie was surrounded by a small group of women who were interested in knowing how they could move more like her. Throughout the course of the night some of these same people would drift in my direction. Theyíd usually mentioned to me how talented yet humble and down-to-earth Addie was. This didnít surprise me one bit. Iíve always said that it was this quality thatís made Addie so popular among her students.
After a few short hours of rest, our exhausted little team was picked up the following morning by Stefan and driven to where Addie was expected to teach her NY Style Mambo workshop. We were greeted by a group of local dancers who were very eager to learn from her. Iím proud to say that Addie has come a long way in the last year since she first stepped out on her own. Iíve watched her teach one of her first workshops and though she was always a seasoned professional, sheís gotten better with each new workshop. Sheís one of the best prepared Instructors Iíve had the pleasure of observing. She comes with an actual written lesson plan, printed copies of the lesson to hand out to her workshop students, alternate shines and turn patterns in the event that the lesson is either too easy or too hard. Not to mention that she is an excellent communicator, very analytical, plays close attention to everyoneís progress during class, always has a smile when teaching and likes to make her class fun and challenging. Yes, she definitely has grown over the last year.
During the workshop the language barrier was not as difficult as we originally thought to be. For the most part we explained things slowly both in English and in Spanish. Addie decided to use her resources wisely by separating the men and women during the open floor shine segment. Mario and I worked with the men while Addie and Jorday focused on the woman. During partner work Addie led the group with my assistance. We would slowly go through the motion of the turn pattern with no count at first, then we would do the first half of the pattern to the count, then continue with the second half. Partners would be rotated every couple of cycles to keep the class awake and on itís toes. Finally, the pattern would be done to music. Toward the end of the class, Addie would review some of the material taught that day by mixing some of the partner work with some open floor shines. Students were pushed to their limits while getting a grasp of what its like to mix open work with partner work.
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Unlike New York, Zurich is not really a night town. With the exception of the dance scene (both Latino & non-Latino), everything closes fairly early. So a late night snack after dancing was out of the question. Luckily the owners of the local club we were performing at (El CUBANITO) were kind enough to give us some pizza to take back to our hotel. Even with the pizza, Mario and I had to raid the local Hotel fridge for some refreshments to quench our late night thirst. Breakfast was another little culture shock for us. The Swiss donít have heavy breakfasts like Americans do. So pancakes, omelettes, etc. were not part of the morning equation. Luckily for me, I could survive on coffee, toast and jam. We did eat at a couple of different restaurants ranging from Italian and Cuban to Chinese. Now that I think about it, the food in Switzerland has a different taste. Not something bad, just different. Even a McDonaldís Fries and Burger had a different effect on my taste buds. The only real negative thing I would say about eating out in Switzerland is the service. I found the waiters (except in the Cuban establishments we attended) to be very rude to us and believe me we went out of our way to be polite. I guess this is because they get paid a salary and donít rely on tips to make a living. There was this one guy who made it obvious that he was annoyed at us because we asked him to get us additional water and refreshments.
If you ask me what is the state of salsa dancing in Switzerland, I would say alive, kicking and getting stronger with the passage of time. I look forward to visiting this city once again and seeing what Zurich Salseros are up to next. Who knows maybe we can add the term Swiss Salsa to list of Swiss Chocolates, Swiss Cheese, Swiss Bank Accounts & Swiss Watches.
Stefan - if your reading this, on behalf of Addieís group, thank you for looking out for us. Hope to see you soon. - Manny Siverio, Salsaweb New York