La Sonora Ponceña is smoking hot, but did the dancers even notice?

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La Sonora Ponceña makes a rare L.A. appearance, and most fans move to the beat rather than listen -- and that's a shame.

By Agustin Gurza, L.A. Times Staff Writer

There's a corrupting trend in salsa that comes from the growing but largely unspoken disconnect between those who make the music and those who dance to it. That divide was obvious this weekend during a rare local performance by La Sonora Ponceña, the revered Puerto Rican orchestra that headlined the ninth West Coast Salsa Congress, a radically pared down gathering that closed Sunday at the Radisson Hotel near LAX.

You could measure recent changes in music appreciation by the number of people who stood to watch this 53-year-old institution rather than keep dancing. During salsa's glory days in the 1970s, when this band was in its heyday, fans were so attuned to the jazzy skills of pianist-bandleader Papo Lucca and his dozen musicians that they would rush to gain standing room near the stage before the show started, leaving little room on the floor for dancers. All the great salsa bands used to get the same attention.

Those days are gone. Those intent on listening were only a few rows deep when La Ponceña (named for its hometown of Ponce, Puerto Rico) took the stage Sunday morning at 1, two hours late because the dance competitions ran over schedule. Rather than rush the stage, many fans actually left the room when the formal dance exhibitions ended, leaving ample space for people to dance while the band played.

One man even had the audacity to set up a chair at the edge of the dance floor to watch the couples in action, turning his back to the band. Clearly, fans don't come out to hear great live music. They come to watch one another show off.

That musical indifference is killing salsa as an art form, at least in the U.S. It was great to see so many young and sexy people still coming from all across the world for the congress. But what's going to happen when the great salsa bands of the Ponceña's brilliant generation begin to die off, with few young groups to take their place?

The answer might be gloomily apparent in this year's scaled-back lineup, featuring one major act, compared with five or six as in past years. What's next? The all-digital salsa congress?

Granted, La Ponceña delivered a mostly standard 90-minute set that offered nothing new musically. With its members wearing gray business suits and striped ties, the band basically gave the crowd what it wanted: a steady dance beat uninterrupted by the extraordinary arrangements and jazzy explorations that mark its best work on record.

Yet narcissistic hoofers might have missed some memorable highlights during the performance. At one point, Lucca was joined onstage by fellow pianist Oscar Hernández of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra (formerly with Rubén Blades' superb sextet Seis del Solar). The two keyboardists traded bars of improvisation, riffing off complex flute lines provided in between by guest soloist Nestor Torres.

It was one of those thrilling salsa moments worth watching. And it seemed to spark a fiery finale, the kind that makes it worth sticking around until 3 a.m.

At that point, you couldn't blame dancers for hitting the floor in a spontaneous synergy with the rhythms. Those fleet-footed dancers from Colombia showed off their dazzling, high-speed steps as others with less Olympian stamina crowded around to watch.

There's an old expression for moments like this: ¡Se fórmo la rumba!

Literally, it means the rumba (an event, not a dance) has started, and in Spanish, the implication is that it happens magically.

That's the trance-like magic of live salsa, created when music and dance come together as one.

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agustin.gurza@latimes.com

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Commentaires

Ce que j'en pense...

Tu sais, je peux comprendre le point de vue de ce journaliste. C'est vrai qu'il doit etre frustrant pour une personne desirant simplement s'assoir et s'impregner de la musique, de voir debarquer une communaute de danseurs qui ne vivent pas le meme buzz que toi.

Je comprend aussi que les artistes invites sont deja la ou ils doivent etre: sur la scene. Bref: les spectateurs n'ont pas necessairement paye pour venir regarder des salseros.

Il est aussi important de reconnaitre qu'une personne plus agee, qui aurait suivie le parcours de ces musiciens depuis longtemps, n'a pas la meme vision que ce jeune danseur qui ignore totalement ce que ce groupe a deja represente aux yeux de son peuple.

J'ai aussi conscience que la difference entre un album enregistre en studio et le jeu des musiciens sur une scene peut etre enorme: les musiciens ont la chance d'improviser sur scene, ce qui ne se fait que tres rarement lors d'un enregistrement.
Et c'est aussi vrai que le chanteur aime souvent presenter ses musiciens apres un bon solo. Alors les gens dans la salle applaudissent ces derniers... mais comment peut-on applaudir lorsqu'on est en train de faire "spiner" sa partenaire?...
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...mais du point de vue de la salsera, je sais que je ne pourrais assister a un concert de salsa sans me lever pour danser! C'est plus fort que moi: sinon, je sortirais de la salle avant meme l'entracte et je me dirigerais vers le premier club latin ouvert!

Je crois juste qu'il devrait y avoir une harmonie etre le spectateur et le danseur. Et je ne croit pas que ce stade la soit difficile a atteindre.
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<> FAUX! je crois que beaucoup de danseurs pourrait faire decouvrir a ce journaliste des tresors musicaux insoupconnes.

A ne pas oublier: il s'agit de l'opinion d'une seule personne.De plus, ce journaliste etait deja a la base frustre par le fait que la competition de danse avait mis le concert en retard... ce qui m'indique deja que la danse, c'est peut-etre pas son truc.

Naomie.

RE: La Sonora Ponceña

Agustin Gurza who worte this text doesn't realize that this event was NOT just a concert. The band was there for the West Coast Salsa Congress - probably the world's larest salsa dancing convention. People travel from all over the world to DANCE and the band was there to play music for those dancers. I am a big fan of the Sonora Poncena and I have seen them at a few congresses but with ALL DUE RESPECT to the band...people have travelled from every part of the world to DANCE at the convention NOT with the sole intention of attending a concert. I have been to the West Coast Congress in the past and as a dancer, there is nothing WORSE than having hundreds of people standing around taking up place on the dancefloor just to watch a band play. When Oscar D'Leon played at the 2005 West Coast Salsa Congress the place was jammed with non-dancers that just stood on the dancefloor...it was so packed it was almost impossible to breathe and that says something since the congress was outdoors!!! If it wasn't for the great authentic food and the friendly salseros that attended the event, the night would have been a write-off as it was almost IMPOSSIBLE to dance. To give you an idea of just how crowded it was, take the crowd from Sundays at the Old Port and try to fit them in the old Cubanos...that should give you an idea.
I could see Mr. Gurza's point if this was a concert at The Staples Centre BUT this was a dance convention...did he expect that everyone would just stop dancing? He should have done more research before writing that piece. However, I agree with his concern regarding the succession of great salsa bands...other than Jimmy Bosch, the pipeline is looking really grim :(

were we reading the same article?

Research what? he was there...Jimmy Bosch is that all you know and you say youre a "salseros"? Wow what about Los Soneros del Barrio, Jimmy Delgado, Chino Nunez, Edwin Clemente, Conjunto Libre, Ocho y Mas, should I go on? His point being that these new called salseros dont understand the music that they dance to and because of this more artists like La Sonora Ponceña dont headline events like this. Personally I could care less about dance shows unless there is a live salsa band there. I think salsa dancers in Montreal have to be more humble because thats what makes a great artist even greater...and to me theres nothing WORSE than watching people think they are superstars by spinning the other the whole night like if they were in a competition of sorts and carry out an arrogant persona about them. If people jammed the dance floor was because Oscar D Leon is a great dancer, singer, musican and overall brilliant artists that if you havent been brought up with his music you couldnt understand. A dancer could never ever be compared to so please dont offend a musician and artist of his calibre, people where there WATCHING because of respect and this is the point Mr. Gurza was making...respect,and that salsa dancers and salsa music is a whole that is breaking apart....

Re: were we reading the same article?

Mr. Inconnu,
Ease up there tiger; there's no need to take shots - were just having a friendly discussion..There are plenty of salsa bands out there...anybody can ratlle-off names...my point is that as far as upcoming bands to replace the great bands of the past...Jimmy Bosch was the first person that came to mind. I have seen most of the bands that you mentioned - live at congresses before, are they good? sure...are they great, or comparable to the geniuses of the past (Fania All-Stars, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Tito Rodriguez, Celia Cruz, El Gran Combo, Sonora Poncena, Hector Lavoe...) proabably not...that was my only point. As to my 'research' comment, this guy probably got into the congress on a press-pass to write about La Sonora Poncena as if it was a regular concert at the Staples Center...which could not be further from the case. Having gone to many congresses in the past, I have seen many great bands...included in the list: El Gran Combo and Sonora Poncena. My whole point is that they are 2 very different things...salsa congresses and concerts. Mr. Gurza went to the world's largest salsa dancing convention and expected it to be a concert. As far as the Oscar D'Leon thing, I was in no way implying that he is not a good artist, only that when people travel from all around the world expecting to dance at a dance convention and then they can't because the dancefloor turns into an auditorium - it's a bit frustrating. Your statement, "salseros dont understand the music that they dance to and because of this more artists like La Sonora Ponceña dont headline events like this"...I have seen the best bands in the world (that sill exist) perform live at congresses...it's a question of budget, not of choice. If a congress can afford to pay the big bucks, you can be sure that the big bands will play at that congress. I don't know of any band that has refused a paycheque because the people didn't understand the music! We may not all understand the words 100%, but rhythm is a universal language that can be understood by all, so whether you were brought up with the music or not, anyone can show appreciation for it. By dancing, we salseros, express our ultimate gratitude and appreciation to the artist. Eddie Torres got one of his biggest breaks by dancing on stage for Tito Puente...his dancing was the quintessential compliment to Mr. Puente's work...almost like a part of the orchestra. This event strongly contributed to the resurrection of salsa dancing after disco had taken over the world in the seventies and it helped ignite what would soon become a global epidemic (there is a great little documentary about this called "A Bailar! The Journey of a Latin Dance Company" by Cathy Calderon...it's definitely worth checking out). Contrary to your statement about salsa dancing and salsa music breaking apart...I disagree. There are well over 150 salsa congresses worldwide...millions of people are taking up this great passion and this number is increasing exponentially everyday! In history, there has never been a greater number of people that dance salsa and that listen to the music. Salsa is not breaking apart, it is diversifying across every culture on the planet...just take Orquesta de La Luz as an example - an all-Asian salsa orchestra!!! Furthermore, travel the world and you will see that Montreal Salseros are among the most humble no matter where you go.

Vraiment?

Plusieurs raisons peuvent être la cause de ta question. Si tu veux plus de détails, communique avec moi directement alex@salsamontreal.com. Fin de la discussion.

re: Racine you didnt post my lat comment!!

If you are the same Inconnu that is replying to my last post...you can send it to me directly at newwesorder@hotmail.com
Alex, screens very few posts...he will screen a post if he feels that it is malicious or it does not intelligently contribute to the discussion at-hand...not to say that yours was in that category but maybe he just hasn't got around to it yet...after all, it is a busy weekend for salsa in Montreal.
P.S. if you create an account with your name, I believe that your comment gets posted right away...I think, but I'm not sure. Alex, how does that work?

correct

Correct, if you are a user, witch will be require in the future, post are automatically online without the need of moderator approval. This does not mean that we do not verify what is been posted. Everybody loggued can actually see what is new just by clicking "Messages récents" or here http://www.salsamontreal.com/montrealsalsa/tracker

So if something is out of bound, it will still be deleted. In the near future, guidelines will be online.

Ok Cool, that's what I was

Ok Cool, that's what I was thinking. Keep up the great work Alex.

C'est bien dommage...

Pour une fois qù'il y avait un point interessant sur lequel debattre...

Je ne comprend pas pourquoi il n'y a pas eu plus de commentaires éloquants. J'avoue être un peu déçue.

On dirait que quand il s'agit de commenter sur une école de danse ou un évènement, les gens sont bien plus ''willing''.

En-2-k, merci à toi Alex, de nous faire part d'articles comme ceux-ci. Je trouve ça pas mal intéressant.

Naomie.