Loving Salsa at Rickmansworth Festival

PUBLISHED: 16:13 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:57 20 February 2013

Rickmansworth Festival

Rickmansworth Festival

Salsa teacher Andy Barrett's passion for his art knows no bounds, even expanding beyond the classroom to the Rickmansworth Festival in May - for possibly the biggest public display the town has ever seen.

WITH dancing showbiz stars regularly gracing out television screens these days, there's been a renewed popularity for all sorts of styles. One of the most popular is Salsa, continuing to grow with classes springing up all over the place - at church halls, community centres and canal festivals to name a few.

In fact it's at Rickmansworth's annual waterways festival on May 17 that Andy Barrett and his team from Salsa Corazon will be looking for everyone to join in with the basic steps during a break between bands on Sunday afternoon. Maybe even a world record in the making?

'Definitely a demonstration which shows it's easy to learn!' says Andy, who has been teaching in and around London for more than 20 years, 'and it means sharing an experience with others - particularly if they're new too'.

It's no surprise to him then why people do it, some finding it a useful alternative to night clubs which they've grown out of - but still want to have enormous fun and show off their skills. Others say it's particularly appealing to meet members of the opposite sex

'It's true that people can make new friends, keep fit and indulge themselves in the mesmerising music and moves - so you never know when it might lead to something!' Andy laughs.

Dancing as a whole can be a springboard to the best things in life - even the legendary actor and dancer Gene Kelly admitted he started because he knew it was one way to meet girls.

Passion from the 1980s

Salsa's emergence in the UK was really prompted by the growth in the 1980s of Columbian and Cuban communities in London, who quickly exported their passion beyond Latin roots to newly formed classes across the city.

'People learned how the dance gives a real feel good factor,' Andy continues, 'and not being able to speak the language of the music really didn't matter then, or now. It's one of those things that transcends all racial, class and religious boundaries.'

Although London began as the epicentre, it wasn't long before the craze had reached all corners of the country - and now you can now even find Salsa in the Shetland Islands.

'Salsa' in Spanish means 'sauce', a convenient explanation for a style which oozes spice like Latin and Caribbean food. Despite originating from those parts, these days it relates to a much wider genre of music by encapsulating so many different styles blending African, Spanish, Cuban and Puerto Rican sounds - sometimes with jazzy arrangements.

Salsa has spawned its own specialist musicians too. Perhaps the best known is Tito Puente who also played Mambo styles - and since his death in 2000 his music has been much sampled and mixed by modern dance musicians and DJs.

Andy's eyes were opened to Salsa in the early 1980s, before it has even reached our shores. A holiday in Cuba, followed by Miami and New York where it was already extremely popular is what started it. It had reached those cities in the 1960's and 1970's thanks to Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants.

Many arguments have raged in the years since about Salsa's history, particularly on the role of Puerto Ricans alongside the Caribbean and Latin communities in Miami and New York - and even over the use of the name to describe the style.

Some said that the name was invented purely to commercialise the dance, and others argue the name itself was coined by a radio DJ from Venezuela. No-one really knows, although thankfully most do agree that the name has ultimately helped increase its popularity.

'Like many others I loved the music and dance which I saw on holiday,' Andy continues, 'and being a pioneer in this country meant I was fortunate to become a teacher'.

Something for everyone

Even celebrities have been subjected to Andy's master touch including Mick Jagger, Jools Holland and Dynasty villainess Joan Collins. These days he also teaches the teachers, as well as a regular Monday night slot for anyone aged 16 or over at Rickmansworth's Long Island Exchange.

Around the world there are even festivals held - controversially for university students in Marrakesh last year where religious leaders expressed dismay because of its sexual undertones.

It's not just Salsa for Andy and his team - they also teach Merengue, the national dance of the Dominican Republic, the Cha-Cha first seen in American dance halls in the 1950's, and Mambo, another Cuban style emerging in the 1930s and 1940s.

'We get so many people to our classes who've never danced before, so it's doesn't really matter if they've got two left feet,' says Andy, 'as some of our best dancers were the same when they started. So what's more important is the enthusiasm to do something different.'

As for how to tackle the dance, Andy says it's all about moving to the music. 'Salsa has some straightforward basics to the rhythm alongside more complicated percussion sounds. Listen for and follow the basics and you'll be well on the way,' he says.

Salsa and Mambo are very similar; both with a pattern of six steps danced over eight counts of music. They also share many of the same moves. But turns are a very important feature of Salsa, more so than Mambo.

Thankfully Andy and his team are always close by for tips on how to get the best from the experience. And he's looking for all ages and experiences for the festival flaunt, who he is sure will become addicted like he and millions of others already have.

A colourful festival

The festival itself has lots else to offer too - more than 20 bands on show and colourful canal boats along the towpath from Rickmansworth Aquadrome down to Batchworth Lock.

It's also one for all the family, with animal farm, environment fair and lots of stalls to peek around. People who've been before know what to expect, newcomers don't know what they're missing!

'I'm really looking forward to it,' adds Andy, 'just picturing what will be a mass of people giving it Salsa a go.'

So what does Andy really think of the reality dancing television shows? 'They're all great entertainment,' he says, 'with all the glitz and glamour one could expect while also showing that dancing is just so cool. It would be absolutely fantastic to have a solely Salsa equivalent too.'

Rickmansworth Festival

Rickmansworth Aquadrome and Batchworth Lock

Dates: Saturday May 16 and Sunday May 17

Music: to suit all tastes - jazz, rock, chill, cool blues, folk and big band

Food: beer, burgers and much more!

Opening times: 10.30am to 10.30pm Saturday, 10.30am to 5pm Sunday (music stages start from 11am).

Entry: free, although donations to volunteer organisers Rickmansworth Waterways Trust will be welcome to support their education work

Getting there: public transport is best - the festival is just five minutes walk from Rickmansworth station.

Contact: Rickmansworth Waterways Trust, 01923 778382 or www.rwt.org.uk

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